(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Last Hurrah is divided into four parts and fourteen chapters. The first three parts relate the tale of Frank Skeffington, former governor of an eastern state and now mayor of a large unidentified city, clearly meant to be Boston, and his campaign for reelection. The fourth section relates the election’s aftermath. Many commentators believe that O’Connor modeled Skeffington on James Michael Curley, several times mayor of Boston, onetime governor of Massachusetts, and the paradigm of the second-generation immigrant politician and big-city political boss. O’Connor’s Skeffington was apparently close enough to the real Curley for the latter to sue for invasion of privacy when The Last Hurrah was turned into a movie of the same name.

The story of what proves to be Frank Skeffington’s last political campaign is told in the third person. Now in his seventies, Skeffington has been mayor long enough to engender considerable popular support among many members of the various ethnic groups that make up the city’s population, not least among his fellow Irish Americans. He has also made many enemies, partly because he represented those first-and second-generation immigrants who displaced the earlier establishment, partly because as a successful politician he had frequently and blatantly rewarded his friends by providing jobs, awarding city contracts, and conducting other marginally legal activities, and partly over personal rivalries and animosities, often long-standing.

To Skeffington, a widower, his only child, Frank Skeffington, Jr., is a failure. Somehow, the latter became a lawyer and, with his father’s support, obtained an adequate position, but in reality he is superficial, lacking in perception as well as ability, preferring nightclubs and dancing to anything more substantial. Rejecting his son, Skeffington instead approaches his nephew, Adam Caulfield,...

(The entire section is 780 words.)

The Last Hurrah Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Blotner, Joseph. The American Political Novel, 1900-1960. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1966. The author analyzes The Last Hurrah in the context of a chapter on “The Boss” in American politics.

Milne, Gordon. The American Political Novel. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966. Includes an extensive commentary about O’Connor’s novel in a chapter that also discusses All the King’s Men and Advise and Consent.

Rank, Hugh. Edwin O’Connor. Boston: Twayne, 1974. The only full length study of O’Connor and his writings. Includes a long and satisfactory discussion of The Last Hurrah.

Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. Introduction to The Best and the Last of Edwin O’Connor, by Edwin O’Connor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980. One of America’s most eminent political historians comments insightfully on O’Connor and his novels.