The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In The Last Hurrah, Edwin O’Connor creates characters who are recognizable archetypes of big-city ethnic politics. Frank Skeffington is the last in a long line of urban bosses such as New York’s William Marcy “Boss” Tweed. Although the author denied using Boston’s Joseph Michael Curley as his inspiration for Skeffington, others, and Curley, thought differently. Skeffington is more than merely a stock character. He and his campaign for reelection are not only the story of The Last Hurrah but also a recessional for a changing America. Skeffington is portrayed as a corrupt opportunist, manipulating the needs of various immigrant groups in order to achieve and maintain political power. Yet he also represents a sense of nostalgia for a time that is passing into history and memory, and Skeffington himself exhibits increasingly nostalgic feelings in his relationship with Adam. There is much humor in the novel, which leavens the nostalgic elements, but Skeffington himself is not a figure of fun. Rather, with his sure confidence in imminent victory followed by overwhelming defeat, Skeffington is almost a figure from Greek tragedy.

Adam Caulfield is the other crucial character. In addition to his role as Skeffington’s relation, he also serves as the objective observer, and although the narrative is in the third person, it is most often through Adam’s eyes that Skeffington, both the person and the politician, is viewed. In comparison...

(The entire section is 408 words.)