Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah is a political novel, but a novel that says as much about the past as the present of the 1950’s when it was written. The author uses the story of Frank Skeffington to connect the America of the late nineteenth century and its immigrant flavor with mid-twentieth century America, an America moving to the suburbs, an America increasingly influenced by Madison Avenue’s seductive advertisements, an America wherein television is transforming not only politics but also all aspects of life. In Skeffington, O’Connor has created one of the great larger-than-life fictional politicians in American letters, but even before his shocking defeat, the reader has become aware that Skeffington belongs to an earlier time, a quickly vanishing America. Skeffington’s past successes in mastering the old-style politics give him a sense of hubris, and like Oedipus, he fails to listen for his Tireseis; he sees McCluskey’s lack of accomplishment and his made-for-television family image as liabilities. Instead, they represent the new politics of O’Connor’s own day.

O’Connor is also writing of his own Irish-American background, with its older roots in Ireland and its newer roots in America’s big cities. There, alongside New York’s Tammany Hall and Skeffington’s front door, the new Irish immigrants’ other solace was the Roman Catholic Church. The town hall and the bishop’s palace, however, were not always mutually...

(The entire section is 412 words.)