Social Concerns / Themes
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 208
The social concerns of Defending Billy Ryan are familiar ones for readers of Higgins's fiction: Ambitious prosecutors pursue a case against Billy Ryan, the good-old-boy Commissioner of Public Works for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The realpolitik of the American legal system, good-old-boy networks, political peculations, Massachusetts, and Irish-American families — these are Higgins's perennial concerns. He handles them here with accustomed ease and expertise.
The central theme of Defending Billy Ryan, again as in most of Higgins's fiction, is power. He is fascinated by the ways men (and sometimes women) jostle and maneuver for advantage in their relations with other people. The struggle may occur in the local competition of politics or the formal arena of the courtroom, or in the intimate spaces of a marriage or even a conversation. But Higgins's characters seem always in pursuit of some step up on their fellows. Because Jerry Kennedy inevitably owns his narrative, it is his pursuit of advantages that preoccupies the novel. He employs a variety of conversational tactics to hold the initiative against the prosecutors, a key prosecution witness, character witnesses, his own client, his own client's family. These tactics and what they reveal about the motives and manners of contemporary Americans comprise the fascinating core of the novel.
Cite this page as follows:
"Defending Billy Ryan - Social Concerns / Themes" Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction Ed. Kirk H. Beetz. Vol. 2. Gale Cengage 2001 eNotes.com 21 Mar. 2023 <https://www.enotes.com/topics/defending-billy#themes-social-concerns-themes>
Note: When citing an online source, it is important to include all necessary dates. The citation above will include either 2 or 3 dates.
- If there are three dates, the first date is the date of the original publication in traditional print. The second is the date of publication online or last modification online. The last date is today's date — the date you are citing the material.
- If there are two dates, the date of publication and appearance online is the same, and will be the first date in the citation. The second date is today's date — the date you are citing the material.
See eNotes Ad-Free
Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
Already a member? Log in here.