Henry Wiggen, the narrator and central figure in The Southpaw, belongs to the tradition of naïve and semiliterate narrators represented most notably by Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Henry consistently uses the Arabic numerals “1” and “2” for one and two, “then” for than, “could of” for could have, and “leave” for let. He reports the conversations he has with other people in his own dialect; the characters and what they say are always filtered through Henry’s perceptions and vocabulary. In The Southpaw, this insistent narrative frame distances the reader from the events taking place and from Henry’s assessments of them. Early in the novel, Henry blithely and approvingly quotes Leo Durocher’s statement that “nice guys do not win ball games,” a sentiment preserved in American slang as “nice guys finish last.” By the end of the novel, Henry Wiggen recognizes, although he is unable to articulate it, that being a “nice guy” may be more important than winning.
In The Southpaw, Harris is especially successful in creating memorable characters. Dutch Schnell, the hard-boiled manager of the Mammoths, serves as a touchstone for understanding the motivation and values of the other characters. Schnell, as Henry observes, is “a great manager” whose “first and only aim in life is winning ball games.” Henry explains the kind of man Dutch is without making moral judgments:There is nothing Dutch will not do...
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