The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 603 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Henry Whittier Wiggen

Henry Whittier Wiggen, a left-handed pitcher for the New York Mammoths. The twenty-one-year-old rookie is an innocent who is reluctant to be corrupted by a cynical world, cocky about his pitching prowess, and unashamedly cowardly when confronted by violence. Henry grows up in Perkinsville, New York, believing that he will be the greatest pitcher of all time. He wins twenty-six games in his first season, is named the league’s most valuable player, and leads his team to the world championship. His controversial year includes taunts for having a black roommate, back pain caused by the tension of the pennant race, refusal to take a postseason tour to Korea because of his opposition to the war, and an obscene gesture at hecklers during the World Series.

Holly Webster Wiggen

Holly Webster Wiggen, Henry’s wife. Before they are married, she is a rebel unable to live with her parents in Baltimore; she lives with her uncle next door to Henry, seduces him, and reads him poetry. As Henry’s moral conscience, Holly finally accepts his fourth proposal, once he has proven that he is an individual.

Pop Wiggen

Pop Wiggen, Henry’s father. Despite great promise, he quits professional baseball after two years in the minor leagues, never explaining why. He drives a school bus, is caretaker at Aaron Webster’s observatory, pitches semiprofessional baseball, and rears his son alone after his wife dies when the boy is two years old.

Aaron Webster

Aaron Webster, Holly’s uncle. An eighty-year-old intellectual, he runs an observatory that he refuses to allow the government to use during World War II. He also declines to pay taxes that promote war. Aaron convinces Pop, his best friend, not to force the young Henry to...

(The entire section is 749 words.)