The phrase, “let the great world spin” is taken from a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson, d, Locksley Hall. The lines in the poem say, “Not in the vein the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range, Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of change” (Tennyson). The poem has as its theme, the thoughts of a tired soldier who rests for a while by a familiar place of his childhood and youth (Tennyson). The phrase, “let the great world spin”, is used in the context of this soldier, in an attempt to overcome his depressing personal thoughts of the past, starts describing his hopes and yearnings for the whole of humanity to evolve in future (Tennyson). Hence, the meaning of this phrase, as is meant in the original, can be said to be an expression of philosophical optimism in the face of existential human dilemmas.
In the novel, Let the Great World Spin also, the author (McCann) has tried to show that even in the face of misery, human beings can make meaning out of life and move ahead with hope. The book was published in 2009 when the World Trade Centre incident became a reflection of how a city and its people were able to cope in the face of great despair (McCann). When one of the protagonists (Corrigan’s brother) says, “he never rejected the world,” in the novel, that line becomes the philosophy of the entire novel and is also synonymous with the title of the novel, Let the Great World Spin (McCann, 20).
In the novel, it is observed that when the rope walker was “up in the air”, “new things were possible with the human form” (McCann, 164). This is one among many examples of allusion that the author (McCann) has made to the great human spirit triumphing over the limitations of mortal life. The same theme is repeated everywhere. McCann has remarked in his book that even while standing before the “hard, cold truth- the filth, the war, the poverty”, there was a reason for relief for his protagonist – “life could be capable of small beauties” (20). In indirectly praising the ordinary yet extraordinary struggles that each human being has to fight, the novelist (McCann) wonders “how much courage it takes to live an ordinary life” (56). In all these observations, the underlying message has been that let the world be worse or worst even, there is still hope to live on.
While talking about the prostitute, Tillie, in his novel, McCann himself had drawn attention to the question, whether this prostitute could be a believer and the answer that he provided was that “she has to believe” just because “in the deep dark end, there is no point unless we have at least a modicum of hope” (qtd. In Sponheim, 54). And this is why Tim Adams in his article published in The Guardian, has referred to the equilibrium that is created after every fall while reviewing McCann’s novel and calling it an allegory of the 9/11 incident. And this is why a reader in her blog observed about this book, “Despite what may appear on the surface, these people and their stories are not depressing. Bittersweet, maybe, but the strength necessary to endure all the struggles and losses is quite inspirational” (Jenna. “Review: Let the Great World Spin”). In this way, the title as well as the novel, Let the Great World Spin, has put forth a philosophy of life that believes in the invincibility of the human spirit.
Adams, Tim, “Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann”, guardian.co.uk, The
Guardian, 30 August 2009. Web. 21 October 2011,
Jenna, “Review: Let the Great World Spin”, Literature and Lens, Jenna (Blog), 26 July
2011. Web. 21 October 2011,
McCann, Colum, “Let The Great World Spin”, New York: Random House, 2009.Print.
Sponheim, Paul.R., “Loves Availing Power: Imaging God, Imagining the World”,
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.Print.
Tennyson, Alfred, “Locksley Hall”, poetryfoundation.org, Poetry Foundation, 2011.web.
21 October 2011, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174629