Book Reviews

DeLillo’s Falling Man:

Harrowing Transcription of 9/11 Corollary

Donald Richard DeLillo was born on November 20, 1936, in New York’s Bronx, was then the heart of the Bronx's ‘Little Italy. His parents settled in the United States from the Italian region Abruzzo. DeLillo grew up in the company of his sister, his aunt and uncle, and their three children, as well as his grandparents except his parents. His father was an insurance-company representative. His literary career began “with a big advertising company” he used to go with colleagues to the Museum of Modern Art, the Village Vanguard, as well as to see European movies. During this time he started working on what was to become his first novel, Americana (1971) when he was 30 years old. In 1975 he married Barbara Bennett. For his literary career he has influenced by William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, Hermann Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Thomas Pynchon, William Gaddis, and more general, books “that demonstrate the possibilities of fiction”, such as the “comic anarchy in the writing” of Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound (Koglbauer 5).

DeLillo’s novels deal with wide varieties. His famous works are: End Zone (1972), Great Jones Street (1973), Ratner’s Star (1976). Players (1977) Mao II (1991) Underworld (1997), The Names (1982) White Noise (1985).  The Body Artist (2001) Cosmopolis (2003) Falling Man (2007). DeLillo won the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1984), for his novel White Noise (1985), he won the American Book Award. He got The Irish Times-Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize for Libra (1988) and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his novel Mao II (1991). As an American writer he was the winner of the Jerusalem Prize for Underworld (1999). In 2000 DeLillo received the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. (Koglbauer 6) According to New York Review of Books, “the author has been aptly called the“chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction.” (Koglbauer 8) because his novels mirror of the epoch and culture, he takes the theme from the current time “With regard to his preferred topics DeLillo has been called the “last of the modernists, who takes for his critical object of aesthetic concern the postmodern situation” (Koglbauer 8). That’s why he is proclaimed as one of America’s most distinguished contemporary writers. Apart from novels and also some plays, he has written countless essays, articles, blurbs, and pieces of short stories too.

11 September 2001 is known as the black day or day of death in American history because of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in United States of America. On this day America saw the destruction of Twin Towers which were the landmark or symbol of American Power and Status in the world. The horrendous thing is that the terrorist used American material goods for her destruction by high jacking four American airplanes and used those destroying Twin Towers which caused for American a national trauma. The heinous act has accomplished by nineteen terrorist and almost 3000 people were killed but the act has great influence on the whole world. Though more than fifteen years have passed of the event but most of the people are still suffering from its fatal impact like post-traumatic stress disorder, hallucination, identical alienation, and so on due to 9/11 attacks in all these things memories play significant role because “trauma-including memories” (Keniston and Quinn 102) “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” in the words of Versluys (52) is the traumatic condition or strange behaviour of victim due to any unnatural phenomena.

The title of the novel Falling Man has great significance because it has borrowed from an image of a man who is falling down from World Trade Center after the terrorist’s attacks. It is said that the image has taken on September 11th, 2001, by Richard Drew. The photograph is an illustration of a falling man beside the World Trade Center representing the terrific scene inside the building that one choses to jump from the building due to its unbearable atmosphere inside. The title Falling Man alludes to the famous, horrific photograph of an unidentified man falling headfirst from one of the towers after the attack. DeLillo’s is known as a prominent novelist. In his Falling Man he depicts the real picture of 9/11 events, destruction of the twin towers. Versluys writes about Falling Man that “In a way” it “is the narrative that takes 9/11 most seriously, and for that reason it is the most gloomy of the 9/11 novels” (20).

DeLillo in Falling Man delineates different facets of trauma, terror, haunted memories, through the different characters who try to survive with their traumatic experiences: “These are the days after. Everything now is measured by after” (DeLillo 138). This line from Falling Man seems the key terms of the novel because in the novel there is a comparison between past and present. A portrayal of world after and before the 9/11 attacks well analysed by DeLillo. As the incident 9/11 brought a change for the whole world because after the 9/11 the present world has changed completely from what is was before 9/11 so for the survivors everything has changed which brought a standstill for its victims because 9/11 event left the world in a distinct and disordered, dazzled and confused by putting a question mark on the safety or security of human existence. In Falling Man DeLillo’s analyses of multinational policies through the statistics of a devastated family and a close witness seems a substitute for all folks who beheld this scene in horror but in wellbeing.

The setting of Don DeLillo’s novel Falling Man is in New York describes 9/11 event happening and its aftermath. It is divided into three parts: Bill Lawton, Ernst Hechinger and David Janiak. The first part is the descriptions of catastrophe of 9/11 that how people try to escape from the attack. In this part Justine talks about a person by name Bill Lawton which symbolizes Bin Laden the chief of the terrorist who accomplished 9/11 attacks. This part deals with the confusion and experiences of 9/11. Second part deals the atmosphere of one month later after the 9/11. Through this part DeLillo expresses his concept about the alienation of American identity of all the characters. Through the character of Hammad the novelist gives reference of terror, a suicide terrorist who flew a plane into one of the Towers. Theme of religion marked the violent atmosphere in the novel. The third part deals with the time span after the three years of 9/11 representing that David Janiak is the falling man who jumps from the building his act also symbolizes the trauma. There are not so much moments of terror are described by the novelist in Keith’s life except few pages but the addition of the story of Hammad in the novels represents the terrorist attack is the result of a series of actions.

The novel starts with the mayhem of terroristic attacks when one tower is falling and the protagonist, Keith tries to escape from the horrific sight. Keith works in the World Trade Center but somehow he escapes from the attacks and reaches his home to his wife and son. Before the attacks he lives with another girl named Florence. To avoid the traumatic influence of the attacks and to lead a peaceful life Keith seeks shelter in the company of his wife Liane and his son Justine. Keith, the protagonist of the novel who experiences or feels the 9/11 traumatic influences in the core of his self. Because he has seen status quo and apocalyptic scene of blood, crashed pieces of material, in a claustrophobic way which shows that this event is traumatic for the people who witness it directly just as in the case of Keith who finds, “it was not a street anymore but a world, a time and space of falling ash and near night” (DoLillo 3). He feels “the roar was still in the air, the buckling rumble of the fall. This was the world now” where he also finds everywhere, “smoke and rolling down streets and turning corners, busting around corners, seismic tides of smoke, with office papers flashing past, standard sheets with cutting edge, skimming, whipping past, otherworldly things in the morning pall” (3). Whatever Keith sees is so terrible his surroundings are as, “a car buried in debris, windows smashed and noises coming out, radio voices scratching at the wreckage” (4). Though he escapes but he gets insured during the attack.

As it is said by Cathy Caruth that in traumatic situation the painful images come again and again which remain stored in the mind in the form of memory due to holocaustic events. Similarly Keith suffers from hallucinations of traumatic memories even years have passed after the attacks: “Things came back to him in hazy visions, like half an eye staring. These were moments he’d lost as they were happening and he had to stop walking in order to stop seeing them” (DeLillo 243). The absence of mental reaction indicates that Keith is not intentionally undergoing the happenings as they are bang up-to-date. It shows that his mind fed up by the traumatic memories drifted everywhere which for him unrestrained and work with him as belated response to all together this event. “These were the days after and now the years, a thousand heaving dreams, the trapped man, the fixed limbs, the dream of paralysis, the gasping man, the dream of asphyxiation, the dream of helplessness” (DeLillo 293). This device of DeLillo represents that Keith’s traumatic condition is what Caruth described trauma in her definition of trauma. For Keith, this dissimilar observation is not a provisional moment of the attack because it brought a long lasting alteration that perseveres in the months and years after the outbursts of 9/11. The connection between his views and the belongings that he detects is irrevocably transformed:

It was something that belonged to another landscape, something inserted, a conjuring that resembled for the briefest second some half-seen image only half believed in the seeing, when the witness wonders what has happened to the meaning of things, to tree, street, stone, wind, simple words lost in the falling ash (DeLillo 130).

The above quote from Falling Man indicates Keith’s symptom of trauma. It is because of his the traumatizing experience that fissures in his memory. Another reason of Keith’s trauma is his relationship with Florence which has exposed publically due to the sudden attacks of 9/11 though they both enjoy each other’s company for a little time or temporarily. Keith’s encounter with Florence is significant aspect of trauma because they are represented in the tower at the same place and they caught up red handed with some nasty scenes.

Florence is less traumatic than Keith, who experiences his encounter with her as a traumatic event so he cannot talk about it while Florence wants “to tell him everything. This was clear to him. Maybe she’d forgotten he was there, in the tower, or maybe he was the one she needed to tell for precisely that reason. He knew she hadn’t talked about this, not so intensely, to anyone else” (DeLillo 69). This event for Florence is not so traumatic so she dares to talk about it but Keith remains shocked by the event and tries to avoid talking and listening about it. He is still “thought he’d also seen the man, going up past him, a guy in a hard hat and wearing a workbelt with tools and flashlights and carrying a crowbar, bent end first” (DeLillo 71). They are both traumatized by their physical encounter but Keith’s traumatic condition is so shocking that he is unable to share it with anyone that he listens silently when Florence wants to rebuild her memory with him. After 9/11 Keith suffers from trauma emotionally and physically because he cannot bear loud noise, “The noise was unbearable, alternating between the banging shattering sound and an electronic pulse of varied pitch” (DeLillo 22). In his traumatic condition everything around Keith seems him with the intensity of hyperrealist. This is the state in which “Things seemed still, they seemed clearer to the eye, oddly, in ways he didn’t understand. He began to see what he was doing. He noticed things, all the small lost strokes of a day or a minute” (DeLillo 82).

There are so many things that Keith wants to cope with the pitiable surroundings but he cannot because of traumatic memories of 9/11. While Keith returns to his family in search of peace but his mind gets restless so he goes to play poker game though “He wasn’t playing for the money. He was playing for the chips. The value of each chip had only hazy meaning. It was the disk itself that mattered, the color itself” ( DeLillo 228). It seems here that by playing poker he tries to divert his mind from the traumatic memory of past.

Ab initio to the end of the novel Falling Man DeLillo presents Keith’s initial clash due to the 9/11 attacks for due to which he is not conscious to his present time and remains traumatic by adhering himself with the past:

In time he felt the towers stop leaning. The lean felt forever and impossible and he sat and listened and after a while the tower began to roll back. He didn’t know where the phone was but he could hear a voice on the other end, still there, somewhere. He saw the ceiling begin to ripple. The stink of something familiar was everywhere but he didn’t know what it was (DeLillo 307).

DeLillo describes all the character’s reaction toward the 9/11 came out in a different ways. Nina and Martin seem indifference towards the event because they witness the attack on television so they are not much concerned with the event. They behave normally while Keith and Lianne try to adapt according to the new world. Nina and Martin talks about the attacks but indifferently on this Lianne tries to tell Nina about the scene she has seen but Nina replies in a sarcastic way:

Lianne stood by the window.

“But when the towers fell.”
“I know”
“When this happened.”
“I know”
“I thought he was dead.”
“So did I,” Nina said. “So many watching.”
“Thinking he’s dead, she’s dead.”
“I know”
“Watching those buildings fall.”
“First one, then the other. I know,” her mother said” (DeLillo 13).

Not only Nina but also Martin rests on rational level because they interpret the event into a linear perception of antiquity. This is DeLillo’s artistry that through the character of Martin he develops the concept that there can be political, economic and religious cause behind the 9/11 attacks. Nina and Martin generally talk about the event but Keith tries to avoid talking about the event. It shows that the persons who faced 9/11 attacks directly they were more shocked by the event rather than those who saw the event through the media. It is DeLillo’s specific quality that through the characters of Nina, Martin and Keith he makes a clear distinction between the witnesses of the event and its impact on them.

DeLillo succeeds disclosing the fact that the viewers who watch the event directly suffer more that those who witness the event on television or visual sources. Nina and Martin are the witnesses who watch the event by visual sources while Keith is the witness who not only sees this event directly but also realizes the horrible scene and impact of the 9/11 event. So Keith is more traumatic because he also loses his friend Rumsey during the attacks and for him the event is “massive, something undreamed” (DeLillo 306) which bring about the emotional state of futility that Keith can respond only with a kind of astounded disinterest because he find himself incapable of adjusting  according to what he saw and perceived: “He looked at Rumsey, who’d fallen away from him, upper body lax, face barely belonging. The whole business of being Rumsey was in shambles now. Keith held tight to the belt buckle. He stood and looked at him and the man opened his eyes and died” (DeLillo 311). According to Lucy Bond Keith’s vulnerability is due to that stress which caused by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of an individual and its distinct types of symptoms are: “the re-experiencing of the event, avoidance of reminders of the event, and hyperarousal” (Bond 28).

Keith, the task of overcoming his trauma or his attempt to cope with traumatic situations due to the 9/11 tragedy is represented by DeLillo with the help of a number series of things which show Keith’s traumatic recovery from the physical harms in the attacks: “He was a hovering presence now. There drifted through the rooms a sense of someone who has earned respectful attention. He was not quite returned to his body yet” (DeLillo 74). It shows that whatever the victims have lost during the 9/11 attacks cannot be regained. But keith realises that his loss or injury in this devastation is mental than that of physical because he is attentive to his surroundings that “it wasn’t the torn cartilage that was the subject of this effort. It was the chaos, the levitation of ceilings and floors, the voices choking in smoke” (DeLillo 50).

Lianne, Keith’s wife is another victim of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She is also traumatized because of her father. Her father has diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and he commits suicide with a shotgun. When her father did this “she was twenty-two when this happened and did not ask the local police for details. What detail might there be that was not unbearable? (DeLillo 50-51) and her choosing to serve Alzheimer’s Patient shows her attempt to overcome her trauma. As a matter of fact rest of her life after the event seems to take silhouette through the prism of the traumatic experience of her father’s death. She gets shocked by the event that she raises a question in her mind that is there any god or godly existence. As a mother she has worried about his son “That scares the hell out of me. God, there’s something so awful about that. Damn kids with their goddamn twisted powers of imagination” ( DeLillo 91). The reason of her worry is that she finds children were talking about the man Bin Laden whom nobody knew before the 9/11 event. Anxiety and terror remains with her because throughout her life she develops a sense of fear about the sick and about her son’s future. When Keith flexibly doubts some unseen itinerary after this Keith tyies to console her by saying; “He’d told her many times and told her again that she was devising ways to be afraid” but she says that “she was devising ways to be afraid. This wasn’t fear, she said, but only scepticism (263).

Each symptom of trauma described by Caruth reflects in the personalities of Keithand Lianne. The traumatic experience develops from ‘the delay or incompletion in knowing, or even in seeing, an overwhelming occurrence that then remains, in its insistent return, absolutely true to the event’ (Caruth  Trauma: Explorations in Memory. 5). Just as DeLillo writes: “These were the days after and now the years, a thousand heaving dreams, the trapped man, the fixed limbs, the dream of paralysis, the gasping man, the dream of asphyxiation, the dream of helplessness” (293). The traumatic representation of the main protagonists by DeLillo suits to what Dominick LaCapra defines working through as a process of “gaining critical distance on [traumatic] experiences and recontextualising them in ways that permits a reengagement with on-going concerns and future possibilities” (LaCapra History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory 45). DeLillo’s portrayal of Keith’s overcoming from trauma or the process of “working through” through mechanical images bring his traumatic symptoms close to Caruth and LaCapra.

According to Caruth “the trauma” seems “to evoke the difficult truth of a history that is constituted by the very incomprehensibility of its occurrence” (Caruth  Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History.153). Keith’s longing to evading himself from his upsetting phantasms or hallucinations, and to shut out the deluge of crude memories, takes him from New York to Las Vegas. Where Keith seeks an empty existence and tries to survive peacefully. When DeLillo writes: “There were no days or times except for the tournament schedule. He wasn’t making enough money to justify this life on a practical basis” ( 293). He wants to forget bad memories so he remains busy in poker games though “there was no such need”. This indicates towards his traumatic condition where, “The point was one of invalidation. Nothing else pertained. Only this had binding force. He folded six more hands, and then went all-in. Make them bleed. Make them spill their precious losers’ blood” ( DeLillo 293). In this way Keith endeavours to improve a fairness from veracity so lacking of memory or connotation that He wondered if he was becoming a self-operating mechanism, like a humanoid robot that understands two hundred voice commands, far-seeing, touch-sensitive but totally, rigidly controllable. He’s estimating medium-ace across the table, the man in mirrored sunglasses” (DeLillo 287). Such avoidance tactics are deployed to block out the hyper arousal Keith experiences in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. 

The tiresome actions help Keith to cope with his traumatic memories, so that he overcomes his trauma by the end of the novel he processes to overcome his trauma is that he realises “Things came back to him in hazy visions, like half an eye staring. These were moments he’d lost as they were happening and he had to stop walking in order to stop seeing them” (DeLillo 312). And he sees all this being motionless reminding everything which happened to him, “He stood looking into nothing. The woman with the tricycle, alongside, spoke to him, going past” (312). DeLillo describes his process of overcoming of trauma that, “He smelled something dismal and understood it was him, things sticking to his skin, dust particles, smoke, some kind of oily grit on his face and hands mixing with the body slop, paste-like, with the blood and saliva and cold sweat, and it was himself he smelled, and Rumsey” (312). Here it is clear that DeLillo fully succeeds presenting traumatic process of “acting out” and “working through” through the characters he has presented in the novel. all the images regarding 9/11 attacks come belatedly in his mind, “The size of it, the sheer physical dimensions, and he saw himself in it, the mass and scale, and the way the thing swayed, the slow and ghostly lean” (312). For this reason Lucy Bond writes in the praise of DeLillo’s artistic characterization that: “Their characterisation follows to the letter the diagnostic criteria for PTSD in infants laid down by the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families (NCITF) in 1994” (Bond 29).

Through the novel the novelist indicates the incurable desire of the terrorists and the following day deprived of permitting the heinousness of the event to obscure the characters. The strategy of the story and the structural way which DeLillo used subsidises to the depiction of belatedly coming images into the mind of 9/11 victims, anxieties, stress, nostalgic feelings, dilemma between past and present happenings and identical alienation. Apart from it the elements of terror violence and trauma are minutely realised by DeLillo over the course of Falling Man.

Works Cited

  • Bond, Lucy. Frames of Memory after 9/11. University of Westminster: Macmillan, 2015. Print.
  • Caruth, Cathy.Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Print.
  • Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Print.
  • DeLillo, Don. Falling Man. New York: Picador, 2007. Print.
  • Keniston, Ann., Jeanne Follansbee Quinn. Literature After 9/11. New York: Routledge. 2008. Print.
  • LaCapra, Dominick. History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004. Print.
  • MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Paper. 7th ed. New Delhi: East- West Pvt. Ltd. 2009. Print.
  • Koglbauer, Michaela. All plots tend to move deathward. – Death and dying on the levels of character development, structure, language and major themes in Don DeLillo’s White Noise and Falling Man. Diss. Wien university. 2008. Print.
  • Versluys, Kristiaan. Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel. New York: Columbia Uni. Press. 2009. Print.
  • ( This article has published by Creation and Criticism ISSN: 2455-9687).


More by :  Durga Patva

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