Literary Shelf

Literature is the Reflection of Society

Exemplification of 9/11 Attack in Selected American Novels

O! None, unless this miracle have might
That in black ink my love may still shine bright
– William Shakespeare

The word Literature has its root from the Latin word literature/ littratura (derived itself from littera: letter or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts (Wikipedia). In Oxford dictionary literature is defined as a “pieces of writing that are valued as works of art, especially novels, plays and poems (in contrast to technical books and newspapers, magazines, etc.).

Many authors have been represented social, political, ecological, historical, scientific phenomenon in their works. All literary genres including drama, novel, poetry, short stories, etc. get their shape from the social background. Thus, society creates literature because all traditions, customs, religious stories reflect through the literary works, but the excellence and natural surroundings of the reflection hinge on a writer's approach of mind, whether he is enlightened in his outlook or conservative. That’s why literature is the mirror of society because it stuffed with all human emotions and activities including good and bad and social and political happenings. In literature the strategies designed by the authors portray human life, actions, tradition, and customs, through the characters which represents contemporary authors’ age or century.

All our glorious past has secured in the literary pages so that today’s generation gain knowledge about the myth of The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, The Old Testament and The Bible, etc. it is only possible by the literary sources that present generation know who were our forefathers? And how human came into existence? In this way old literary works communicate directly to the reader because while reading a particular work, the reader feels that he/she is living in those days described by the authors in their works. It depends on the narrative skill or ability of the author that he/she can draw a real scene of a particular event or incident.

The 9/11 terrorists attack on American Twin Towers is one of the most fatal terrorist attacks of the world nobody has seen such attack before it. Don DeLillo’s Falling Man and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud Incredibly Close are the tangible reflection of the 9/11 terrorists’ attack and its effects on America and on American citizen.

The 9/11terrorists attack on the World Trade Center of United States of America is such an unprecedented event which altered the history of America. It is an unforgettable event for American due to the great loss which can never be compensated. According to the available sources for the accomplishment of this scandalous event nineteen terrorists from different countries were responsible who did it under the leadership of Bin Laden. First of all they hijacked four American jets. The first plane crashed into the North tower of the World Trade Center building, second plane worn out the South tower, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon and fourth in the Pennsylvanian place. Approximately 3000 people were dead in this attack. Consequently, the people of the whole world badly influenced by this attack because most of them have lost their companions, helpmeets, kids, moms, dads, colleagues, associates, friends, uncles, aunts, grandparents, animals during this attack. After that dreadful day many persons lost their lives due to some illnesses caused by too much dust that the falling towers left behind.

Many texts in different genres have written in the wake of 9/11 like comics, poetry, fiction, trauma fiction, etc., including the novels of Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Tower, Frederic Beigbeder’s Windows of the World, Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, McEwan’s Saturday and so many more of others highlighting fatal consequences of acts of terrorism that they might cause tor the whole world. Don DeLillo, American novelist and Jonathan Safran Foer, Jewish American novelist also depicted the 9/11 terroristic event its effect on the people in their novels Falling Man and Extremely Loud Incredibly Close respectively. Both these novelists find literature as an influential implement for the representation of 9/11 attack and its impact on the society or on the victims. Both novels Falling Man and Extremely Loud Incredibly Close are structurally seem poles apart, but thematically reveal some common issues regarding 9/11 event which proves that DeLillo and Foer knew very well how to write appealing novels on such a serious event. In addition to DeLillo’s Falling Man Foer’s Extremely Loud Incredibly Close (2005) are of high-quality literary representations of 9/11 terrorist attack and its impact on the victims and their families of New York City who have entrapped into this event.

DeLillo’s begins the novel with the annihilated scene of the falling tower by presenting Keith Neudecker, the protagonist as a substitute for those who entrapped into the falling and burning building just after the 9/11event has taken place. “It was not a street anymore, but a world, a time and space of falling ash and near night. He was walking north through rubble and mud and there were people running past holding towels to their faces or jackets over their heads” (DeLillo 3). This very first sentence of the novel captures the mind of reader by drawing a realistic picture of the 9/11 attacks in front of them that what was people’s activities at the time of attacks and how all were running here and there to save themselves by putting their handkerchiefs on their mouth, though, “they run and fell, some of them, confused and ungainly, with debris coming down around them” (1) where some people were “taking shelter under cars” (3). Many people get injured and shocked they only want to reach to a safe place just as Keith does. He is wounded and astonished, running away from the sight and not sure where he should go. Trying to escape, he wants to reach immediately to his wife Lianne and his son Justine. The entire atmosphere reverberated with roaring and buckling rumble of the fall as he writes that “this was the world now” where the smoke and ash came rolling down streets and turning corners, busting around corners, seismic tides of smoke, with office papers flashing past, standard sheets with cutting ages skimming, whipping past, otherworldly things in the morning pall”(3). When a reader reads that “There was glass” in the “hair and face” of the people who were trying to escape and  “marbled bolls of blood and light” (3-4) he/she realizes that he/she is facing it or viewing it directly or virtually like a film.

DeLillo describes the atmosphere the first tower collapsed that “a car half buried in debris, windows smashed and noises coming out, radio voices scratching at the wreckage” (DeLillo 4). There were “clothes and bodies drenched from sprinkler systems. There were shoes discarded in the street, handbags and laptops, a man seated on the sidewalk coughing up blood. Paper cups went bouncing oddly by” (4).  Through the character of Keith, who faces all this situation DeLillo describes the condition of all the victims who view this event directly from the minute description that what happens when “a thousand feet up, dropping into free space, and the stink of fuel fire, and the steady rip of sirens in the air” (DeLillo 4) there can only cacophonies or loud noises be listened. Keith hardly comes out of the tower and crossed the street than he saw another tower began to fall, “He heard the sound of the second fall, or felt it in the trembling air, the north tower coming down, a soft awe of voices in the distance. That was him coming down, the north tower” (DeLillo 6). The scene was so unbelievable that “people walking out of the smoke” (6). Perhaps due to this real description of 9/11 event compels Christopher Kelly to write that “DeLillo – a great American novelist- is in top form” and in his “Falling Man, he has fearlessly tackled the defining topic of our time: not 9/11, per se so much as the widespread spiritual disorientation that seems to have taken grip in its aftermath” (DeLillo np).

In Extremely Loud Incredibly Close Foer does not describe anything about the 9/11 event rather he starts the novels with Oskar, the protagonist’s speech who remembers dead father by saying, “I could invent a teakettle that reads in Dad's voice, so I could fall asleep” (Foer1). It shows that he is mournful having lost his father. He lives in a flat in Manhattan with his mother and her new boyfriend and his grandparents. He is presented in the novel as a multi-tasking boy, an inventor, pacifist, free spirit, designer, and an explorer who speaks French, plays the tambourine and makes jewellery and also learns jujitsu as a student. Oskar’s father has died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and after sometimes of his father’s death, he finds a key putting in an envelope from his father’s closet. On that envelop written a name- “Black” seeing this name Oskar thinks that perhaps the key belongs to any Mr. Black and he  endeavours to find the real owner of the key.  Oskar remembers that how he remained silent after hearing the messages left by his father in the answering when the machine he (his father) was about to die:

Message one. Tuesday, 8:52 A.M. Is anybody there? Hello? It’s Dad. If you’re there, pick up. I just tried the office, but no one was picking up. Listen, something’s happened. I’m OK. They’re telling us to stay where we are and wait for the firemen. I am sure it is fine. I’ll give you another call when I have a better idea of what’s going on. Just wanted to let you know that I’m OK, and not to worry. I’ll call again soon. (Foer 14).

Oskar gets shocked after hearing these messages and when his father calls at the last moment of his life Oskar could not pick the phone though he was sitting beside the phone. Foer never used term 9/11 in the novel instead he uses “the worst day” (11). He represents Oskar as the substitute of all those children who lost their parents in the 9/11 attack and who were not fully convince that their dear ones or parents or relatives were dead or enliven after the attacks because most of the people still missing though more than a decade has passed. Foer draws a very pathetic scene when Oskar hears his father, “Then I heard Dad's voice.” Are you there? Are you there? Are you there? He needed me, and I couldn't pick up. I just couldn't pick up. I just couldn't. Are you there? He asked eleven times” (Foer 301). Here Foer highlights the physical and especially mental paralysis that often comes with a traumatic experience, “I know, because I've counted….Why did he keep asking? Was he waiting for someone to come home? And why didn't he say 'anyone'? (Foer 301). But Oskar was unable to speak a single word to his father for which he expresses his feeling of guilt perhaps throughout his life.

Besides the real description of 9/11 event both novelists describe unavoidable leitmotif of malaise and bereavement which leaves the victims of this event in a deep ambiguity and physiological dilemma caused by the 9/11 attack and focus on a victim’s endeavour to survive by managing their past with their present. All types of economic, psychosomatic, individual, countrywide, somatic global loss, tension, terror and trauma are the aftereffects of the 9/11 attacks, not for the whole world, but for the all the people who were the first hand and second hand witness of this event. DeLillo and Foer articulately described the natural reaction of people who witnessed the death of their dears or relatives, their private injury, sorrow, sense of guilt and repentance as the aftereffects of 9/11 attack which gave birth their incurable trauma. Cathy Caruth defines trauma and its symptoms in her book unclaimed Experience, “the story of trauma, than, as the narrative of a belated experience, far from telling of an escape from reality- the escape from a death, or from its referential force- rather assists to its endless impact on life” (7). The traumatic symptoms reflect in both novels through their characters.

In Falling Man Keith, Lianne and Justine suffer from trauma. Keith is traumatized because he has been exposed publicly with some nasty scene and also due to see his friend dying at the time of the attacks, though Keith tries to save him, but all in vain, because “He [Rumsey] stood and looked at him and the man opened his eyes and died. This was when he wondered what was happening here”  (DeLillo 311). Lianne is also trauma a victim because of her father’s death and also due to 9/11event. Lianne is the lover of music, but after 9/11 she finds it so irritating that she gets ready to fight her nearby Elena when she was hearing music“in Islamic tradition” (DeLillo 85). Lianne asks her“What is it?  She replies, Music, that’s all. I like it. It’s beautiful. It gives me peace. I like it, I play it.” (150) hearing this Lianne gets violent and “put her hand in the woman’s (Elena’s) face (151). Their son also remains scared of thinking that any time another incident like 9/11 may happen. Lianne and Justine express their grief, but remains melancholic to the rest of his life. His trauma is like what Versluys writes, “Trauma makes time come to a standstill as the victim cannot shed his or her remembrance and is caught in a ceaseless imaginative reiteration of the traumatic experience” (3).

In Foer’s Extremely Loud Incredibly Close Oskar, is also suffering from trauma. He remains disturbed having lost his father because “even after a year” of the event he finds himself unable doing certain things, like taking showers, for some reason, and getting into elevators” (Foer 36) apart from it, he develops a sense of panic or scaring seeing some things like, “airplanes, fireworks, Arab people” (36). That’s why he wants to invent his father’s substitute in the form of a “teakettle” that can read in his “Dad’s voice” (1) so that he may sleep. His mother cannot express her sorrow because she does not want to transfer her trauma to her son. Her character reveals that a mother can never see her child in sorrow so she pretends to be happy. His grandparents were also the victims not only 9/11 but also the Dresden bomb blast. At the time of the Dresden event his grandmother lost her entire family, his grandfather lost his beloved and unborn child. He never comes out from this trauma of losing his beloved.  He gets married with Oskar’s grandmother, but when he comes to know about the fact he goes far away by leaving her alone. But at last the entire family reunites.

Through the characters of these novels the novelists describe the actual time, place, action of different people who fell prey of this event. They also describe that some of the victims still suffering from the trauma or some kind of lung diseases. Some people overcome their suffering by engaging themselves in different activities just as Oskar in Extremely Loud Incredibly Close gets engaged in search the lock of the Key and Lianne in Falling Man remains busy in serving Alzheimer’s patients some learns to lead their life with these sufferings like Keith in Falling Man who gets busy playing poker game and Oskar’s grandfather in Extremely Loud Incredibly Close who loses his ability of speaking. All these characters are the reflection of 9/11 trauma victims and American society.
The narratives of both novels Falling Man by DeLillo and Extremely Loud Incredibly Close by Foer transport the real-life events of the American society into fiction.  Through these narratives the pathetic condition of American society after the 9/11 attacks peeping out it proves that literature is the mirror or reflection of society.

After reading these novels the readers realize that they are watching the whole event with their bare eyes and also listening all those voices which were scattered at the time of 9/11 attacks. This is the narrative skill of the authors that the readers assume themselves to be there at the place where 9/11 event took place without watching television and without listening a radio. The profound description of 9/11 event and its influence on Americans and on other victims by DeLillo and Foer in their novels prove that literature in real sense is the reflection of society because more or less literary any genre takes its origin from the social or political and from the day to day happenings. It seems that both DeLillo in his Falling Man Foer in his Extremely Loud Incredibly Close both novelists are successful in representing the unequaled inconsolable trauma, terror, tensions of American society as it was at the time of 9/11 aftermath.

Works Cited

  • Agnihotri, B.P..Selected English Poems. Kanpur: Grantham, 2002. Print.
  • Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.
  • Introduction. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995. Print.
  • Cvek, Sven. 9/11: Event, Trauma, Nation, Globalization. Zagreb: Filozofski Fakultet. 2009. Print.
  • DeLillo, Don. Falling Man. New York: Scribner, 2007. Print.
  • Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud Incredibly Close. England: Penguin, 2005. Print.
  • Google sources. Web.
  • Keniston, Ann., Jeanne Follansbee Quinn. Literature After 9/11. New York: Routledge. 2008.Print.
  • MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Paper. 7th ed. New Delhi: East- West Pvt. Ltd. 2009. Print.
  • Oxford Dictionary.
  • Verbestel, Ellen. Trauma and Post-9/11 novels: Foer, McEwan and McInerney. Diss. Ghent University. 2010. Print.
  • Versluys, Kristiaan. Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel. New York: Columbia Uni. Press. 2009. Print.
  • (The present article has publishe in Interternational Conference on Language and Literature through Ages).


More by :  Durga Patva

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