eNotes Lesson Plan
Introductory Lecture and Objectives
September 11, 2001, marked a grim day in United States history. On a sunny Tuesday morning, Islamic extremists hijacked and intentionally crashed four commercial airliners in three locations. Nearly 3,000 people were killed, including 2,753 in New York City’s World Trade Center towers, which collapsed shortly after being hit. The horrific events and long aftermath of that day provide the backdrop for Falling Man, Don DeLillo’s story of a fictional World Trade Center survivor and his family.
DeLillo introduces Keith Neudecker as he staggers bloodied from the scene of the attacks through the otherworldly streets of New York. At the end of the novel, DeLillo circles back to September 11 with a muted depiction of Keith’s horror inside the tower. In between, the narrative follows Keith and his estranged wife Lianne in the days and years after the attacks. The couple reunites tentatively, and Keith begins a brief affair with a fellow survivor. Through Lianne’s eyes, DeLillo also explores the shadows cast by the day on the lives of Lianne’s mother Nina, Nina’s lover Martin, Lianne and Keith’s son Justin, and the elderly members of a writing group who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Three short chapters imagine the life and mind of a September 11 terrorist as he transforms from young student to Islamic radical in the years before the attacks.
Connection and disconnection in the characters’ relationships provide the dramatic tension in Falling Man. After the attacks, Lianne yearns for security and a renewed connection with Keith. Keith wants to be close to his family at first, but he later retreats both emotionally and physically. His affair quickly blooms and dies. Nina’s long-term relationship with Martin falters over their divided views on the causes of terrorism. As Sam Leith of The Spectator notes, “Falling Man is not simply the story of how catastrophe can rekindle human connections. It rather tells the complicated story of how people try to come together, and half succeed, and then fall apart from each other again.” Falling Man also examines the potent appeal of religion and ritual, both for the American characters who seek meaning and order after the disorienting horror of September 11 and for the terrorist who murders in God’s name.
In his long career as a novelist, Don DeLillo has written frequently on the topic of terrorism. A lifelong New Yorker, he seems to have presaged the September 11 attacks with details in some of his work. In the 1977 novel Players, he describes the World Trade Center: “The towers didn’t seem permanent.” The cover of his 1998 book Underworld shows a photograph of the tops of the twin towers shrouded in clouds. Next to them, the silhouette of a bird in flight could, on first glance, be mistaken for a plane.
Because of DeLillo’s interest in New York City and in terrorism, his September 11 novel was eagerly anticipated by readers and critics. When it was published, it was greeted with mixed reviews. Some critics familiar with DeLillo’s earlier work expected a novel that would illuminate the post-September 11 cultural and geopolitical climate in DeLillo’s broad, satirical signature style. Instead, the scope of Falling Man is small, the tone is somber, and Keith Neudecker, DeLillo’s protagonist, is largely unsympathetic. Other reviewers feel Falling Man is important precisely because of the humility with which the acclaimed author explores the traumatic day in the country’s recent past. DeLillo does include one of the sly and shocking elements that are typical of his work. His character Falling Man is a performance artist who wears a safety harness to jump from high places. Dressed in a business suit, Falling Man plunges toward the ground, his attire and body posture mimicking a widely seen news photograph of a man dropping to his death from one of the burning towers. DeLillo leaves the motivation behind Falling Man’s ritual mysterious. This intentional ambiguity is perhaps DeLillo’s way of questioning the value of art, including his own novel, as a response to a personal and public tragedy as painfully raw and recent as the terrorist attacks of September 11.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Describe each character’s response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
2. Explain the changes in the characters’ relationships as the book progresses.
3. Discuss the roles religion and ritual play in the characters’ lives.
4. Identify Keith’s conflicting desires for connection and disconnection.
5. Identify Lianne’s fears and describe her attempts to deal with them.
6. Discuss possible interpretations of Falling Man’s performance art.
7. Describe Hammad’s transformation as he becomes a terrorist.
Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Lesson Guide
• The Lesson Guide is organized for a study of the book by chapters. Lesson Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Lesson Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each section of the book and to acquaint them generally with its content.
• Before Lesson Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Lesson Guide vocabulary lists include words from the book that vary in difficulty.
1. The vocabulary lists for each section are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them.
2. Working from the Lesson Guide vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each section that are most appropriate for them.
Essay and Discussion Questions
The essay and discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.
2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.
Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the book; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences.
2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the book.
3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.
Before students read the novel, explain that themes are universal ideas developed in literature. Point out that these themes will be developed in the work; discuss them with students as they read and/or after they finish reading:
- Mortality and death
- Religion and ritual
- Belief vs. doubt
- The power of memory
- Family relationships
Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or repeated action, element, or idea in literature. As they read, have them pay attention to the following motifs:
- A shirt falling from the sky
- Small acts of violence
- “Empty space”
A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have students discuss how the author develops the following symbols and what ideas the symbols could suggest. Have them look for other symbols on their own.
- Falling Man
- Nina’s still life paintings
Essay and Discussion Questions
1. Why does DeLillo choose Keith as the central figure for his novel about September 11? Is Keith a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
2. Why might DeLillo want to imagine the story of a September 11 terrorist? What complexity or insight do the chapters on Hammad add to Falling Man?
3. Hammad is devoted to his radical cause, but he is not a leader within it. Why might DeLillo have chosen to write inside the mind of a follower like Hammad rather than a leader like Amir?
4. What is the appeal of extremism for Hammad? Is he the terrorist that Nina imagines, living in a closed world and seized by a contagious idea, or does he fit Martin’s idea of a disenfranchised activist striking a blow to America’s dominance?
5. Why does DeLillo write the events of the story out of chronological order? Why might he choose to leave Keith’s experience in the tower until the end?
6. What is Falling Man/David Janiak’s importance in the novel? Do his falls qualify as art? Why or why not?
7. Why does DeLillo have Keith and Florence enter into an affair instead of simply becoming friends? What qualities of each character are revealed through their affair?
8. Do you think Keith told Florence that he witnessed Rumsey’s death? If Keith did tell Florence, how might sharing such a difficult experience have affected his feelings for her?
9. Throughout their marriage, Lianne feels the word “husband” does not apply to Keith. What does she want from their relationship after they reunite? Why can’t Keith fulfill her desires?
10. Lianne calls professional poker “total psychotic folly.” Why does she look down on poker? Is playing poker a worthwhile career? Why or why not?
11. How does DeLillo depict professional...
(The entire section is 505 words.)
Additional Reference Information
September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks timeline in Eastern Daylight Time
8:46 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 hits north tower of World Trade Center in New York City.
9:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175 hits south tower of World Trade Center.
9:37 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77 hits Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
9:59 a.m. South tower of World Trade Center collapses.
10:03 a.m. United Airlines Flight 93 crashes in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers resist the hijacking. It is believed that the hijackers’ intended target was the U.S. Capitol or the White House in Washington...
(The entire section is 101 words.)
abeyance: temporary inactivity, suspension
aloft: at or to a great height; in the air
bolls: seed-bearing capsules of a plant such as cotton; objects resembling such capsules
debris: the remains of something broken down, destroyed, or discarded
obscure: dark, dim; not clearly seen or easily distinguished; not readily understood
pall: something that covers or conceals; especially an overspreading element that produces an effect of gloom
pulverized: reduced (as by crushing, beating, or grinding) to very small particles
seismic: of, subject to, or caused by an earthquake; of or relating to an earth vibration caused by something else (as an explosion or...
(The entire section is 407 words.)
abstract: not founded on an attempt to represent external reality; non-representational (as in art)
atrocities: horrifying conditions, qualities, or acts
encroachments: acts of entering by gradual steps or by stealth into the possessions or rights of another
figurative: of or relating to representation of form or figure (as in art)
flourishes: ornamental strokes in writing or printing; decorative or finishing details
intimation: delicate or indirect communication
latent: hidden, concealed; present and capable of emerging but not now visible or obvious
natura morta: Italian still life;...
(The entire section is 678 words.)
bloodguilt: guilt for the shedding of blood
conspire: to act in harmony toward a common aim, especially a secret or unlawful one
contusions: bruises, injuries to tissue usually without breaks in the skin
corrugated: bent into regular curved folds or grooves
countervailing: compensating; resisting with equal force
embedded: fixed firmly in a surrounding solid mass
emendations: alterations designed to correct or improve
extremities: the uttermost parts of the body; the hands and the feet
filigree: ornamental openwork of delicate or intricate design; a pattern or design resembling such openwork
furtive: marked by or expressive of stealth;...
(The entire section is 623 words.)
arbiter: one whose judgment or opinion is considered authoritative
atrium: a many-storied court in a building (as a hotel), usually with a skylight
auditory: of, relating to, or experienced through hearing
burnished: made shiny or lustrous by rubbing
deference: courteous regard; submission to the acknowledged superior qualities of another
dispossessed: deprived of the possession of something
elect: a select or exclusive group of people
flat: an apartment with all rooms on one floor
polyglot: speaking or writing several languages, multilingual
prefigurings: early indications of something; foreshadowings
propagation: production of...
(The entire section is 659 words.)
aggrieved: showing grief, injury, or offense
allude: to suggest; to hint at
aloof: removed or distant either physically or emotionally
archetype: the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies
ardent: intensely eager
bearing: the manner in which one carries oneself
bin Laden: Osama bin Laden (1957-2011); founder of al-Qaida, the Islamic terrorist organization that claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks and many other terrorist acts
compliant: inclined to obey rules or yield to the wishes of others
cosmocentric: relating to the idea that other planets should not be altered for human...
(The entire section is 891 words.)
heretics: those who dissent from accepted belief or doctrine, especially in matters of religion
hypocrite: one who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings
jihad: a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty; a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline
Kalashnikovs: assault rifles also known as AK-47s
Koran: the book composed of sacred writings accepted by Muslims as revelations made to Muhammad by Allah through the angel Gabriel
martyrs of the Ayatollah: underage Iranian boys who sacrificed themselves on landmines and to Iraqi guns in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988; Iran’s Supreme Leader...
(The entire section is 672 words.)
aberrations: deviations from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically unwelcome ones
archaic: having the characteristics of the language of the past and surviving chiefly in specialized uses
baleful: foreboding or threatening evil
battering: beating with repeated blows
cunning: expert skill; slyness
delirium: an acute mental disturbance characterized by confused thinking and disrupted attention usually accompanied by disordered speech and hallucinations
distillations: liquids purified by repeated evaporation and concentration
elemental: of, relating to, or being the basic or essential part of something
exemplified: shown or illustrated by...
(The entire section is 751 words.)
affinity: an attraction to or a liking for something or someone
allotments: assigned shares or portions
askew: out of line, not straight
brink: threshold of danger
cognitive dissonance: psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously
connivance: knowledge of and active or passive consent to wrongdoing
denominations: values or sizes
disembodied: freed from or without a body
facade: the front of a building
filaments: single threads or thin flexible threadlike objects; chains of proteins in the brain that are malformed in Alzheimer’s...
(The entire section is 930 words.)
aesthetics: a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste in artistic expression
clinically: analytically, without emotion
cloche: a woman’s close-fitting hat usually made with a deep rounded crown and narrow brim
complicit: involved knowingly or passively
derisively: in a manner expressing ridicule or scorn
embarkation: the process of boarding a ship prior to a journey
immersed: plunged into something that surrounds or covers
isotonic: relating to muscle contraction without significant resistance
Marxist: of the political, economic, and social principles and policies of...
(The entire section is 717 words.)
absurdist: relating to the perceived senselessness of human life
anonymity: the state of being unnamed or unidentified
aslant: in a sloping direction
auspicious: predicting something good
brevity: shortness of duration
deluge: a flood
derelict: a homeless person
extenuating: justifying, compensating
implications: possible significance; likely conclusions to be drawn from something
keels: falls over
mannerism: a habitual gesture or way of speaking
pilasters: square or rectangular columns or pillars projecting from a wall or on either side of a...
(The entire section is 502 words.)
aileron: a hinged flap at the back edge of an airplane wing that is used for imparting a rolling motion
especially in banking for turns
autopilot: a device for automatically steering ships, aircraft, and spacecraft
defiling: making unclean or impure
deviations: departures from an established course
hajji: one who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca
kufr: Arabic a religious disbeliever; a denier of God
Land of the Two Holy Places: Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia
martyrdom: the suffering of death on account of adherence to a cause, especially one of religious faith
plastique: a plastic explosive...
(The entire section is 461 words.)
banter: to speak to or address in a witty and teasing manner
Byzantine: relating to the ancient city of Byzantium (now Istanbul, Turkey) or its architectural style
cravat: a scarf worn at the neck usually by men
dissent: difference of opinion; political opposition to a government or its policies
drawled: spoken slowly with vowels prolonged
gestural: a movement usually of the body or limbs that expresses or emphasizes an idea, sentiment, or attitude
Hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca prescribed as a religious duty for Muslims
haunches: the buttocks and thighs of a human or animal
mystical: having a spiritual meaning or...
(The entire section is 757 words.)
abstemious: sparing or moderate in eating and drinking; characterized by abstinence
armory: a place where arms and military equipment are stored
carousing: drunken partying
elusive: difficult to comprehend or define
incidentals: minor items related to something more important; in a hotel, additional and optional items not included in the room rate
infarcts: areas of dead internal tissue resulting from obstruction of blood circulation
morphology: the form and structure of an organism or any of its parts
the Strip: (the Las Vegas Strip) refers to Las Vegas Boulevard, a street in and immediately adjacent to
Las Vegas, Nevada; most of the city’s...
(The entire section is 622 words.)
accumulated: gathered or piled up especially little by little
berserk: one who is frenzied, violent, or recklessly defiant
binary: involving a choice or condition of two alternatives
cadence: the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or activity
indirection: lack of openness
monochrome: a painting, drawing, or photograph in a single hue
nuance: a subtle distinction or variation
oblongs: forms deviating from a square, circular, or spherical form by elongation in one dimension
salvo: a simultaneous discharge of two or more guns in military action or as a salute; a sudden burst of something suggestive of a salvo...
(The entire section is 664 words.)
chronicler: one who makes or presents a record of events
contiguous: in contact; touching along a boundary or at a point
dramaturgy: the art or technique of dramatic composition and theatrical representation
exhibitionist: one who behaves so as to attract attention to oneself
improvisation: the act of composing, reciting, playing, or singing without preparation
in memoriam: in memory of
notorious: widely and unfavorably known
obituary: a notice of a person’s death usually with a short biographical account of his or her life
parapet: a low wall or barrier, often ornamental, placed at the edge of a platform, balcony, or roof to prevent people...
(The entire section is 532 words.)
bulwarks: solid wall-like structures raised for defense
dwindled: became steadily lessened; shrank
entity: a being or existence, especially an independent, self-contained existence
forthright: going straight to the point; direct, frank
geopolitical: relating to the politics of relations among nations as influenced by factors such as geography, economics, and demography
infidel: a nonbeliever with respect to a particular religion; one who acknowledges no religious belief
marginally: in a manner close to the lower limit of qualification, acceptability, or function
mildew: a whitish coating of fungal growth produced on plants or damp organic matter...
(The entire section is 837 words.)
In the Hudson Corridor
fugue: a musical composition in which one or two themes are repeated or imitated by successively
entering and interweaving voices; something that resembles a fugue especially in interweaving repetitive elements
gouge: a groove or cavity scooped out
silhouettes: dark outlines, shadows in profile against lighter backgrounds
stark: rigid; severe
truss: an assemblage of beams forming a rigid framework
vast: huge, immense
vestigial: remaining in a degenerate or imperfect condition or form
wincing: making an involuntary shrinking movement in response to pain
1. What is Hammad’s state of...
(The entire section is 506 words.)
Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key
1. When he leaves the tower on September 11, what does Keith carry?
A. a shirt
B. a briefcase
C. a tricycle
D. a crowbar
E. a cat
2. Where does Keith go when he leaves the scene of the attacks on September 11?
A. Lianne and Justin’s apartment
B. his weekly poker game
C. Las Vegas
D. Florence’s apartment
E. Justin’s school
3. Which best describes Keith’s demeanor as he...
(The entire section is 1012 words.)
Essay Exam Questions With Answers
1. The September 11 terrorist attacks are a catalyst for connection and disconnection in the novel. How are the relationships of Keith and Lianne, Keith and Florence, and Martin and Nina affected by each character’s response to the events of that day? Support your discussion with examples from the novel.
In Falling Man, the events of September 11 elicit varied responses from the book’s characters that affect the connections in their lives. After the attacks, Keith seeks connection by reuniting with Lianne and beginning a relationship with Florence. Later, Keith’s desire for distance leads him away from both women. Martin and Nina split after twenty years together, at least in part because of...
(The entire section is 3474 words.)