The Body Artist

by Don DeLillo

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483

Through Lauren's unique profession as a body artist, DeLillo is able to explore the theme of identity construction. All of the characters in the novel participate in a conscious construction of their individuality, in terms of how they see themselves in general, and how they see themselves in relation to others. The obituary describes how Rey constructed himself as a film director, changing his name from Alejandro Alquezar to Rey Robles, a film character's name, when he became involved with the medium, and it was clear that that was what he was going to do for the rest of his life. Even very minor characters, such as Rey's first wife, Isabel Corrales, are not described but allowed to develop themselves through their own voice. Isabel, when talking to Lauren, sets herself up as the one who knew Rey, and as someone who has a great depth of understanding. In the same way, Mariella establishes her own identity in relation to Lauren's in her article about "Body Time," in which she divulges that they had gone to college together and continue to be friends. Lauren and Mr. Tuttle advance this theme most clearly, for they each, at some point in the story, are a blank slate onto which other personalities may be built.

Mr. Tuttle repeats things that both Lauren and Rey said, but for the most part, he takes on Rey's identity—Rey's voice, Rey's words, Rey's movements. Lauren interacts with him often as a kind of surrogate Rey, not believing that he was Rey, but not attempting to understand his own unique personality either. Lauren uses the constructedness of Mr. Tuttle's identity to understand her own better. Lauren does not befriend Mr. Tuttle because she is interested in him, but because she can, in a way, use him to examine her past and thus understand the nature of her own identity better. This is the same idea that she incorporates into her art, in which she undergoes certain rituals to make her body into a blank slate onto which she can write other people's identities. She does this to understand them better, but also to help those who see her perform understand their own better. She attempts to slow down time for them, in the same way that Mr. Tuttle was able to slow down time for her. All of this is to explore the way in which we experience reality, which allows one to examine the way in which personality is constructed and how one interacts with the world.

Lauren breaks down time into isolated movements for her audience, and DeLillo does the same for his readers. From the beginning, the unique choreography of daily life, like the breakfast Lauren and Rey share, or the way one notices a bird fly by, or the way someone checks her watch, is shared and examined, and is its own kind of performance piece.

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