Don DeLillo Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Don DeLillo acknowledges the influence on film in his novels. How is this interest in the cinema reflected in DeLillo’s handling of character and plot?

DeLillo has been called a gifted satirist. In what ways can his work be considered satiric?

DeLillo worked for a time in commercial advertising and has written at length about the power of electronic media. How does DeLillo see the relationship between literature and the visual media?

How do the lessons of the Kennedy assassination, which DeLillo cites as responsible for turning him into a novelist, figure in DeLillo’s writing?

DeLillo’s novels are often called “novels of ideas,” rather than novels of character and plot. What is the difference, and how does this affect the reader’s role in approaching DeLillo?

What evidence is there in DeLillo’s writing of his interest in religion?

As a cultural anatomist, DeLillo has long argued the central place of violence in American culture. What does he see as the causes of violence in late twentieth century America?

How does DeLillo experiment with how a story is told, making the process of narrative itself the subject of interest rather than the story?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Don DeLillo (duh-LIHL-oh) has focused his major literary efforts on the novel, he has contributed short stories to periodicals, including The New Yorker, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, South Atlantic Quarterly, and The Atlantic Monthly, and has written a screenplay and several plays.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The publication in 1971 of Don DeLillo’s first novel, Americana, launched the career of one of America’s most innovative and intriguing writers. DeLillo has produced satirical novels that drill into and hammer at the chaos of modern society, the lack of coherence and order in institutions, the breakdown of personal relationships, and particularly the failure of language. His driving, mercurial, upbeat prose at times smacks of an idiosyncratic pedantry yet abounds in lyricism and musicality. Some readers have labeled his prose “mandarin,” after the fashion of Donald Barthelme and Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon definitely influenced him, but DeLillo has pushed far beyond the limits of imitation or even derivation, asserting a truly independent voice. The promise of prodigious talent inherent in his first novel flowered in later works.

In 1984, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters presented to DeLillo its Award in Literature. White Noise won the 1985 National Book Award, Libra won the 1989 Irish Times/Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize, Mao II won the 1991 PEN/Faulkner Award, and Underworld was nominated for the 1997 National Book Award. Additionally, DeLillo was selected as one of two fiction writers to receive the 1995 Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, which provides three years of financial support. In 1999, DeLillo was the first American awarded the Jerusalem Prize, given to writers who contend with the issue of freedom and individuality in society. He received the William Dean Howells Medal and the Riccardo Bachelli International Award for Underworld in 2000. DeLillo’s novels, although often criticized as plotless disquisitions that never produce anything but comic-strip characters, nevertheless stimulate and excite readers and critics with their musicality, their rhetorical rigor, and their philosophical depth.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bizzini, Silvia Caporale. “Can the Intellectual Still Speak? The Example of Don DeLillo’s Mao II.” Critical Quarterly 37, no. 2 (Summer, 1995): 104-117. Bizzini discusses the “transformation” of the writer in Mao II using the theories of Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. An interesting examination of the writer in postmodern society and a helpful introduction to the uses of both critics’ ideas within textual criticism.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Don DeLillo’s “White Noise.” New York: Chelsea House, 2002. Part of the Modern Critical Interpretations series edited by Bloom. A wide range of essays are presented to give an overview of critical reactions to DeLillo’s novel.

Bryant, Paula. “Discussing the Untellable: Don DeLillo’s The Names.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 29 (Fall, 1987): 16-29. Discusses DeLillo’s avocation of language in his novel The Names. Bryant cites DeLillo as a writer who uses “idiosyncratic expression within the existing language system.” Well worth reading; Bryant writes with knowledge and confidence.

Carmichael, Thomas. “Lee Harvey Oswald and the Postmodern Subject: History and Intertextuality in Don DeLillo’s Libra, The Names, and Mao II.” Contemporary Literature 34, no. 2 (Summer, 1993): 204-218. An intertextual reading of three of DeLillo’s novels within the context of critical debates over the “subject.”...

(The entire section is 644 words.)