Introductory Lecture and Objectives

Falling Man eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

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.

Multiple-Choice/Essay Test

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
  • Alienation

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:

  • Rituals
  • Art
  • A shirt falling from the sky
  • Small acts of violence
  • Dogs
  • “Empty space”
  • “Falling”

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
  • Taxis
  • Deserts
  • 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.)

Chapter 1


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.)

Chapter 2


abstract: not founded on an attempt to represent external reality; non-representational (as in art)

atrocities: horrifying conditions, qualities, or acts

disarray: disorder

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.)

Chapter 3


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.)

Chapter 4


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.)

Chapter 5


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.)

On Marienstrasse


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.)

Chapter 6


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.)

Chapter 7


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

consequential: important

denominations: values or sizes

devising: inventing

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.)

Chapter 8


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

crafty: clever

deft: skillful

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.)

Chapter 9


absurdist: relating to the perceived senselessness of human life

anonymity: the state of being unnamed or unidentified

antic: clownish

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

obstinacy: stubbornness

perilous: dangerous

pilasters: square or rectangular columns or pillars projecting from a wall or on either side of a...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

In Nokomis


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.)

Chapter 10


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

dispirited: discouraged

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.)

Chapter 11


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.)

Chapter 12


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

folly: foolishness

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.)

Chapter 13


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.)

Chapter 14


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

Study Questions

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.)