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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 176

Libra, written by Don DeLillo, was first published in 1988. This story is about the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy, and it blends reality with fiction.

This novel discusses the events that helped shape the assassination on November 22, 1963. This...

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Libra, written by Don DeLillo, was first published in 1988. This story is about the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy, and it blends reality with fiction.

This novel discusses the events that helped shape the assassination on November 22, 1963. This story describes Oswald's life as a young boy, as an adolescent in the Marine Corps, his marriage, and his role in Kennedy's assassination.

DeLillo claims that the assassination attempt made on Kennedy was in fact a plot by the CIA in order to convince the government to declare a war on Cuba. To do this, he introduces a character named Nicholas Branch, a CIA chronicler.

In the novel, Oswald is portrayed as an odd man with dyslexia. DeLillo describes Oswald as a complicated man who readers can easily identify with. For example, in the novel Oswald is loving towards his wife and children but also beats his own wife and disrespects his mother.

DeLillo also introduces other men involved in the assassination attempt: Win Everett, Lawrence Parmenter, and Guy Banister.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 844

Libra is Don DeLillo’s fictional re-creation of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, and of the conspiracy that many believe lay behind the assassination.

DeLillo has woven his novel from three major strands. The first is the story of Oswald himself, from his childhood in New York City until his death at the hands of Jack Ruby. The second strand follows the growth of a conspiracy to commit some act that will focus the anger of the U.S. government on Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The plot is originally intended to fail; as DeLillo notes, however, “There is a tendency of plots to move toward death.” In the third and simplest strand of the novel, retired CIA analyst Nicholas Branch is trying years later to write a classified history of what took place.

As Libra opens, young Lee Harvey Oswald is living in the Bronx with his widowed mother, Marguerite Oswald. Her efforts at finding another husband have failed, as have her attempts to make a home with relatives. In what will become a familiar pattern, Lee and his mother always seem to be on the move to increasingly cheaper apartments. Eventually, mother and son return to New Orleans. Lee was born there, and Marguerite’s sister still lives there, but once again there seems to be no home for them. Along the way, Lee discovers Marxism, which offers him an explanation for his marginalized situation in society, but he also enlists in the Marines. He is assigned to Atsugi Naval Air Station in Japan, from which U2 spy flights are launched over the Soviet Union. In Japan, he also begins an affair and makes contact with Soviet agents, expressing his belief in Marxism and offering to defect.

When he learns that his unit is scheduled to leave Japan, Lee shoots himself in the arm in a vain attempt to remain behind. A second incident—a fight with a sergeant—earns him a court martial and a brief sentence in the brig.

When Marguerite suffers a minor accident, Lee secures an early separation from the Marines. Rather than take care of his mother, however, he travels to the Soviet Union to defect. There, he marries but fails to find a meaningful role. Repeating the pattern established in his youth, he returns to the United States only to pass through a series of dead-end jobs. He becomes obsessed with making a place for himself and becoming a part of history. His attempt to assassinate right-wing General Edwin A. Walker fails, but he attracts the attention of conspirators plotting a far more important crime. The group needs a patsy with ties to the Communist world, and Oswald seems made for their purposes.

The conspirators are Win Everett, Larry Parmenter, T. J. Mackey, and David Ferrie. Bitter at American failure to support a rebel invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, Everett concocts a phony assassination attempt, complete with carefully planted clues that will lead to Fidel Castro’s doorstep. Parmenter uses his contacts in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to identify a likely patsy, a young man with increasingly violent tendencies who has recently returned from the Soviet Union. Mackey assembles a backup team of assassins. Unknown to Everett and Parmenter, however, Mackey neglects to explain to his team that they are supposed to miss.

Years later, CIA historian Nicholas Branch concludes that the assassination of JFK was largely a matter of chance. The conspirators focus their plans on Miami, but chance dictates that the Secret Service increase its security in Miami. Chance then takes the President to Dallas, placing him in a motorcade scheduled to pass by the very building, the Texas School Book Depository, where Oswald now works. Conspirator David Ferrie, who knew Lee as a child, persuades the increasingly unbalanced young man that fate is handing him his next target.

By November 22, 1963, Lee has fallen in with Ferrie’s plan. From his window in the depository, he fires three shots at the presidential motorcade. The first hits Kennedy near the neck, the second strikes Texas governor John Connally (riding in the limousine with Kennedy), and the third misses completely. A member of Mackey’s team actually fires the fatal shot to Kennedy’s head. Lee flees the building for his rendezvous point, the Texas Theater. On the way, he is stopped by Patrolman Tippit, whom he shoots. Mackey plans to have Lee murdered in the theater, but police apprehend him before the murder can take place.

Suddenly in need of help, the conspirators approach Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Knowing that Ruby owes thousands of dollars in back taxes, they promise to loan him money and forgive the debt. Genuinely distraught over Kennedy’s death, Ruby is easily persuaded that the public will idolize him for murdering the president’s assassin. Ruby slips into the Dallas jail, where he is a well-known local figure, and shoots Lee. Libra concludes with a rambling, embittered soliloquy by Marguerite Oswald over the grave of her dead son.

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