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Libra Summary

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.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Libra, a novel that creates a plausible reading of the Kennedy assassination, the narrative center inevitably belongs to Lee Harvey Oswald, the alienated Nobody fed on tough-guy fantasies that he ingests without care from television and film and who, at age twenty-four, is determined to become part of history. In Libra, DeLillo meticulously recreates a believable Oswald, carefully balancing the conflicting extremes of the historic Oswald, specifically, his commitments to both the Left and the Right, his allegiance to the Soviet Union (he was a Soviet defector), and his allegiance to the United States (he was a Marine). Oswald’s astronomical sign, Libra, serves as DeLillo’s metaphor. Unlike others who have tackled the events in Dallas since the Warren Commission, DeLillo is not interested in solving the shooting of the president so much as examining the process of solution itself, how history becomes convincing narrative, how facts produce fictions.

In DeLillo’s scenario, the assassination begins as a charade assassination, a designed near-miss on the president’s motorcade that would convince the country to reconsider the threat from Cuba. That designed near-miss escalates in the hands of disgruntled Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents from the Bay of Pigs debacle into the actual assassination in Dallas. Oswald is a perfect dupe for the emerging plotters, the credible lone gunman necessary for the complex intrigue.

Although the play between the conspirators and the unsuspecting Oswald is mesmerizing and quite believable (indeed, some critics blasted DeLillo for irresponsibly confecting history), DeLillo is more interested in the tenuous nature of fact itself—no matter how much Dallas is investigated, no one will ever know for certain what happened. In addition to the conspirators who carefully fashion a “usable” Oswald by manufacturing phony documents and doctored photographs, Oswald himself keeps changing his identity (he maintains dozens of fake identities and goes by several names), uncertain over who he is politically and whether he wants to settle for being ordinary. DeLillo then adds the story of Nicholas Branch, a fictional retired CIA agent given the responsibility fifteen years after Dallas to piece together a “final” reading of the shooting using the formidable accumulation of evidence, a task he ultimately decides is impossible. Moreover, there is ultimately a fourth narrative voice—DeLillo himself—who argues finally that history itself is a delicate work of fiction, a necessarily contradictory reading of events into plausible-enough truths. Ambiguity, DeLillo argues, is the ultimate reward of awareness.

What DeLillo creates then is not a sympathetic portrait of one of American history’s most notorious figures (although initial critical reaction accused DeLillo of trying to generate sympathy for Oswald by showing his economic struggles and his profound...

(The entire section is 1,581 words.)