Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

At its most obvious level, Libra recounts the life of Lee Harvey Oswald. DeLillo clearly has studied the vast assassination literature carefully. Those familiar with the case will recognize many of Lee and Marguerite’s actual words, but even informed readers will have a hard time determining where the public record ends and DeLillo’s fiction begins. On another level, Libra provides a plausible psychological and social context in which Lee’s character could have developed and the assassination could have taken place. The novel succeeds brilliantly on both levels, offering as it does so a penetrating critique of a society controlled by new and little-understood forces.

In broad terms, Lee’s life is a search for some system, political or otherwise, that will give his life meaning. American capitalism seems to offer him only a marginal existence, so his discovery of Marxism provides him with a measure of hope. Once in the Soviet Union, however, he finds only a grayer version of life in the West. By the end of the novel, he is fantasizing that there may be a place for him and his family in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Yet nonpolitical systems are what snare Lee and in the end define his life. Marguerite Oswald’s web of words, her litany of excuses and grievances, constitute one such system—one that Lee strives constantly to escape.

Without quite realizing it, however, Lee has already defined himself through...

(The entire section is 567 words.)