Libra: questions on point of view and storytelling

“In what might be interpreted as one of several ways of debunking the Camelot myth, DeLillo chose Lee Harvey Oswald as the thematic centre of the novel, rather than President John F. Kennedy. Oswald undergoes an identity crisis and needs to project it on the nameless, faceless people he sees everyday in the subway. He has to check his troubles against a group of people because by transferring his fear and discontent with society, he is reassured to belong, to be a cog in the wheel. He needs to experience anger within a framework which he creates and of which he then becomes part.” (Cîmpean 159).

What does Cîmpean’s analysis tell us about Lee Harvey Oswald as a character in DeLillo’s novel? Why might the use of Oswald’s point of view be surprising to American readers? Given what you have read about Oswald so far, are you sympathetic to his character, or skeptical of his story?

5 Replies to “Libra: questions on point of view and storytelling”

  1. I think that the significance of DeLillo using Oswald as the main character is that of forcing some reality upon the American readership about this particular subject that has been shrouded in conspiracy theories and pointed fingers. JFK’s assassination is still an event that puzzles and excites people today due to the multiple variations/theories that people have about that day, the number of bullets, a CIA plot…the truth remains elusive and fantastical to us, even today.
    Having Oswald as the focus and at the center of the novel allows us, the audience, to see the assassination through new and perhaps unwelcome eyes. The American public may not have wanted to see such a well known and mystical story like JFK’s assassination to be told through the eyes of his killer but in doing so, we get a more complex character of Oswald, humanizing him as we are forced to see and live events through him.

  2. I think anytime a traditionally perceived antagonist is treated as a protagonist in literature or film, as readers, we’re meant to temporarily suspend our disbelief of their past. This doesn’t mean we have to completely reconsider their reputation, however, we might be encouraged to feel some sympathy towards them as a character. While the phrase “there are always two sides to a story” is disgusting cliché, I think in cases like this, it may be worth considering.

    I think what’s most interesting about Oswald is how the story seems to portray him as a misfit rather than a cold-hearted villain. Although he beats his wife, he loves his children, making us feel conflicted about his character.

    While Oswald’s struggle with dyslexia obviously hinders his ability to read and write, I think this learning disability speaks to a larger conversation surrounding humans misreading themselves and others. When Americans read and watched news stories about the assassination of JFK, in a sense, they were only getting a limited perspective of the event. The mainstream media has the power to determine one form of “truth” by limiting other perspectives. While I’m by no means defending Oswald’s actions, I think DeLillo is essentially crafting this alternative narrative to force us to think who gets to determine what the “truth” is.

  3. “If life could be compared to a circle, then Oswald could be pictured as the centre and the circumference of his own circle. He is the lead character of the stories he himself has devised” (160). Cîmpean’s analysis, which this quote seems to exemplify, focuses on the intrigue and power that comes from storytelling. The ability to craft narrative is central to the plots of Win Everrett, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Nicholas Branch as each uses their story to exercise control over history (whether personal or political). For Oswald especially the ability to control history is one that’s particularly important because it gives him a sense of importance; particularly, it explains his impoverished childhood in the dramatic narrative of exploited proletariate rather than a series of fateful misfortunes. Lee imagines himself “the product of a sweeping history, he and his mother, locked into a process” (41).

    DeLillo certainly gives us something to sympathize with here: an ostracized child, emotionally troubled, who constantly strives to create a distance between himself and the world most likely to avoid more trauma. In the age of the antihero, we might imagine this to be the personal history of Tony Soprano or Walter White. Of course, these sympathetic character features shouldn’t blind us to other breadcrumbs DeLillo leaves in Oswald’s childhood that lead to his violent future. The fascination with violence, ritualistic reading of the Marine Corps manual (the desire to shoot for the gut to prolong death), and voyeuristic fantasies of Robert’s older sister as just a few ‘red flags’ to remind a careful reader that Lee stands apart not because of his turbulent childhood, but because of the violent acts he choses to build upon it.

  4. I think writing a novel from Lee Harvey Oswald’s point of view was a really bold choice. I agree with Kate that the interest in the assassination is still alive and well today, full of speculation, and I also agree with Emily that while clichéd it is important to pay attention to all sides of the story. The reason that I found DeLillo’s use of Oswald so bold, is because of the legacy that President Kennedy has left behind him. JFK did some pretty questionable things while he was in office (you need only look at Marilyn Monroe for that), but he has gone down in history as one of America’s most beloved presidents. To take somebody that is such an icon of what it means to be good and American and to tell the story of his assassination through the eyes of his killer is very risky and bold. Clearly, it paid off for DeLillo, and I am finding the story quite interesting so far. I personally like this complex person that DeLillo is creating, as opposed to the story of Oswald that was created and could be filled by anyone, as Celine mentioned (in her comment on Elise’s post). Making Oswald seem more like a real person goes a long way to make him appear more sympathetic, but based on my knowledge of history and his instances of violence so far, I am still skeptical on what this kind of person that is being created actually was.

  5. I think what Cîmpean’s analysis can tell us about Lee Harvey Oswald as a character in DeLillo’s novel is a nod to the humanity that the media often leaves out of the assassins as they tell what happened. Frequently, whenever an attempt on the life of a president occurs, the person who commits these acts is often written off as “insane” and “irrational” with no backstory as to how they came this way. However, in making Oswald a main character within this text, Cîmpean attempts to discuss how the author wants to reinforce the idea of a conspiracy, therefore Oswald functions as a scapegoat for those who facilitated the entire plot.
    As I previously stated in Cîmpean’s attempt to analyze Oswald as a sympathetic character, he discusses how some of the shots that Oswald fires are metaphors for the failures that Oswald has faced throughout his life. I feel like the way in which Cîmpean talks about Oswald is in the form of the “school shooter” stereotype, in which the shooter is sympathized with and his tragic background is brought to life, however, in the media, since Oswald murdered Kennedy, this ideology was not followed through due to the extents of his actions.

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