Media and History in DeLillo's Libra

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while touring downtown Dallas. The death of the president and the subsequent arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald marked the beginning of a national frenzy for information. The public wanted to know more: more about Kennedy’s last moments, more about the young shooter with Communist ties, more about what could drive someone to commit such a sensational murder. As a result, the American media became a dominant force in society, providing not only information but a sense of order to an event which baffled the nation. This idea is manifest in the novel Libra, by Don DeLillo. Published twenty-five years after the assassination, DeLillo’s historical narrative chronicles Lee Oswald’s difficult childhood, defection to the Soviet Union, eventual return to the United States, and, of course, his involvement in the shooting. Throughout the book, DeLillo examines the role of media in contemporary society and Oswald’s own life, highlighting the media’s ability to shape one’s perception of reality.

In the weeks immediately following Kennedy’s death, mass media passed along an enormous amount of information in various forms: video, photographs, facts, and speculations. In Libra, Jack Ruby...

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