The novel Falling Man by Don DeLillo is one that is obsessed with identity at almost every turn of the page. Although the theme of identity spreads from the roots of the narrative structure throughout, there are times where it is not so obvious. From the repetitive sessions that Lianne has with the Alzheimer’s patients to the paragraph about misspelled names, there is a constant reminder of the importance and loss of identity.
At first we as readers wonder, why this concern with identity when there are so many other themes to speak of about the events of September 11th. Indeed, DeLillo does an impeccable job dealing with the many emotions of this event, yet he keeps slapping his readers to thoughts of identity.
The theme of identity, the ideology connected with it, is not something that we automatically gravitate too when we think about 9/11. However what we do think about, almost universally, is where we were when it happened. The characters in this novel say it over and over, where were you? In this way we are turning a major, world changing event into a part of our own individual identities and life experiences. If we scope beyond our own self-centered views of the world and allow ourselves to see this catastrophe as something that involves others we start to recognize new points about identity. For instance, the more I think about the event, the more I realize the impossibility of knowing all of the victims identities. Nearly 3,000 people died on that day. That is a number so large that it is impossible for our human brains to be able to acknowledge each and every one of them as real people, with real lives, and real identities of their own.
DeLillo drives this painful realization home even stronger by putting his reader directly into the mind of only a handful of characters. We are given one detailed story of one small group of people and that only leave us to wonder, how many other stories are there that are exactly like it. How many stories are there that are nothing like this at all.