Balance and belief in Don DeLillo's recent fiction

Jesse Kavadlo, Fordham University


Despite publishing his first novel in 1971, and unlike other writers of his generation, Don DeLillo has only garnered his share of attention and literary criticism fairly recently. The acclaim has arrived belatedly but liberally, and DeLillo has earned the notice. Such widespread regard calls now for a comparably extensive re-assessment. In this study, I examine White Noise (1985), Libra (1988), Mao II (1991), and Underworld (1997) closely, in part because DeLillo has now surpassed virtually all other living writers writing in English in his inventiveness, cultural acuity, vision, scope, and relevance. Yet DeLillo's significance transcends his sense of the spirit of the time to enter the realm of spirituality itself. These novels, in different but overlapping ways, explore aspects of the contemporary world and speak the elaborate codes and vernaculars of American lives and institutions at the end of the twentieth century even as they point towards their own, and our own, linguistic shortcomings. But more importantly, I argue that DeLillo describes a world of solipsism and desiccated spirituality, a place rife with rejection of belief in favor of confused cerebral pursuits and false idols, of casually rampant faithlessness and unexamined pessimism. His recent fiction manages to transcend this world, in the end becoming a balancing moral corrective against the conditions in which it describes. DeLillo has made it possible to discuss each of these novels in terms of their cultural commentary, their politics, their critique of consumerism, or their exposure of the expanding role of the media in contemporary life. Instead, by exploring the trope of balance through sustained close readings, I argue that they are very much about our most basic and primal human longings, fears, wishes, losses, and senses of belief.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

Kavadlo, Jesse, "Balance and belief in Don DeLillo's recent fiction" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3017553.