Psychological Interpretation in Don DeLillo’s Libra

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“The Will to Power”: A Psychological Interpretation in Don DeLillo’s Libra

by – J Britto Jenobia, published in Vol.II, Issue.XIX – August 2016

Introduction to the Author:

jenoJ Britto Jenobia is a research scholar from National College, Trichy. In the present paper, Jenobia tries to explore the psychological dimensions of the work of Don DeLillo – Libra. She has written many other articles which are published in different magazines and journals.


 “The Will to Power” is the key concept in Nietzsche’s philosophy. The concept “The Will to Power” is strongly connected to the concept of life. “The Will to Power” concept claims three possible interpretations: Metaphysical, Organic and Psychological. Metaphysical interpretation says everything that exists is the will to power. Organic interpretation suggests that the will to power is specially related to life. Psychological interpretation claims that the will to power is related to living creatures with a will. If an individual says yes to life then he/she must say yes to the will to power. Life and power are interlinked. Nietzsche does not mean the power over other people, rather a successful attempt to overcome obstacles and sufferings to achieve something creatively. Here in this paper, an attempt is made to examine Don DeLillo’s Libra in the plight of Psychological interpretation of Nietzschean concept “The Will to Power”.

            “The Will to Power” is the basic character of our drives or instincts. To assert the drive he/she must have power. The power gives sense of joy. “The Will to Power” is the drive of the superman who transcends the self through the possessions and exercise of creative power, conscious or unconscious desire to exercise authority. In the novel Libra the protagonist Lee Harvey Oswald is a person who wants to overcome obstacles and also exercise his power consciously and so become responsible for the assassination of the former president of America, John. F. Kennedy. In order to overcome his alienation and obstacle, Lee Harvey Oswald used power as a tool and he tries to become authoritative. By assassinating John.F.Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald becomes a popular figure in history.

Libra is the novel written by Don DeLillo which was published in the year 1988. The novel is based on the history of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination. The person who murders John Fitzgerald Kennedy is Lee Harvey Oswald. The novel Libra can be examined as “The Will to Power”: A Psychological Interpretation based on the character analysis of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Most crimes do not happen in a vacuum. Crimes do not happen by blind chance. There must be some causes behind every crime. Sometimes causes may be social, sometimes psychological. Here in the novel Libra, the main cause for the crime (assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy) is social as well as psychological. The main character in the novel Libra, Lee Harvey Oswald is one such person who is having psychological problem and also does not able to face the demand of the society.

Libra is a novel which has multiple narratives. The first narrative is the biography of Lee Harvey Oswald. The second narrative is on Everett, Parmenter and Banister who tries to shoot John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The third narrative is about Nicholas Branch, retired secret agent who tries to write the secret history of the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy for the CIA. This paper takes the account of the biography of Lee Harvey Oswald to explain “The Will to Power”: A Psychological Interpretation.

The novel is divided into two parts and each part consists of twenty-four chapters. The first twelve chapters explain an overview of Oswald’s life. These chapters explain Oswald’s childhood, his service in the marine and his defection to the USSR. Most of the aspects of Oswald’s life are based on historical facts. The final twelve chapters of the novel explain the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

The narrative of Lee Harvey Oswald shows his life from his childhood till his death. Oswald’s life is examined in detail, which makes the reader have sympathy and pity for him. The relationship with his mother is terrible. Due to this, Oswald grew up with her negativity. His mother blames the mother for the sufferings she had in her life. She is abandoned, widowed and divorced in her life. Oswald father’s death in his childhood, his relationship with an angry and domineering mother who always talks negatively made Oswald’s psyche into an embittered, angry misfit. By this Don DeLillo portrays Lee Harvey Oswald as a person who does not fit in with the American society. A fatherless upbringing and lack of male role-model made him a personality with darkest impulses.

Oswald from his very young age alienates himself from everyone as well as from the American society. He is always a loner and an outsider. Oswald likes to spend his time with the books.  Though he is dyslexic, he likes the companion of books. Books made him feel part of something. Don DeLillo says: “The books were private, like something you find and hide some lucky piece that contains the secret of who you are. The books themselves were secret […] The books made him part of something (41).” In order to hide his darkest impulses, Oswald gets the help of books to hide his secrets.

Oswald is dyslexic in nature. A dyslexic person is a person who lacks in reading, spelling and other word related proficiency. Lee Harvey Oswald is one such person who is having word- blindness. Though he is having a dyslexic problem, he thinks books as his secret. The disability in Oswald is explained when he undergoes a test in order to move to the Soviet Union. The test reveals the character of Lee Harvey Oswald: “Oswald tended towards emotional instability. Tended towards erratic behavior. Had some form of dyslexia or word- blindness (166).” All these behavior shows that, Oswald is under Psychological Trauma and so he feels lost in the American society.

Oswald always had the difficulty to fit into the American society. He has trouble in making friends. He always attracted to the things that provide enhanced self-esteem. He is interested in becoming a marine, learning Russian, defecting to Russia, inventing a fictitious chapter of a radical political organization.

Oswald’s treatment of his wife is violent. He is shown to beat his wife, even though Oswald loves her. His wife, Marina always worries about Oswald’s mental stage. At one stage, Oswald tried to strangle his wife. Oswald thought Marina as an object and at the same time, Marina acted as though she is in bondage and servitude. Oswald wants to control over his wife. He even tells her, to whom she can be friends, how much can she spend and what kind of clothes she can wear. This ultimate act of control leads to violence. This kind of act reflects Oswald’s behaviour.

Oswald lived most of his life hiding behind a mask of normality. He was a bitter and angry young man. He has a defensive character. He always determined to get what he wants. All these behaviour made Oswald control others. The only person who shared his life in adulthood is his wife Marina. So Oswald showed his control towards her through violence and he started to dominate her. To Oswald, Marina has to follow and admire him. For Oswald, his wife’s scornful attitude acted as a catalyst and fuel to his anger. Later, the attitude leads to the killing of the American president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Oswald is a narcissist. Usually, narcissists have an inflated view of their own importance. This kind of behaviour occurs when a child loses emotional and moral support in his/her childhood. Lee Harvey Oswald is a person who lost emotional and moral support in his

childhood. All these things made Oswald follow narcissist concept. Because of this, Oswald thinks himself as something other than what he really is.

Oswald’s narcissist concept leads him to gain recognition. To gain recognition, Oswald assassinated John Fitzgerald Kennedy and become popular throughout America. He started to behave like a person who is egocentric and ego-satisfying. His political and humanitarian ideas does not help others, rather draws attention towards Oswald himself. And so Oswald desperately wanted to become famous and successful which leads to kill the president.

Oswald from his childhood suffered a lot. He does not have any emotional attachment with others. He is not fit to live in the American society. He is a failure in his life. All these things made him to become egocentric. He wants to become successful and so he started to gain attention from the society. Instead of gaining attention by doing right, Oswald took the path of assassinating John Fitzgerald Kennedy. After the assassination of the president, Oswald becomes the talk of the American society. Instead of recognizing himself as a right person, Oswald made the situation that will make others to recognize him as the wrong person who killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy. By doing this, Oswald fulfilled his narcissist concept. By assassinating John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Oswald searches a solution for his mental problem.

In the novel Libra, Oswald from his childhood till his death is not a happy man. Fatherless upbringing and poor parenting from a mother who is full of negativity affected Oswald greatly. Oswald thinks himself as though isolated from the society. So he wanted to control others. First he tried this solution by controlling his wife, Marina. Later this isolation and frustration lead him towards killing John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Thus Andrew Radford says:

Throughout Libra, Oswald is persistently depicted as a feckless, frustrated outsider in the diverse cultures through which he drifts in search of a ‘home’ worthy of sacrificial service: as a persecuted youth in the Bronx, he is mocked for his southern accent: in New Orleans, he is sneered at for speaking like a Northerner(228).

Don DeLillo does not depict Oswald as a likeable character. Don DeLillo does not portray Oswald as a madman, rather treats him adequately. Oswald’s failure as a man, a husband, a worker, a marine and a son made him to be in isolation and depression. To overcome Psychological problem, Oswald used assassination as a power and assassinated John Fitzgerald Kennedy. By killing the president, Oswald thinks that he got the authority and power over others. Finally, he becomes a famous personality in the American history. As per Nietzschean principle, Lee Harvey Oswald consciously exercised his will to power and killed the president, John. F. Kennedy. Thus through the character Lee Harvey Oswald, the title “The Will to Power”: A Psychological Interpretation in Don DeLillo’s novel Libra is justified in this paper.


Works Cited

DeLillo, Don. Libra. New York: Penguin Books, 2011.Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power, Vintage books, 1968.Print.

Radford, Andrew. “Confronting the Chaos Theory of History in DeLillo’s Libra”. The Midwest  Quarterly. 2008. Print


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