“Human Moments In World War III” by Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo is the national book award-winning author of Underworld and Falling Man. He’s wricvr9781442346482_9781442346482tten over a dozen novels and even a few plays. Our published piece for this meeting is from his collection of nine short stories The Angel Esmeralda. The novel has received wide praise from The New York Times, Newsweek, and–yea, you guessed it–Oprah Magazine. The collection covers a wide landscape, from the Tomahawk II war ship to the empty halls of a college dorm room at Christmas to a white collar prison for men guilty of investment crimes. Our piece today is just a brief glimpse into this phenomenal journey. Some questions to consider while reading:

  • Throughout the story, the narrator picks out several ‘human moments.’ Vollmer’s jersey, his grandfather’s old war photo by the firing panel, Sundays. So by the end, it should be easier to identify what these are, right? Is this true? If so, what are ‘human moments?’
  • How do labels and titles function in this story? How does it play into the relationship between the narrator and Vollmer.
  • Radio transmissions, old talk shows and commercials from 60 years ago, are being picked up by the Tomahawk II. Does the narrator’s conversation with Colorado over this mark a shift in the story? When both men are listening to the old stations for entertainment, what is happening and what does it say about their current condition?
  • The laser sequence which Vollmer and the narrator must test is a huge moment in the story, it shapes a lot of the nature of this new war. What does the procedure for arming this weapon say about this fight so far? About the relationship between the two men?
  • The view of the earth represents a lot from beginning to end. Would you argue that the earth at a distance operates as a character in the story? How else does it function here?
  • Where is the climax in this story? Is there even one?

BONUS QUESTION: How does this compare/contrast to Becca’s published piece from last time, “That Tear Problem?”


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