Is Murray Siskind a raving lunatic or a wise, but somewhat eccentric man? Does he ever have a point, or is he just mindlessly rambling? Hes neither of those things. The first impression he gives is of someone whos in between, but that proves not to be the case. Hes actually a very cunning man, one who has become the devil voice of Jack Gladneys conscience.
Eventually hed like to become Jack. He covets not only his position and standing in the university, but also his wife, Babette, and he makes no secret of it. Why else would he do something to lewd as to sniff her hair and grope her the way he does? He tells Jack that the only way to seduce a woman is with clear and open desire. Well, it dont get no clearer than that.
All those things become apparent later on. First, we find out who Murray Jay Siskind is. Hes an ex-sportswriter from New York. Hes Jewish. He was briefly married once during his sportswriter days. We know he is now a visiting lecturer on living icons at College-on-the-Hill.
Physically, he is a stoop shouldered man with little round glasses and an Amish beard (DeLillo 10). Hes hairy, but does not have a moustache, only a beard. He dresses almost entirely in corduroy.
He likes his men simple and his women complicated. He is trying to develop a vulnerability that women will find attractive (DeLillo 21), but so far has only managed to create sneaky and lecherous expression. For him, sex seems very matter-of-fact, like a business transaction. Just flat out lust. He even reads a magazine called American Transvestite.
Murray is, by his own admission, a solitary crank who marrons himself with a TV set and dozens of stacks of dust-jacketed comic books (DeLillo 52). He shares a house across the street from an insane asylum with boarders who seem like they ought to be confined there too. Not that he minds, though. Hes totally captivated and intrigued totally enamored of the small town setting (DeLillo 10).
At first, Murray seems like a deep person with interesting quirks (he takes pleasure in sniffing food labels in the supermarket). Hes deeper than the other pop culture professors who read nothing but cereal boxes and have food fights while discussing the culture of public toilets and reminiscing where they were when James Dean died.
Murray has theories. Lots of theories. In an odd way, some of them make sense. For example, when he visits The Most Photographed Barn in America with Jack, he assesses that visitors no longer SEE the barn, because theyve been blinded by signs announcing the barn. They see an image of what they think the barn should be but they cant see the plain old barn. The barn could be compared with a human celebrity – they are never seen for their real selves, rather theyre seen for what the public wants to see. It makes sense.
Murray thinks very highly of kids. Small kids, to be exact. He tells his college students theyre less targetable by advertisers and mass producers of culture. Kids are a true universal (DeLillo 50). Thats certainly true today — just turn on the radio for proof. The Backstreet Boys and N Sync definitely arent aiming themselves at the 18 to 49 demographic, are they? This is the society of kids (DeLillo 49), he tells us. Kids have innocence! According to Murray, the reason Jack feels so comfortable with stepson Wilder is because Wilder is free from limits. He has no concept of life and death. He isnt terrified of dying, as he proved when he peddled out across a busy expressway. He doesnt know hes going to die. He doesnt know death at all. You cherish this simpleton blessing of his, this exemption from harm. You want to get close to him, touch him, look at him, breathe him in. How lucky he is. A cloud of unknowing, an omnipotent little person. The child is everything, the adult nothing A persons entire life is the unraveling of this conflict (DeLillo 289-290).
Jack Gladneys fear of death really intensifies after hes told by the SIMUVAC man that he has a deadly virus inside him — in essence, he has DEATH inside of him. He could die but the death will still thrive in the ground. And its from this point that Murrays true self begins to surface.
Knowing Jack is vulnerable and despondent, Murray begins to brainwash him. Jack uses his Hitler studies to shield himself from his fear of death. Murray digs it out and forces Jack to admit that his attempt is dumb. He then tells Jack that fear is unnatural and is supposed to be repressed. Except Jack apparently doesnt know how to repress things! Interestingly, this is exactly opposite of what Jack was told by Winnie Richards: I think its a mistake to lose ones sense of death, even ones fear of death. Isnt death the boundary we need? (DeLillo 228).
Prior to his finding out about his poisoning, Jack decides that plotting is a means toward death, not a way to escape it. All plots move deathward. This is the nature of plots we edge nearer death every time we plot (DeLillo 26), he tells his students. Murray naturally disagrees — To plot is to live (DeLillo 291). In fact, Murrays plan of avoiding death is to plot someone elses death! I believe there are two kinds of people in the world. Killers and diers. Most of us are diers. We dont have the disposition, the rage or whatever it takes to be a killer. We let death happen. We lie down and die. But think what its like to be a killer. Think how exciting it is, in theory, to kill a person in direct confrontation. If he dies, then you cannot. To kill him is to gain life-credit. The more people you kill, the more credit you store up (DeLillo 290).
Jack is like a bucket. Murray dumps out the fragments of Jacks mind and fills it with his own devious thoughts. Jack is not a killer, and under normal circumstances Jack would never have been a killer. Murray is a killer, if just psychologically. He proves it once and for all when he forces Jack to elicit the truths he already possess (DeLillo 293), that a dier can become a killer. He disguises himself – Im only a visiting lecturer. I theorize, I take walks, I admire trees and houses (DeLillo 293), and prefaces nearly every sentence with in theory or theoretically but he knows what the outcome will be. When Jack shoots Willie Mink, Murray is as guilty as if he pulled the trigger himself.
Murray probably hoped Jack would be sent to prison for shooting Willie, freeing up Babette for himself.
I stated in the beginning that Murray was cunning. People who are cunning possess a strong ability to mesmerize and manipulate. They can, on some levels, seem very logical. Hitler is often described as a cunning man. Murray is not wise. Murray is bad. He manipulated minds, he played with peoples lives. In hindsight none of it worked out in his favor, but that doesnt change that facts. It was an evil thing to do. Words
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