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Writing Analysis of “The Falling Man”

The story of “The Falling Man” by Tom Junod, found in Esquire Magazine, vol 140, tells a captivating and truthful story of one man’s demise on a day that changed America’s history forever. The photographic image,  “The Falling Man”, by AP photographer, Richard Drew was taken on September 11th, 2001 at 9:41 a.m. EST exactly one hour and five seconds after a plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. . 9/11 was and still is a devastating memory for Americans that has been burned into our history forever as it marked the first terrorist attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Tom’s article, “The Falling Man” refers to the iconic photo showing a person falling to their death. As the man tumbles from the skyscraper in hope of finding a quick end, this still photo is taken freezing him in time along with this monumental day. 

Following this image, Tom Junod released an article going along with this mind-boggling photo. This image was displayed all over the news, attracting worldwide attention. Just as shocking as the image, Junod’s article raised a lot of eyebrows. Is this photo unfair? He is capturing the horrific death of an American trailblazer who decided to have a quick death rather than wait for the building to burn or completely collapse.  Is there a better way to pay tribute to these fallen heroes? As described in the article, Drew was criticized for his photographic work. Early in Drew’scareer, he was known for taking photos of Senator Robert Kennedy’s assassination. “[H]e jumped on the table and shot pictures of Kennedy’s open and ebbing eyes, and then of Ethel Kennedy crouching over her husband and begging photographers… not to take pictures.” Was this an invasion of privacy or large historical teaching? Media photographers and paparazzi may go above and beyond for an image but without these depictions, Americans would risk missing out on the full impact of American history.

Drew’s iconic photo became the impetus for Junod’s story. “The Falling Man” photo and article focus on three main elements: similes, truth, and details. While the article’s main focus is the man peering at his supposed death, one doesn’t know if the person in the image is a man or woman.  There is a lot of mystery in this photo. We don’t know who this person is, even with today’s technology,  the man is still known as John Doe. The article even says “his white shirt or jacket, or frock is billowing free of his pants” Junod list possible articles of clothing that the man could be wearing to emphasize the fact that nothing is for certain. In reality, we don’t know what the man is wearing. On that very day, millions of people didn’t know what was happening. Most of the media initially covered the plane crash as an accident, not an act of terrorism. Americans assumed it was a foggy day and the pilot couldn’t see. This is a huge contrast from the truth.  The author is also very particular about his word choice.  For example, his usage of the word “billowing” emphasizes imagery related to clouds and freedom. It depicts the illusion that the man is one with the sky and is finding truth and peace in his final decision. As if the man is a superhero who is swelling outward through the New York sky.  

Throughout Junod’s entire article he repeatedly compares and contrasts, specifically the man’s motivations. At the start of the article, he says that “if he were not falling he might very well be flying.” The difference between one soaring through the air in a perhaps mystical way versus falling to your deceitful demise isn’t something that is usually connected. The author’s play on words illustrates to the reader that reality is slightly distorted. Junod may make one think the man is just falling casually as if he had some sort of cape or parachute. Is “The Falling Man” a victim or hero? The man is a victim of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, yet a hero of American history.  He is a permanent reminder and tribute to the countless lives lost that day. 

Another apparent contradiction is the innocence of the photo. The image captures and very dark and horrifying time in American history yet it still portrays innocence. The man still has his shoes on as he leaps “as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end”. It’s seen as innocence because just like every other day,  he and the other business professionals who worked in the Towers got up and prepared for another Tuesday. They were very innocent and naive to think that the day would go on ordinarily. Different from others who jumped, the man in this photo appears relaxed and fulfilled by his final decision. For most, they would be frantic and scared of what’s next, but for our subject, that’s not the case. “Some of them are shirtless; their shoes fly off as they flail and fall; they look confused, as though trying to swim down the side of a mountain. The man in the picture, by contrast, is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the building behind him.” Junod’s work captures this confliction perfectly between self-preservation and fate. As the man comes to terms with his fate he aligns with the building further emphasizing his apparent decision to jump.

The photo first appears to be simple.  Drew seemed to be capturing a random photo in the face of chaos. The freeze frame was taken over a decade ago, against the glare of countless skyscrapers in the heart of New York City, yet the image still shows a lot more detail and meaning than the naked eye first realizes. The image may be denounced and seen as  inconsiderate though, but it does visually remind us about this pinnacle moment in history. Relating to a previous point regarding the fact that some despise media photographers and paparazzi, “The Falling Man” and Robert Kennedy’s assassination photo wasn’t disrespectful. As the man falls to his fate and disappears from the still-frozen frame, he’ll never disappear from America’s history. We have to pay tribute to Richard Drew and other photographers like him for opening the eyes of Americans. 


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