Ratner’s Star Summary

  • Last updated on July 18, 2023
Title: Ratner’s Star
Author: Don DeLillo
Publication Date: 1976
Genre: Postmodern fiction
Page Length: 554 pages


Ratner’s Star is a postmodern novel written by American author Don DeLillo and published in 1976. It follows the story of Billy Twillig, a fourteen-year-old mathematical genius who is chosen to interpret the mysterious signals received from a distant star called Ratner’s Star. Set in the late 20th century, the novel delves into complex themes of language, academia, science, and the quest for meaning.

The novel is divided into five parts, each exploring different aspects of the plot.

Part One introduces the reader to the protagonist, Billy Twillig, who resides at the Institute for Advanced Study along with his eccentric uncle, Felix.
Billy possesses a prodigious talent for mathematics, but his social skills are lacking. He is invited to join Project Ratner, an ambitious scientific venture to decode messages transmitted from Ratner’s Star. Billy embarks on this journey, bringing the readers into the world of theoretical physics, computer calculations, and alien linguistics.

Part Two delves into the intricacies of the scientific effort involved in deciphering the signals generated by Ratner’s Star. Billy forms relationships with other members of the project, including physicist Raphelson and linguist Dieter Prosser. However, communication challenges arise due to the complexity and ambiguity of the alien language, leading the team to confront the limitations of human understanding.

Part Three takes a narrative detour, exploring the lives and perspectives of various characters involved in the project. DeLillo delves into the existential crises of scientists and intellectuals at the Institute for Advanced Study, forcing readers to question the meaning and purpose of their own lives.

Part Four sees the project facing increasing obstacles and becoming a source of ridicule in the wider scientific community. Billy finds solace in his friendship with fellow student Shelley and delves deeper into the mysticism and philosophy surrounding Ratner’s Star. The novel’s themes of language and meaning are fully explored as the scientists struggle to interpret the messages they receive.

In the final part of the novel, Part Five, the project faces further setbacks and uncertainties. Billy confronts the enigmatic nature of Ratner’s Star and the implications of finding meaning in an inherently chaotic universe. As the project unravels, the narrative concludes on an ambiguous note, leaving readers with unanswered questions about the nature of truth, human comprehension, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Throughout Ratner’s Star, DeLillo interweaves philosophical musings, scientific theories, and literary references to create a multi-layered narrative. The characters, though flawed and often struggling with their own identities, provide insight into the human condition and the inherent challenges of deciphering the mysteries of the universe. Themes of language, mathematics, and the pursuit of knowledge permeate the novel, inviting readers to contemplate the boundaries of human understanding and the existential questions that arise in the face of the unknown.

In conclusion, Ratner’s Star is a thought-provoking postmodern novel that blends science, philosophy, and literary fiction. Don DeLillo’s intricate storytelling and exploration of complex themes offer a unique reading experience, challenging readers to question their own understanding of the universe and its inherent mysteries.

Categories: Books