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WHITE NOISE BY DON DELILLO - FREE STUDY GUIDE
Jack comments to himself that people eat more in difficult times. He then sees Babette (Babs) running up the stadium steps and thinks to himself all the "active" things that she does, including planning ski trips that she never takes.
Then, out of the blue, is a question: "Who will die first?" We are told that this is a question that arises frequently between them. As they are driving home, Jack tells Babs that his daughter Bee, from his marriage to Tweedy Browner, will be coming to visit. That night is the family’s TV night, where they watch it together because Babs thinks it will deglamorize TV and make it wholesome.
Years ago, Babette told Jack to change his name and appearance in order to be a better professor of Hitler Studies. However, the best he could do name-wise was J.A.K. Gladney. The chancellor also felt that he should change his appearance to look more Hitlerian.
Death becomes even more prominent in Jack and Babette’s relationship; it will appear in conversations without an introduction or segue.
Babette’s theory about
the deglamorization is ironic, especially since it is TV that is blamed for the
glamorization of drugs, gangs, crime, etc. Maybe she is right at the same time:
if TV becomes a family affair, will children want to
Both Babette and the chancellor realize that Jack needs to sound and appear more Hitlerian; the packaging must fit the content. One will not give as much credence to a person who does not appear to fit the part of the character they are discussing.
Babette reads the horoscopes at breakfast. At night, Jack lies awake thinking about death. They meet Murray at the grocery store. Murray is taken in by generic white packaging. He feels that it is a sign of contribution to spiritual consciousness, a kind of sacrifice of color to a larger good. He also reads through a copy of Ufologist Today. After they leave the supermarket, Jack and Babs feel a sense of comfort and replenishment because of the number, color, and spread of their groceries. It provides them a "fullness of being."
We are told that Murray believes that the only way to seduce a woman is to be direct and blunt, to hide nothing.
The supermarket is a place where the characters frequently meet; in a novel about popular culture, this should not be surprising. The grocery store is the warehouse for American products; it is where we participate in consumerism: we are presented with a spectrum of the similar products and we must choose based upon packaging and advertising. The supermarket makes Jack and Babette feel good because it gives them a social role to play, valued consumer.
At this point, Murray does not participate wholly in mass culture: he buys generic brands and claims that he does not hide himself behind surfaces.
Jack is driving Heinrich home from school. Heinrich states that the radio says it is going to rain that night, but Jack says that "It’s raining now." The debate moves to the more metaphysical: Jack argues that what one sees or feels should be privileged while Heinrich points out that the senses are suspect and one should believe the media. Heinrich adds that language itself is arbitrary and what we call rain someone else may call an apple; after that, he challenges the idea of a speakable present.
The next day, we are introduced to Jack’s class, "Advanced Nazism," which is all about mass appeal: uniforms, rallies, and parades. At the end of the class, a student asks about the plot to assassinate Hitler, and Jack answers with a telling statement about the novel: "All plots move deathward. This is the nature of plots. Political plots, terrorist plots, lovers’ plots, narrative plots, plots that are part of children’s games. We must edge nearer death every time we plot."
Heinrich and Jack’s discussion about rain is the first of many to question the role of media in constructing reality. Heinrich uses Plato’s dismissal of the senses (to the eye, a straight stick in a glass of water will appear bent), but instead of replacing them with logic, Heinrich replaces senses with the radio/media. Jack wants to believe what he sees, but Heinrich then questions how we can know anything, using a Socratic method to befuddle Jack with semantics. Heinrich is a good debater, but his sources are often confused, wrong, or merely rhetorical. Jack, on the other hand, argues from a much more "normal" position, but we somehow get the sense that he too is being ridiculed as naive.
Jack’s class on "Advanced Nazism" makes it clear that what he is interested in is the popular appeal surrounding Hitler and how he managed to gain such celebrity status and power.
The statement that all plots move towards death further reveals Jack’s focus; it also can mean novelistic plots, which gives this work a strange sense of foreboding.
White Noise by Don Delillo-Free Chapter Summary Notes/Synopsis