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White Noise

Don DeLillo

Chapters 29–32

Chapters 26–28

Chapters 33–35

Summary: Chapter 29

This chapter unfolds in a stream of consciousness, as Jack narrates seemingly unrelated moments from his days. We begin in the supermarket, where Jack and Babette discuss Jack’s health. When he makes a motion to go down another aisle, Babette says she’s afraid to be alone.

Jack tell us that the déjà vu crisis centers have closed, now that people seem to be forgetting things.

During one of his German lessons, Jack spots a German translation of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, which Howard Dunlop informs him was a best-seller in Germany.

Jack rummages through Denise’s room, browsing absentmindedly. He moves through the house, throwing away all kinds of clutter. He hears Babette listening to talk radio and the sound of the gas meter.

That night, Jack goes into Heinrich’s room, where the boy is watching a news report. Two bodies have been discovered in someone’s backyard, and the reporter says that twenty or thirty bodies are expected to be uncovered. But as time goes on, no more bodies are found, and everyone experiences a sense of failed expectations.

Summary: Chapter 30

Jack continues to have trouble sleeping, so he wakes up Babette and demands to know Mr. Gray’s real name and the company he worked for so that he can try Dylar for himself. Babette refuses to tell him, because she’s afraid he wants to kill Mr. Gray. The next morning, Jack continues to press the issue, arguing that Mr. Gray will be impressed with him as a test subject, since he is actually scheduled to die soon. Babette says that Dylar was her mistake and she won’t let it become his mistake as well.

That afternoon, Jack sees Winnie Richards on campus and runs after her. He finally catches up to her at the top of the hill, where he can see the sun setting. He notes that he can say nothing about the sunset except that it is “another postmodern sunset, rich in romantic imagery.” Jack and Winnie discuss the beauty of the sunsets and what might be causing them, and then Jack tells Winnie what he has learned about Dylar. Winnie claims that she would never want to lose her fear of death, because it adds texture and meaning to life. She tells him to forget the drug. They watch the sunset and walk down the hill.

Summary: Chapter 31

The chapter opens with instructions for paying a cable bill.

Jack notes that no one wants to cook, so the entire family goes to a take-out restaurant and eats in the car. Jack comments that eating this way represents a kind of rigor and strictness, as they eat, fully dressed and facing forward, without speaking to one another. Watching Babette suck on chicken bones, he has to fight off an image of Mr. Gray lying naked on a motel bed.

Steffie quietly asks how astronauts float, which begins a conversation about space. After a pause, Steffie asks how cold space is, which prompts another conversation. After another long pause, Babette says that she’s heard that Russian psychics have been causing the strange weather patterns they have been experiencing lately.

Jack tells us that there’s been a rash of UFO sightings lately. In the backseat, the children grow restless, and Jack says he can feel a sulky menace radiating from them. Babette tries to distract them by asking why UFO sightings always seem to happen upstate. Denise says it’s because mountains are upstate, and when Steffie asks why mountains are upstate, Denise says that mountains are upstate so that, when the snow melts, the water can run down to the reservoirs near cities, which are all located in the southern parts of the state for exactly this reason. Although he realizes that Denise’s logic cannot possibly be true, Jack finds himself momentarily wondering if she’s right.

At home, Jack receives a postcard from Mary Alice, his eldest child with Dana Breedlove. Babette tells him that the two things she wants most in the world are for Jack not to die first and for Wilder to stay the way he is forever.

Summary: Chapter 32

Jack and Murray walk across campus, discussing the progress of Jack’s German lessons. Murray notes that something especially strange emanates from Howard Dunlop. Murray calls Jack four days later to tell him that he thinks Howard is the type of man who would find dead bodies erotic. After that comment, Jack finds that he can’t continue with his German lessons.

The local insane asylum burns down, and Jack and Heinrich go to watch. As the lawn burns, a patient from the asylum walks across the grass. Murray shows up and then abruptly disappears. An acrid, burning odor fills the air, and everyone begins to leave. Jack thinks that people feel betrayed by the odor, as if the synthetic smell were interrupting a purer, more natural occurrence. That night, instead of sleeping, Jack stays up thinking about Babette and Mr. Gray.

Analysis

The presence of Dylar has changed not only Jack and Babette’s relationship but also Jack and Babette as individuals. They have stopped saying, “Who will die first?” in favor of, “How do you feel?” This question seems, on the surface, less ominous and harmful than the latter. Now that both have confessed their fear of dying and infidelity, the question gains a desperate immediacy. At the same time, Jack’s faith in the things he thought could protect him from death is beginning to disintegrate. The revelation of Babette’s infidelity and secrecy proves the biggest blow, but he also suffers a setback when he leans from Howard Dunlop that The Egyptian Book of the Dead was a best-seller in Germany. The notion that a book on spiritually and psychically coping with death could prove resonant with Germans seems contradictory and strange to Jack, who has always held German culture as symbol of forthrightness, strength, and power. Jack’s erosion of faith has also affected his confidence; he becomes even more uncertain and insecure. When he cancels his German lessons after his conversation with Murray, he not only abandons his faith in German as a shield or bolster, but he also shows how susceptible he has become to rumors and misinformation. Jack’s inability to refute Denise’s childish argument about mountains being upstate is further evidence that his intellect and logic are beginning to fail him.

Insecure and feeling singled out by death, Jack continues to seek comfort where he can. Running after Winnie Richards and eating massive quantities of food are two purely physical acts that strenuously engage his body, offering relief from his intellectual insecurity. Jack’s obsession with Mr. Gray is linked as much to his fear of dying as it is to his basic instinct for revenge. By indulging in one, he can block or limit the other. As a result, he stays awake late into the evening thinking of Mr. Gray and arguing with Babette about why she should tell him about this mysterious researcher. The cable bill, with the authority of its meticulously detailed instructions, provides another respite from Jack’s fears and anxieties, just as paying bills was a relief at the start of the airborne toxic event. By addressing the cable bill, Jack manages to assert some kind of control over his increasingly disorienting life, much the same as the senior citizens who take Babette’s posture and eating and drinking classes hope to assert some control over their aging, weakening bodies.

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