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White Noise

Don DeLillo

Chapters 36–38

Chapters 33–35

Chapters 39–40

Summary: Chapter 36

The weather grows warmer. Jack receives a call from his ex-wife Janet, now known as Mother Devi, asking if Heinrich can come and visit her. She tells him she wants only to talk in a spirit of peace and mutual affinity, to which he responds by hanging up.

The Hitler conference finally begins at College-on-the-Hill, and after making a few opening remarks in German, Jack spends most of the conference hiding in his office, particularly from the Germans. Jack keeps thinking of the gun Vernon gave him, of its power and secrecy.

Jack drives out to Autumn Harvest Farms for his tests, where his body is scrutinized with the latest equipment. After the tests, he meets with a man about the results. The man asks Jack a series of questions and constantly refers to Jack’s test results without actually revealing any of the numbers. The man asks him if he was exposed to Nyodene Derivative, and Jack denies it. He gives Jack an envelope and tells him to take it back to his doctor.

Summary: Chapter 37

Jack and Murray go on a long walk through Blacksmith, during which Jack reveals all his fears and frustrations, including his inability to cope with death’s inevitability and his inability to live a meaningful life in the face of death. Murray notes that Jack turned to Hitler to save himself from death, to lose himself in Hitler’s power and aura, because “Hitler is larger than death.” As a purely intellectual argument, Murray says that one way of relieving a fear of dying is to kill. According to Murray, the act of killing rejuvenates the killer. He disagrees with Jack’s theory that “every plot is a murder in effect.” For Murray, plots affirm life and advance consciousness, and he believes that within every man lies a deep-seated rage that he can potentially tap into to become a killer.

Back home, Jack continues to throw away every unused, unwanted item he can find, blaming these objects for his inevitable death. A letter informing Jack of the arrival of his ATM card comes in the mail.

Summary: Chapter 38

Lying in bed, Jack shares with Babette parts of his conversation with Murray. Thoughts of Mr. Gray flash through Jack’s mind, and the next day he begins to carry the gun. Jack learns that Orest Mercator’s attempt to set a record for sitting in a cage of poisonous snakes failed after Orest was bitten four times in four minutes by nonvenomous snakes. While walking through campus, Jack hears someone following him. He begins to duck and weave, as if he were being shot at or chased. When he finally stops to draw his gun and confront his pursuer, he discovers that it’s Winnie Richards. Winnie tells Jack that she’s read an article about the manufacturer and project manager behind Dylar. From her, Jack learns Mr. Gray’s real name, Willie Mink, and also about his unconventional methods of luring people to his motel room. Willie Mink, according to the article, now lives in that same motel room, having been fired from his job. Winnie tells Jack that he can find the motel in Germantown, a neighborhood he has never heard of.

As soon as Jack gets home, he tells Babette he’s leaving with the car. She responds in her increasingly evasive, ironic tone. Jack leaves the house and steals his neighbor’s car, which has been parked with the keys in the ignition ever since the airborne toxic event. He drives toward Germantown, recklessly running through lights and tolls, fingering the gun in his pocket. As he drives, he feels remarkably free and full of life.

Analysis

The cyclical structure of the novel moves toward an ending as the seasons change and the academic school year comes to a close, and the recognizably plotted portion of the novel—as opposed to the formless, meandering story that comprised the earlier sections of the novel—begins to take firm shape. The novel began with an affirmation of life and health, demonstrated by the arrival of affluent, fresh-faced students, and now the characters are drawing toward a violent ending. The specter of death has been approaching more visibly in these final chapters, first in the form of Vernon Dickey’s gun and now in Murray’s counterargument to Jack’s long-held belief that plots tend toward death. Jack and Murray’s supposedly theoretical conversation provides another missing piece to the developing plot: death is suddenly not only plausible, but necessary.

Winnie Richards supplies the name of Willie Mink, which is the final piece of information needed to move the story to its conclusion. Like the gun and Murray’s argument in favor of murder, Winnie’s information is deliberately and self-consciously placed into the story to propel the action forward. She has not only read an article about Dylar but also, somewhat unrealistically, found in that article the name and current location of the project manager who took advantage of Babette. Conveniently, Jack hears all of this on the same afternoon he has brought his gun to class, armed and ready for a fight. DeLillo has employed an obvious plot device, so purposefully contrived as to be nearly comical. By the time we see Jack pulling away in his stolen car, left ready and waiting with the key in the ignition, to track down Willie Mink, we recognize that highly conventional plot elements are gearing into action.

Even as death draws nearer, the story maintains its humor and ironic smirk. Overtly funny bits pile up: the Hitler conference where Jack repeats the name of Hitler’s dog over and over; the farcical, empty conversation with the analyst at the absurdly named Autumn Harvest Farms; Orest Mercator’s failed performance; and, of course, the conveniently named Germantown, where Willie Mink lives. Viewed as part of this absurd, comic landscape, the plot devices no longer seem quite so implausible. At the same time, the humor of the story also creates tension between the situation’s dread and its simultaneous absurdity. Jack and Murray’s long discussion perfectly illustrates that tension. Poignant, accurate, and humorous, the discussion allows Jack to speak about death in a straightforward, unsentimental way that lends validity to its substance.

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