Summary: Chapter 39
Jack finds the Roadway Motel, where Willie Mink is staying. He plans to find Willie Mink, shoot him three times in the abdomen, fake a suicide note, steal some Dylar, and then drive back to Blacksmith. As he drives around the motel three times, Jack becomes hypersensitive to the world around him. He sees the entire world anew, paying attention to the particular details around him.
Jack enters Willie Mink’s room, where he finds a shoddily dressed man staring vacantly into the television, half out of his mind, popping Dylar into his mouth. Willie Mink seems unsurprised by Jack’s arrival, apparently because others have come to him in search of the drug as well. Willie has not only lost his mind, he has also become unable to differentiate between words and the things they represent. To torment him, Jack yells “falling plane” so he can watch Mink curl into a fetal position as if he were, in fact, in a falling plane. Willie Mink refers to Babette as the woman in a ski mask who wouldn’t kiss him.
After hearing that, Jack is ready to kill him. He takes out his gun; whispers, “hail of bullets”; and then shoots Willie Mink once in the midsection. An arc of blood flies through the air, mesmerizing Jack with the intensity of its color. He shoots Mink again, steps back from the scene, wipes the gun clean of his prints, and places the gun in Mink’s hand. Just before Mink passes out, however, he manages to fire the gun’s last bullet into Jack’s wrist.
Startled back into the real world by the searing pain, Jack suddenly sees Mink as human, and a desperate, noble urge to save Mink comes over him. He drags Mink out of the motel room to the car and performs CPR on him. When Mink comes to and doesn’t remember the events in the hotel room, Jack lies and tells him that Mink shot both of them. Jack drives to a nearby hospital run by German nuns. When Mink is taken away, Jack talks to the nun treating his wound and asks her about heaven. Sarcastically, she tells Jack that she believes in no such thing and that her real duty lies in pretending to have faith for the sake of all the people who have none of their own. The nun says something in German that Jack cannot understand, but he finds the words beautiful nonetheless. Jack learns from the doctor that Willie Mink will eventually be okay, and with that knowledge he returns home to watch the children sleep.
Summary: Chapter 40
Wilder, after riding his tricycle around the block, rides past the dead-end street and carries his bike to the edge of the highway. He pedals across both lanes of traffic, stopping only briefly to carry his bike over the grassy medium as cars hurtle by, startled and confused.
Jack, Babette, and Wilder go to the overpass more than ever to watch the sunsets, which continue to amaze and frighten. Jack notes that most people don’t know what to feel when faced with these beautiful sunsets. The men in Mylex remain in Blacksmith, collecting their data. Jack refuses to talk to Dr. Chakravarty anymore or to take calls of any kind. The supermarket rearranges the items on its shelves, throwing the elderly into a state of panic and confusion.
The final chapters of White Noise manage to resolve all the novel’s major plot points while simultaneously undermining those resolutions, a fitting conclusion for a book so full of contradictions and complications. The gun goes off as it must, yet the plan and plot that Jack so carefully mapped out goes completely off track. Willie Mink, half out of his mind and already ruined, is such a pathetic figure that he fails to be a decent nemesis. When Jack finds him, he is glued to a soundless television and dressed like a couch potato. Mink has absorbed so much from the TV that he now repeats ads and fragments of shows as if he were the television. No actual radio or television is necessary to create the white noise that haunts the book—Willie Mink produces it himself. He physically embodies white noise, and if white noise represents death, then Mink is indeed Jack’s enemy. Mink’s inability to differentiate between words and the things they represent reflects the blurring of the real and the artificial that has characterized the rest of the novel. For Mink, no difference exists between the two. The physical experience of something and the idea of the thing are one and the same.
Jack has a plan, and, for the first time, he accepts that he has a plot. As he has always said and known, that plot is headed toward death. He reminds himself of his plan as often as he can, although with almost every reminder, the details of the plan slightly change. He needs the reassurance of having a plan because his definitive course of action gives him energy and courage, yet the plan weakens long before it actually fails. Jack stumbles over the details, makes excuses, and changes the course of events. When he places the gun in Mink’s hand after using only two of the three bullets, we know he’ll be shot even before Mink pulls the trigger. The plot, which had been neatly packaged and contrived, finally stutters and fails. To kill Mink is to effectively kill death, or at least Jack’s fear of it. Once Jack is shot and in terrible pain, closer to dying than ever before, he realizes that he can’t just let Mink die. The main glitch in the plan is humanity. In saving Mink, he feels redeemed and more alive than ever. Without death, such a feeling would have been impossible.
The atheist German nuns who treat Jack and Mink provide the final resolution to the events in the motel. Sister Hermann Marie, practical to an extreme, has no comfort or answer for Jack except to tell him that appearances and illusions are necessary. Even a false faith serves a purpose—as if to prove this point, she utters something in German that Jack can’t understand. Jack finds something beautiful in her incomprehensible litany, and on that note he leaves her. The dreaded guttural sounds of the German language have been transformed into something beautiful, and Willie Mink, the embodiment of Jack’s fears, lies recovering in a hospital room. No easy answers or resolutions are possible. Death remains inevitable, but life need not be terrible as a result. Wilder’s heroic and absurd ride across the highway proves that life can move on even in the face of death, and the sunsets, still beautiful and tinged with dread, remain as mysterious and sublime as ever.
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