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White Noise

Don DeLillo

Chapters 6–8

Part I: Waves and Radiation, Chapters 1–5

Chapters 6–8, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary: Chapter 6

Jack worries that Heinrich has a receding hairline. He wonders if this is his fault as the boy’s father or if toxins in the air are to blame. As Jack drives Heinrich to school, Jack tries to initiate a mundane conversation about the weather. Heinrich refuses to entertain Jack’s attempt and parries each of Jack’s comments with a deadpan philosophical retort. As he watches Heinrich walk away from the car, Jack is suddenly seized by a desperate love for his son, whom he feels has a strange way of attracting danger to himself.

In a movie theater on campus, Jack prepares a screening of a documentary for his Advanced Nazism seminar. In the film, which has no narrator, Jack has collected excerpts from Nazi propaganda films, featuring long shots of marches, meetings, and massive crowd scenes. At the end of the screening, a student asks Jack about the plot to kill Hitler. Jack surprises himself by responding, “All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots.” Later, he wonders if he actually believes his own proclamation.

Summary: Chapter 7

Twice a week, Babette teaches a posture class for the elderly in a church basement. Jack speculates that her students feel they can ward off death through proper grooming, and he always finds himself surprised by the faith Babette’s students put in her exercises. Jack walks Babette home from class, and when they arrive they fall into bed. They discuss what they’ll do that evening, and Babette offers to read him something sexy. Jack considers how open and honest their relationship is. Jack and Babette tell each other everything, and, in that retelling, Jack believes they not only draw closer to one another but also manage to distance themselves from painful events in their past. Jack goes off in search of a trashy magazine from which Babette can read him letters. Instead, he finds several old family albums. Jack and Babette look through the albums for hours, and as they flip through the images, Jack once again finds himself wondering, “Who will die first?”

Summary: Chapter 8

Embarrassed by his inability to speak German, despite his position as chair of Hitler studies, Jack secretly begins taking lessons from a man named Howard Dunlop, a reclusive, taciturn man who lives in Murray’s boarding house. Jack has a hostile relationship with the German language, and he describes it as a harsh, strange entity. When Dunlop speaks German, it seems to Jack that Dunlop transforms into an entirely different being. Jack finds the language distasteful, but the College-on-the-Hill is hosting a Hitler conference the following spring, and it would be incredibly shameful if it were revealed that the chairman of the department couldn’t speak German.

After the lesson, Jack stops by Murray’s room and invites him over for dinner. Murray puts away his copy of American Transvestite and puts on his corduroy jacket. On their way out of the house, Murray comments that his landlord is a great handyman, then laments the landlord’s bigotry. Jack asks Murray why he thinks his landlord is a bigot, and Murray responds that people who can fix things are always bigots.

Back at Jack’s house, a flurry of noise and activity awaits the two men, as Denise runs the trash compactor, Heinrich talks on the phone, Babette enters the house from running, and Steffie repeats a radio program’s admonishment to boil tap water before drinking. In the middle of all this sound, Wilder sits, happy and silent.

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