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White Noise

Don DeLillo

Chapters 15–18

Chapters 12–14

Chapters 15–18, page 2

page 1 of 3

Summary: Chapter 15

Jack attends Murray’s Elvis lecture. When he walks in, Murray is making a point about the close relationship between Elvis and his mother. Jack interjects that Hitler too adored his mother. Jack and Murray engage in a back-and-forth volley, trading anecdotes about their respective cultural icons. Murray relates how Elvis fell apart when his mother, Gladys, died, and Jack counters with a description of the elaborate, expensive funeral Hitler held for his mother, Klara. Alfonse Stompanato enters the room and settles down to watch. Murray discusses Elvis’s death, particularly the way the man had deteriorated into a haze of bloated, grotesque excess. Jack describes the surging crowds who gathered on the occasion of Hitler’s death. He argues that the crowds gathered not so much to honor Hitler, but simply to be a crowd. Losing one’s individual identity in a crowd, Jack says, is a way of forming a shield against death. After this extended passage, the lecture ends. Murray looks at Jack thankfully, and Jack notices, as students gather around him, that they have become a crowd. Jack says that, for once, he doesn’t need a crowd around him, because, in the classroom, death is strictly a professional matter. In the classroom, Jack is comfortable with the concept of death.

Summary: Chapter 16

At 2 p.m. one afternoon, Wilder begins crying and won’t stop. Jack and Babette decide to take Wilder to the doctor, who tells them to give him an aspirin and put him to bed. Jack proposes going to the emergency room, but Babette insists on going to teach her posture class. While Babette is in class, Jack waits in the car with Wilder. As he holds Wilder, Jack becomes absorbed in the sound of the boy’s wailing. He seems to find something ancient, eternal, and primal within the noise. As they drive home from the class, Wilder stops crying. At home, everyone tiptoes around him, cautious and awestruck.

Summary: Chapter 17

The family takes a trip to the Mid-Village Mall. During the drive, Denise casually tries to confront Babette about Dylar, but the conversation jumps rapidly from tangent to tangent, and Denise is ultimately unsuccessful.

At a huge hardware store in the mall, Jack runs into Eric Massingale, who teaches computers at the College-on-the-Hill. Eric remarks that Jack looks so harmless off campus, without the dark glasses and all his professorial regalia. The encounter puts Jack in the mood to shop. He and his family roam the mall, as Jack shops voraciously. With each purchase, Jack feels he becomes stronger and more powerful.

They return home, and each family member retreats to his or her own room, wanting to be alone.

Summary: Chapter 18

Jack goes to the airport in Iron City to pick up his daughter Bee, who is coming in for a visit. Instead of his daughter, Jack finds her mother, Tweedy Browner, waiting for him at the arrivals area. Tweedy tells him that Bee will arrive in two hours on a flight from Indonesia, where she’s been staying with her stepfather, Malcolm Hunt. Tweedy will head to Boston the following day and has come to spend some time with Bee before she goes.

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