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White Noise

Don DeLillo

Chapters 19–20

Chapters 15–18

Chapters 19–20, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary: Chapter 19

Upon arriving at Jack’s house, twelve-year-old Bee makes the entire family feel self-conscious. Bee is elegant, worldly, and self-possessed, and Jack says that he admires her but also feels threatened by her. On Christmas day, Jack and Bee have a conversation about Bee’s mother, Tweedy. Bee tells Jack that Tweedy looks anxious all the time and that she believes Tweedy’s agitation stems from the persistent absences of her husband, Malcolm. Bee says Tweedy’s real problem is that Tweedy doesn’t know who she is. As Bee talks, comparing Tweedy to Babette, Jack gets the disturbing sensation that Bee is attempting to communicate with him in some different, mysterious way and that she’s trying to pry secret information from him.

The next morning, Jack takes Bee to the airport. As they drive, quietly listening to the radio, Jack notices that his daughter is watching him carefully, with a compassionate yet condescending expression on her face.

On his way back to the airport, Jack stops at a graveyard, marked with a sign that reads “The Old Burying Ground.” The burying ground is beyond the noise of the traffic, and Jack stands there for a moment, waiting to feel “the peace that is supposed to descend upon the dead.” Jack says that the dead have a kind of presence; an accumulated energy that the living can detect.

Summary: Chapter 20

Mr. Treadwell’s sister, Gladys, dies from what the doctors call “a lingering dread,” resulting from the four days she and her brother were lost at the mall. Jack says that whenever he reads obituaries he automatically compares the age of the deceased to his own age. He speculates how great men of history like Attila the Hun must have felt about the prospect of death. Jack wants to believe that Atilla the Hun met death without fear, accepting it as a natural part of human existence.

Over breakfast, Babette comments to Jack that their life is good. When Jack asks what brought on that observation, Babette says that she felt it needed to be said, before telling Jack that she has bad dreams. They once again discuss the question “Who will die first?” Babette is adamant that she wants to die before Jack but believes that as long as there are children in the house, nothing serious can happen. Jack counters her, saying that he wants to die first, because without her he would feel incomplete. They continue to debate, back and forth, into the night.

Later, Babette leaves to teach her posture class. Murray comes over to talk to the children, because he believes that children are open to special forms of consciousness. Jack goes to make Murray a cup of coffee, and Heinrich chastises him for not doing it efficiently, thereby expending huge amounts of unnecessary motion. Jack admits to us that he does not actually want to die first—though he doesn’t want to be alone after Babette’s death either. Jack doesn’t know who to plead his case to, because he doesn’t know “who decides these things.”

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