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What is the relationship between Jack’s
appearance and his character throughout White Noise?
Jack makes repeated references to the robe
and dark glasses he wears while on campus. He admits that he deliberately
plans his appearance, in order to project a greater sense of authority.
By gaining weight, changing his initials, and donning a pair of
dark glasses, he became a more significant figure, worthy of Hitler,
his weighty subject matter. In moments of doubt or fear, Jack instinctively
longs for his academic regalia, because he has come to believe,
however irrationally, that those distinguished accessories can and
will protect him from death. As Jack notes, he has become the false
character who follows the name J. A. K. Gladney around. The appearance he
has created now exists independently from him. He needs the costume
to feel full and strong, because it is the costume—rather than an
inherent aspect of Jack’s character—that exudes an air of authority
This distinction becomes explicit in Jack’s brief encounter
at the shopping mall with a colleague from the college. Jack’s colleague notes
that, without his dark glasses and robe, Jack looks like a harmless
figure as opposed to the commanding department head he appears to
be on campus. Jack, suddenly aware of his vulnerability, responds
by claiming a new authority as massive consumer. He shops with reckless
abandon not because he wants to, but because shopping is the only
way he can regain his sense of authority in the absence of his glasses
and robe. Once Jack’s exposure to Nyodene Derivative has been diagnosed,
he wears his glasses more frequently, and in particular moments
of weakness he openly declares that he wishes he had his robe. Until
the end of the novel, Jack has vested all of his self-worth in the
illusion of the college professor and department chair he has successfully
Describe Heinrich’s attitude toward
and relationship with death.
Early in the novel, Jack relates his concerns
for his son, noting that an air of darkness seems to surround him.
Jack’s concern certainly seems well founded. Heinrich deliberately
surrounds himself with death: he plays chess with a convicted murderer,
his only friend is a nineteen-year-old senior training to sit in
a cage of poisonous snakes, and he’s the family expert on disasters.
Heinrich not only associates himself with death but also actively
cultivates a relationship with it. The closer he gets to it, the
stronger and more confident he becomes. His shining moment is at
the Boy Scout evacuation camp, where his encyclopedic knowledge
of Nyodene Derivate’s potentially lethal consequences allows him
to flourish as he never has before.
Heinrich’s attitude toward death represents an alternate
perspective to his father’s outlook. Jack tries to avoid and fight
death, while Heinrich stares at it straight on and smiles. During
the family’s evacuation from the airborne toxic event, Heinrich
is the only one in the car clearly excited by what is happening.
Heinrich’s appreciation for death takes on another layer when we
consider his name, which Jack gave him because he thought a German
name would confer upon him a certain authority and power. The name,
however, invokes Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Nazi police and
the man responsible for executing the Final Solution, the Nazi program
that sought the systematic extermination of Jews during World War
II. Heinrich’s morbid sensibilities disturb Jack, but Jack must
himself take some responsibility for shaping that temperament.
Briefly discuss the role of plot in
shaping the narrative structure of White Noise.
At the close of one of his lectures, Jack
states that all plots tend toward death. Jack’s comment concerns
the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life, yet the word plot reverberates
throughout the novel in both its literal sense—defined as “a secret
scheme” or “plan”—and in a literary sense—defined as “a narrative’s
pattern of events.” If all plots, literary or otherwise, tend toward
death, then Jack’s acute fear of dying would reasonably lead him
to avoid plots or plans of any kind. Plots imply progress, and since
neither lives nor novels can go on indefinitely, plots must also
imply endings, finality, and death. Jack believes that if he can
avoid gaining momentum, he can delay or possibly avoid his inevitable
conclusion. While standing alone at the Old Burying Ground, he reminds himself
to live aimlessly, without following a plan, and the novel’s structure
mirrors that idea in its first half. The story ambles from one event
to the next, leisurely accumulating details and developing characters
while resisting anything that might conventionally be construed
as plot. In this way, the narrative—and its narrator—resists death.
However, a radical shift occurs in the final third of
the novel, when Jack learns of his wife’s infidelities and her mysterious
prescription. Suddenly, a series of events are set in motion, forming
an unambiguous plotline that Jack cannot avoid or escape. In a quick succession
of implausible coincidences, Jack receives a loaded gun, learns
that murder might relieve the fear of his own death, and discovers
the whereabouts of his nemesis, Willie Mink. Jack doesn’t initiate
any of these events but rather lets himself get caught up in narrative’s
domino effect. The machinations of the plot overwhelm Jack, carrying
him along to the seemingly inevitable conclusion—death. And yet,
in the novel’s concluding moments, Jack confronts death only to
sidestep it once again. He decides not to kill Willie Mink, taking
him instead to a hospital for treatment of his wounds. In the final
chapter, Jack’s stepson Wilder rides his tricycle across a busy
highway, miraculously managing to escape any harm. The novel thus
ends with life asserted twice in the face of seemingly certain death,
a move that retroactively undermines the notion that all plots lead