Critical Analysis of White Noise: Short Review of Plot

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His son Heinrich as they are driving to school in the rain. Heinrich told his dad that, in spite of what looks like rain on the windshield, the radio said it wasn’t going to rain until that night. His dad is frustrated. “Just because it’s on the radio doesn’t mean we have to suspend belief in the evidence of our senses.” “Our senses? Our senses are wrong a lot more often that they’re right. This has been proved in the laboratory. Don’t you know about all those theorems that say nothing is what it seems?” (White Noise, 25)

In White Noise, the authority is given to computer and media to speak thereby placing them in a position of power over common people like Jack. As a SIMUVAC officer tells Jack, I didn’t say it. The computer did. The whole system says it. It’s what we call a massive data-base tally. Gladney, J.A.K. I punch in the name, the substance, the exposure time and then I tap into your computer history. Your genetics, your personals, your medicals, your psychological, your police- and- hospitals. It comes back pulsing stars… It just means you are the sum total of your data. No man escapes that (White Noise, 165). DeLillo shows a kind of discourse through illustrating Jack as the chair of the Hitler Studies department at College-on-the-Hill. This position gives Jack the power to speak and even hold a conference on Hitler Studies, while he cannot speak even one word German. He says; “Hitler gave me something to grow into and develop towards, tentative as I have sometimes been in the effort” (White Noise, 19).

In White Noise, Jack is in quest of finding relief for his existential angst in a whole series of discourses such as consumerism, science, and media. He talks of his angst as: “Facts threaten our happiness and security. The deeper we delve into the nature of things, the looser our structure may seem to become” (White Noise, 97). He is in the position of appreciating the ironies of contemporary existence while simultaneously being subject to them. Consumerism is another discourse of the twentieth century. There is a belief, produced through media advertising, that one can shop his/her way out of any personal trauma. When shopping, people may define an identity, an idea of who they are. As Jack says about shopping:

It seems to me that Babette and I, in the mass and variety of our purchases, in the sheer plenitude those crowded bags suggested, the weight and size and number, the familiar package designs and vivid lettering, the giant sizes, the family bargain packs with Day-Glo sale stickers, in the sense of replenishment we felt the sense of well-being, the security and contentment these products brought to some snug home in our souls- it seems we had achieved a fullness of being that is not known to people who need less, expect less, who plan their lives around lonely walks in the evening. (White Noise, 24).

While shopping suggests a sort of relief for Jack, and a feeling of control over his life, Jack soon understands that his economic and social conditions are still of little significance in the grand scheme of things: I'm not just a college professor. I'm the head of a department. I don't see myself fleeing an airborne toxic event. That's for people who live in mobile homes out in the scrubby parts of the country, where the fish hatcheries are (White Noise, 136-7).

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The accidental toxic clouds, the natural disaster, the arbitrary act of violence, are the disturbing angst. The discourse of consumerism fails when it matters, in significant times of life and death. Jack is not able to buy his way out of his exposure to the toxic cloud. In dealing with his exposure, Jack must leave himself to another discourse, that of science.

Dylar is the chemical drug, which Jack’s wife, Babette, has secretly been taking to counteract her fear of death. Facing the very real possibility of imminent death, Jack becomes obsessed with the drug, even though Babette said that it didn’t work, that she still dreaded death. Jack is fascinated by the idea that a little white pill could contain the end to his fear.

As he says, Dylar is almost as ingenious as the microorganism that ate the billowing cloud. Who would have believed in this existence of a little white pill that works as a pressure pump in the human body to provide medication safely and effectively, and self-destructs as well? I am struck by the beauty of this (White Noise, 219).

Finally, Jack appeals Nietzschean philosophy that is ‘will to power’. He decides that he will attempt to overcome death by causing the death of another. Throughout the novel, Jack had appealed to his professional life, to Hitler studies, to overcome his fear of death, “Some people are larger than life, Hitler is larger than death” (White Noise, 330). The idea behind this is that a tyranny so large, a horror so obscure, could overpower something as small as any individual’s fear of death. However, after Jack actually does attempt to enact his will to power, and shoots Mr. Gray- Dylar Owner-, he finds:

What else do we find? Certainly there is awe, it is all awe, it transcends previous categories of awe, but we don’t know whether we are watching in wonder or dread, we don’t know what we are watching or what it means, we don’t know whether it is permanent, a level of experience to which we will gradually adjust, into which our uncertainty will eventually be absorbed, or just some atmospheric weirdness, soon to pass. (White Noise, 373)

DeLillo, also, represents a bleak analysis of how we are brought to see a form of reality which considerably narrows our view of what is possible. DeLillo attempts to identify that how, in our own time, our perception of reality is changing when it falls into different discourses.

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Critical Analysis of White Noise: Short Review of Plot. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
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