White Noise by Don DeLillo As an Anti-realistic Fiction

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The novel White Noise was popular one among DeLillo novels. Don DeLillo won the National Award for Fiction for this particular novel in the year 1986. Paul Bryant calls White Noise as anti-realistic fiction. Though the novel published few years after the Bhopal gas tragedy in India, many critics compared the air borne toxic event in the novel White Noise with the original Bhopal Gas tragedy. The novel White Noise was published in the year 1985. White Noise is Don DeLillo’s seventh Novel. White Noise is more than a life novel.

The main character of the novel is Jack Gladney. The plot of the novel moves around the character Jack Gladney and his family. The narrator of the novel Jack Gladney, a middle-aged family man and college professor who lives in “Blacksmith” with his wife Babette and four children. Through Gladney’s narrative, DeLillo presents the inherent and insidious dangers lying beneath American consumerism. He also demonstrates the utmost hopeless search for a stable identity. DeLillo highlights Gladney’s struggle against materialistic society through various incidents that alarm the dangers of the unstable life living by Gladney and his family. The central focus of the novel is the deceptive existence and vicious effects of technology upon the individual and the milieu. Lentricchia says “just how far down and in media culture has penetrated” (102). By presenting the world through the perspective of Jack Gladney, DeLillo effectively demonstrates that there is a point of resistance against technological understanding of the world.

The central concern of White Noise (1985) is the fear of death, and the nature of dread. Fear of death makes college professor Jack Gladney to wake up in a cold sweat, feeling 'small, weak, death bound, alone' (224). The same fear of death leads Babette to be dependent on unauthorised drug Dylar, a medicine to overcome the fear of death. The anxiety of death leads to the novel's fundamental questions: What is real, and what is the self?

DeLillo is more interested in the strategies, the stories, human response and models used to overcome the fear of death. In White Noise, line of attack to escape from death leads the characters nearer to it. Escaping from the airborne toxic event only exposes Jack further toward death. The unauthorised drug Dylar used by Babette, instead of alleviating fear of death, creates problem of living without self. The plan to overcome death demands escaping of life and self, leaving proximity and reality.

Death itself adapts, expands, evades in the novel White Noise. Death is stronger in the world and so even the stronger drug like Dylar does not work, leads to living death. Murray, friend and colleague of Jack Gladney says, 'Every advance in knowledge and technique is matched by a new kind of death, a new strain....Is it a law of nature?' (WN150)

Technology is a part of life in American environment. The American environment in White Noise is a mixture of representation and artifice. The media explosion of information which informs the individuals only doubts that only make the big picture of uncertainty about life. In White Noise new technology development does not bring increased knowledge, rather it brings profound uncertainty and ambivalence, creating a desire for immortality on one hand while threatening with the fear to live on the other. For example, the drug Dylar is designed to ease the fear of death; instead it brings death inside the lives. The airborne toxic event itself is a by-product of the advanced technology that goes into the making of insecticides. When it accidently released into the air, the people of Blacksmith are asked to evacuate their hometown and leads to dreadful fear of living. Babette says, 'Every advance is worse than the one before because it makes me more scared' (WN 161).

Amongst the vast growth of technology, Gladney struggles to shape his consciousness and the world around him. Gladney and his family struggle against the postmodern elements of the environment to survive in the technological world. In “Don DeLillo’s Postmodern Pastoral,” critic Dana Philips identifies Gladney’s struggle against the postmodern elements of his environment and adds, “Jack Gladney struggles and largely fails to decipher”(241).

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DeLillo highlights Gladney’s struggle against the technology through a series of events that symbolises the dangers of living. Gladney is only half conscious of the “hidden terror” lying behind the technological surroundings. The struggle Gladney faces moulds him to become aware of the environment he lives. Through Gladney’s perspective, DeLillo demonstrates that the individuals in the novel are aware of the dangers of technology as well as capable of resisting it by survival and way of living. Lentricchia accurately describes the disaster event of the novel through technology as “the environment unintentionally produced by advanced technology, the effects of technology, the by-products, the fallout” (99). Though there are effects and fallout of technology, Jack’s consciousness throughout the first section of the novel depends on technology and it is absurd.

Marriage plays an important role in the life of Gladney’s. Jack and Babette’s prior marriages have failed, and the past unsuccessful relationships serve as indicators of the rootlessness of non-existence life. At the same time, the past unsuccessful marriages resulted in the creation of life. The children in the novel White Noise exist as reminders of the ties that Jack and Babette had in the past and they bind them in the current lives. Jack, Babette and the respective children constitute a family, which creates a new beginning in the technology-oriented life. In fact, the children in Gladney’s family represent the human ability to survive in spite of the environment they live.

DeLillo foregrounds Gladney’s troubled perceptions of life in Blacksmith by contrasting them with the flippant attitudes of the daily activities in the family. For instance, Gladney is disturbed by his family’s Friday night ritual of watching television, especially when the family finds so much pleasure in watching natural disasters on TV. It alarms Jack and the family about the hints of troubled self.

Sleeping leads an individual to a peaceful state. But for Jack’s family sleep itself was influenced by technological development. In the first chapter Jack explains,

Babette and I and our children by previous marriages live at the end of a quiet street in what was once a wooded area with deep ravines. There is an expressway beyond the backyard now, well below us, and at night as we settle into our brass bed the sparse traffic washes past, a remote and steady murmur around our sleep, as of dead souls babbling at the edge of a dream (4).

It is not the sounds of the woods that calm Jack to sleep; it is the noise of traffic and the sounds remind Jack of death. Even at sleep, Jack fears about death. The natural element sleep has been transfigured into a man-made element.

Many characters in White Noise there do not aware of the contrast between industry and nature because the distinction between natural and man-made has been eliminated by the dominance of the technology image. This is more evident when Jack goes with Murray to see a local tourist attraction called “The Most Photographed Bam in America.” Frank Lentricchia in Libra as Postmodern Critique refers the photographed barn as “primal for his imagination of America” (193).

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White Noise by Don DeLillo As an Anti-realistic Fiction. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-noise-by-don-delillo-as-an-anti-realistic-fiction/
“White Noise by Don DeLillo As an Anti-realistic Fiction.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/white-noise-by-don-delillo-as-an-anti-realistic-fiction/
White Noise by Don DeLillo As an Anti-realistic Fiction. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-noise-by-don-delillo-as-an-anti-realistic-fiction/> [Accessed 17 Apr. 2024].
White Noise by Don DeLillo As an Anti-realistic Fiction [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2024 Apr 17]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/white-noise-by-don-delillo-as-an-anti-realistic-fiction/
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