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Free Study Guide for White Noise by Don Delillo-BookNotes Summary
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A line of station wagons arrives with college students getting ready for the semester. Jack Gladney is watching them, noting the possessions that they bring with them. He also notes how similar the families, students, and
possessions are. He also mentions that there is an insane asylum nearby as well as a freeway. He concludes by informing the reader that he is a professor of Hitler Studies and in fact started the field of Hitler studies itself.


This first chapter establishes the setting, the small college town of Blacksmith. The setting is important because it is cliché middle America. By setting the story here, Delillo effectively is saying, "this is America."

We are also introduced to the protagonist, Jack Gladney, who is a professor of Hitler Studies. Hitler Studies is important to Jack because it is a neat packaging of death. Jack does not deal with the 6 million Jews, gypsies,
disabled, homosexuals, etc that Hitler ordered killed; he focuses on the celebrity and the trivia. Unimaginable death is hidden behind the word "Hitler," which in turn is sanitized by being a field of intellectual pursuit
(reality is made theoretical).



The second chapter is a description of Babette, Jack’s wife. She is upset because Jack forgot to remind her about the arrival of the station wagons. One of her activities is to read tabloids to an elderly gentleman named Treadwell.

She and Jack have a brief discussion on how the rich experience death. Jack suggests that maybe it is merely a transference of documents. During this discussion, she asks where Wilder, their youngest child (and the only one that has both of them as its parents), has gone. Wilder is found, and the three other kids that live with them, Steffie, Denise, and Heinrich, all come downstairs.

Steffie and Denise discuss Babette’s tendency to buy health food that she will not eat, thinking that if she buys it, she will feel compelled to eat it. There is a brief focus on the packaging and white noise surrounding them.


Here we are introduced to Babette who is again, a kind of cliché. The name itself suggests the unintelligent wife who merely looks pretty. We meet her and see that her actions are typically American: she is worried about death and she feels that all she has to do is buy the product (not use it) and its effects will be felt.

The discussion between Babette and Jack about the rich and death is a way to describe death without making it personal. This allows the two of them security because it removes part of the fear of dying. Delillo is also making a
statement about the degree to which death has disappeared in this culture: many of us no longer understand the physicality of death; for us it merely entails changing something in a computer file or filing papers.

We are introduced to the rest of the children who live with Jack and Babette. Wilder’s disappearance foreshadows his later running away.



This chapter returns to school campus. We are told that the Hitler Studies Department is in the same building as the Popular Culture Department. The one professor of Popular Culture, which Jack sees as being different (and he
likes) is Murray Jay Siskind, who lectures on living icons. Murray lives in a rooming house with a number of odd types. Murray states that he is envious of the way that Jack has taken a figure and made a career out of him, in a way, making Hitler his own. Murray says that he wants to do the same thing with Elvis.

Murray and Jack take a short trip to see "The Most Photographed Barn in America." There are five signs pronouncing it "The Most Photographed" along the highway. While they are there, they discuss the impossibility of
seeing the barn through the aura surrounding it. The barn is a celebrity for the sake of being a celebrity.


The irony here is that Hitler Studies is not placed in the History building but in the Popular Culture Building. This is vital to the understanding of Jack’s work. He is not interested in understanding World War II better; he is
interested in how one becomes a celebrity and how one packages death. Hitler was a superstar and sex idol in Germany in the later 1930s and early 1940s: he was Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy rolled up in one. This is what Jack is most interested in. Murray, Jack’s one real professor friend, wants to make Elvis into the same kind of academic commodity that Jack has made Hitler into. He is attempting to redefine "greatness" and "worthiness of study."

"The Most Photographed Barn in America" is an important scene because it reveals how we as participants in American culture are often more interested in the copy than the original (this idea is know as simulacra or hyper-reality). Those who photograph the barn participate in a group celebrity: they gain fame by participating in the fame of the barn. By photographing it, they help keep it the most photographed barn. There seems to be nothing particularly significant about the barn, other than its fame. Also, by photographing the barn, people are not seeing the barn but their picture of the barn (when their photos are developed); in effect, no one cares what the barn looks like.

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White Noise by Don Delillo-Free Chapter Summary Notes/Synopsis
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