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WHITE NOISE BY DON DELILLO - CHAPTER NOTES
Babette teaches a weekly class to elderly people on correct posture. Jack comments that we as a culture use good grooming as a means to ward off death.
Most of this chapter takes place at their home in the evening. Jack and Babette are reading odd sex books and someone in the other room has turned on the TV. This creates an odd interaction between narratives and a discussion on the nature of erotic and sexual language. Jack asks what is the thrill for those who write their imagined erotic experiences: is it the imagining or the seeing it in print.
Jack’s comment about good grooming signifies his belief that culture uses appearance to hide death; the line states that want to appear in such a way as to avoid death. That is what culture seeks, avoiding or masking death.
The second part of this chapter suggests that the repression of sex by culture is a way to further repress death. If sex is repressed, then what one finds first under the surface is not death, but sex. Unless one knows to dig deeper under the surface, one will not discover that death underlies the sex that underlies culture.
This chapter begins by revealing that the founder of Hitler Studies does not know German. Jack hides this fact but even the students are required at least to have at least one year of the language. Jack repeatedly tries to takes lessons but they never seem to go anywhere. This time he is being tutored by a person, Howard Dunlop, in Murray’s apartment. They notice the landlord is fixing things, and Murray states that he is a bigot. Jack asks why, and Murray says because he can fix things. Because of Murray’s image of fix-it men, he assumes that all fix-it men are bigots. Further support for this is that fix-it men tend to drive panel trucks, which is further evidence of bigotry.
The trash compactor adds to the background noise of the house. Steffie states that the radio says they should boil their water. Babette dismisses as faddish, like turning one’s wheels into the skid, because the radio always says things like that. Without segue, Heinrich states that neutrinos pass through the earth.
Jack’s not knowing German reveals that he himself only has a surface knowledge of Hitler. The entire enterprise, for Jack, is about hiding and masking reality. Hitler studies is not about learning about Hitler, but about avoiding death and reality.
Murray exposes one of the problems of surfaces,
they can be wrong and/or self-fulfilling. Murray assumes the fix-it man is a bigot
because that is how most fix-it men are portrayed. Murray has absorbed the same
The second part of this chapter is one of the first sections that tries to write "white noise." The noises and words that flow randomly through the house and are caught by the novel. We are given information but some of it seems bogus and other of it merely seems irrelevant.
The grade school is evacuated because the students are having unexpected reactions and a teacher is falling on the ground and speaking foreign languages. People in Mylex suits come in to see what is causing the problems, but then the Mylex itself is questioned as being a "suspect material."
The family, minus Heinrich, go to the supermarket where they see Murray. Jack states that he has seen Murray a the supermarket as often as he has seen him at school. Jack notices the "packaging" of everything, including the fruit. He adds that there is a lot of noise here. Murray says that "everything is concealed in symbolism, hidden by veils of mystery and layers of cultural material . . . Here we don't die, we shop." Murray adds that what we know about people is often based upon products, not personal names (i.e. "he drove an orange Mazda"). Wilder gets lost and ends up in another woman's cart. Murray states that he is coming back next semester to teach a class on the cinema of car crashes. Jack hears more noise and in it a rumor that one of the men in the Mylex suits died while checking the school.
The first of the chemical "disasters" occurs at the school. The school is evacuated, not because of any particular threat, but because things that are considered not normal are occurring. In order to monitor the situation, people are sent in dressed in a material which itself may be worse than the event itself. We see the role of misinformation and chaos in any scenario: is the cure worse than the disease? If people do not act according to proscribed plans, is something necessarily wrong?
The novel returns to the supermarket and we meet Murray there again. We are directed to notice the packaging and the "noise." Delillo is consciously creating the supermarket as vital to the understanding of the novel: behind the layers of packaging and in the waves of noise is "everything." Murray says that shopping has become its own religion in America to the extent that shopping is a way to deny death (if one is shopping, one is not dead).
Babette and Steffie are debating the consequences of sugar-free gum or regular gum with artificial colors or smoking. Steffie thinks Babette can do without all three because each is said to cause certain problems. Babette really wants to do all of them, which Denise suggests is fine because the only things that are harmed are lab rats.
Heinrich is playing a game of mail-chess with a man in prison. Jack asks him questions about the prisoner, and Heinrich tells him that he killed six people from a rooftop because he heard voices on TV. The voices on TV told him to go down in history; unfortunately, he killed people in a town without a media outlet. Heinrich says that he now knows that he should have just killed one famous person. Jack asks Heinrich if he wants to go visit his mother in Montana, but he says that he cannot know: things are just chemical reactions in the brain, so if there is a misfiring, then he may think the wrong thing.
Jack goes to the ATM and gets money. He feels immense relief, not from the money, but from the fact that this machine responds to him and "validates" his existence. The invisible system has recognized and authenticated him.
Babette places herself in a position where she fears any action, including inaction. Too much information leads her to believe that anything she eats, chews, or smokes will be bad for her, and if she does nothing, that too is bad. Here we see the problem of the excess of information that floods the average viewer: exhaustion or frustration. Denise is another kind of viewer: the literal, naive viewer. According to her, these products only cause problems for lab rats so Babette should not worry since she is not a rat.
Heinrich's prisoner pen-pal blamed TV for his murder spree; it was his way to be famous. The problem is no one was there to broadcast it. This is the first of a number of media misses: the person involved does not become famous because the event occurred in a city without media. Heinrich states that his pen-pal now understands that to becomes famous by killing one must kill a famous person.
Jack's validation by the ATM machine is further support for the idea that an entire information system has been constructed and it recognizes him. It knows how much money he does not have. Jack feels like he is being guarded and valued as part of a system.
White Noise by Don Delillo-Free Chapter Summary Notes/Synopsis