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WHITE NOISE BY DON DELILLO - FREE BOOKNOTES
After a night in which Jack wakes up in a sweat over death, he enters the kitchen and talks with Steffie. They talk about her mother, Dana Breedlove, and her job with the CIA. Jack tells her that one of the things Dana liked to do was get him involved in plots of all sorts.
That night Jack and Babette have dinner with Murray. He tells them that school is the means by which children are taught to be consumer groups. He asks Babette how many children she has, and she says three: Denise, Wilder, and Eugene who is living with his father in Australia (without TV). This leads Murray to talk about TV as mystical, with its own mantras (i.e. "Coke is it").
Before they walk home, there is a one-line paragraph: "Dacron, Orlon, Lycra, Spandex." On the walk home, Babette tells Jack that she forgets all kinds of things and wants to know if the gum she chews causes forgetfulness. She adds that her life is "either/or."
This primary importance of this section is Murray’s commentary on children and consumerism. Delillo uses Murray as a voice to suggest that schools are not just about learning math and reading, but about being good consumers. They are brought together and made into a knowable block; this allows advertisers to target them. Another of education's purposes is to created qualified workers (who will in turn be able to be consumers).
Finally, Murray talks about TV as mystical; this is important because within White Noise we do not have any real formalized religion (evens the German nuns of Chapter 39 are atheists). TV becomes the contemporary replacement for divine guidance. Thus, the words that the TV spits out are their own mantras. The "Dacron, Orlon, Lycra, Spandex" line is one of many within this novel which functions as a media mantra. Later, Steffie repeats the Toyota mantra during the Airborne Toxic Event. Instead of God, advertising and the media are what the individuals turn to.
Jack makes small talk with his German tutor and discovers that among other things, he also teaches ocean sailing and meteorology. He became interested in meteorology because it represented a security in knowledge and a connection to data transmission from satellites; he started meteorology when his mother died.
Denise’s father, Bob Pardee, stops by. He gives ambiguous presentations to raise anything that people will give him. Jack takes Babette to read to Mr. Treadwell, an elderly blind man, but his house is unlocked and empty. The go to the police and a clerk records everything they tell her. She responds with a fact: there is a disappearance every eleven seconds.
Delillo is rather sneaky in his naming of characters. Although not all characters have significant names, enough do to point out: Dunlop is named after a tire; Treadwell is a description of that tire "well tread." Heinrich has the same first name as Hitler’s second in command, Heinrich Himmler, who was also the director of the secret police (SS) in Nazi Germany. By being named after the director of the SS, Heinrich is the information-gathering master. Others merely have cliché American names like Bob, Jack, Babette, etc.
The disappearance of Mr. Treadwell is treated by the police officer as an event, which supports a statistic, not as an event to worry about. Because so many people are missing, one missing person is not an important circumstance.
Heinrich is down by the river with his Instamatic camera to watch them dredge for bodies. However, while he is still there the Treadwells are found in a shopping mall, having been lost there for two days. The day before they are found, a psychic had been consulted, but she did not help; her tendency is to find things that people are not looking for, but not those which they are looking for.
Delillo is using Heinrich as a critique of the tendency in many people to be fascinated by disaster and death. Furthermore, the desire to photograph the bodies represents the mass reproduction of death images which ultimately numbs the individual to death; eventually, the individual can only see death as the reproduction, not as the actual event.
Denise tells Jack that she has found a mysterious pill bottle of Babette’s in the trash. It is for Dylar, but she cannot find anywhere what Dylar is. She then asks Jack why he named Heinrich Heinrich. He answers that he named him Heinrich Gerhardt Gladney because he had just started Hitler Studies and wanted his son to have a forceful and impressive name. Denise makes a comment that Hitler was on TV again the previous night, and Jack says that we could not have TV without him. Denise wonders why, if he lost the war.
Heinrich runs into the room to announce that there is footage of a plane crash on TV, and so they go into the other room to watch the weekly disasters, deaths, and calamities. Jack states that each disaster makes them want greater disasters.
At the university, another professor, Alphonse Stompanato, tells him that he like watching disasters on TV and that unless a disaster is shown on TV, it is not validated as a disaster. The discussion shifts to where each of them was when certain film and TV celebrities died. Inevitably, their answers not only involves a place but a product, such as a Motorola phone or a Hoover, and sex.
The role of TV is highlighted in this chapter: Jack states the TV is dependent upon Hitler for its existence; they watch a plane crash on TV; Stompanato says that TV marks major events in our lives. Jack does not say why TV is dependent upon Hitler, but we can assume that Jack has made Hitler into the seminal popular figure of the first have first half of the twentieth century, when television was being created. In the latter half of the twentieth century, television has become the marker of our lives: if something bad happens, we want it validated by appearing on TV; when tragedies happen, we see them on TV, and it marks our lives in time and space.
White Noise by Don Delillo-Free Chapter Summary Notes/Synopsis