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WHITE NOISE BY DON DELILLO - FREE CHAPTER NOTES
In this chapter, Murray and Jack are jointly delivering a lecture on Elvis and Hitler. Murray says one thing about Elvis and then Jack makes a similar point about Hitler. Similarities are drawn between their relationships with their mothers, with fame, and with death. Jack finishes the lecture with a statement that each surrounded himself with crowds as a way to stave off death, even though what drew the people together was death.
By placing Hitler and Elvis together, Delillo is making a subtle point about the similarities between dictator and performer. Both create a following that would do anything for its star. Fame is a mania that overwhelms and leads to fanaticism.
Wilder starts crying and continues crying all day. Finally, Babette decides that they need to take him to the doctor's office. Before they go, however, they must correlate they answers to whatever questions the doctor might ask, even if they do not know the answer. All of this is for naught because Jack refuses to go in. The doctor says to give Wilder an aspirin and put him to bed. On the way to Babette’s posture class, the pitch of the cry changes, and Babette wants to take him to the emergency ward. Jack says no, and later, after the class is over and they are all on the way home, Wilder immediately stops crying after doing so for seven hours.
Jack and Babette feel that in order to be good patients and good parents, their answers to the doctor’s questions must correlate, that being a patient is a role that they must perform perfectly if the doctor is to perform his role correctly.
We are told that Bee, another daughter of Jack’s, will be coming to visit. Denise asks Babette about Dylar and this generates a discussion that moves from Dakar to the Ivory Coast to Lagos to a movie on surfing, The Perfect Wave, to origami to camels to llamas and so on until Jack states, "The family is the cradle of misinformation. There must be something in family that generates factual error. Murray states that there is a correlation between the strength of family structures and the level of civilization: the greater the family, the more primitive the society. He adds that not knowing is a survival technique of early civilizations.
Eric Massingale, a computer professor, runs into Jack at the hardware store. Eric tells Jack that without his gown and glasses, he looks "harmless." The encounter with Eric puts Jack in the mood to shop, which he does with the entire family. The mall is an excess of commodities and surfaces on which he sees himself reflected. It is also a total sensual experience: the mall provides them with things that they can see, touch, taste, smell, and hear. Jack spends money and it makes him feel part of a system. After they get home, Steffie sits in front of the TV and mouths the words as they are spoken.
Here we see the major problem inherent in an information society: misinformation. In the discussion, names are confused, but sound right. When there is this much information, filing techniques in the mind can be slippery, and thus facts can slide. Delillo is showing how information becomes confused: no longer is it datum, it is a misinformation; it is wrong.
The mall where they shop is the complete consumer experience. In a sense, it is greater than sex. All of the senses are stimulated for all of the shoppers. When one buys or even just shops, one is participating in a larger system; one is needed. Jack sees himself reflected on the surfaces in the mall: this is important because the purpose of the economic system is to make everyone comfortable and thus they will participate (spend). Also, Jack’s reflection is evidence of his part of the system: even as an academic, Jack is part of the economic consumer society.
The final scene of the chapter, Steffie mouthing words at the TV, reflects an attitude that TV is the teacher and parent of an entire generation of children. Wilder will do a similar thing later on.
Blacksmith is a small town that is described as not being in the path of history. The contamination comes from the TV. The college is on the edge of town and is not a ruinous or political influence.
Bee’s mom, Tweedy Browner, meets Jack at the airport (she has flown in to meet Bee as well). Bee has been in Indonesia with her stepfather (Malcolm) who is an undercover agent sponsoring a communist revolution. Tweedy and Jack go to lunch; she believes that sunlight, air, food, water, and sex are all carcinogenic (yet she smokes). Tweedy tells Jack that she cannot tell if Malcolm is real or if "Malcolm" is yet another "cover identity."
Before Bee’s plane lands, another deplanes that has nearly crashed. A passenger narrates the events and a crowd forms: the captain and co-captain each broadcast through the cabin that they are crashing and are going to die; one admits that he is in love with another man; then, just before the plane is to crash, the engines restart and everything is okay. Bee arrives during this and asks where are the media. Jack says that there are no media in Iron City (site of the airport), and Bee replies that "They went through all that for nothing?"
Tweedy represents the person who is frightened by the minutiae of life and misses the real dangers: she believes that the most vital elements of life are carcinogenic, and yet she smokes, which is worse than the others put together. Malcolm represents the idea of reality and role: how can Tweedy ever know if he is "really" Malcolm? And, what would "really" Malcolm mean anyway? Can anyone ever be known by another or even oneself?
The near crash by the plane reveals that even when one is prepared to face death (like pilots in simulation machines), the real event is different. The pilots are panicky and not composed. Furthermore, the desire afterward is to have the media present to validate the passengers’ fears; if the media are present, then the experience will be recognized and thus real. Unfortunately for them, there is no media complex in Iron City, so the entire experience is invalid.
White Noise by Don Delillo-Free Chapter Summary Notes/Synopsis