Don DeLillo

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White Noise

DeLillo, Don

Last Updated: Dec-04-2002
Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


A dark comedy about an upper-middle class blended family living the technology overloaded, mall-mad contemporary American life in a small midwestern town until catastrophe strikes. Jack Gladney teaches Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill. He is married to his fourth wife Babette, who reads tabloids to the blind and teaches posture classes to senior citizens. Together, they have four children, and a quirky extended family.

Interspersed in the noisy, chaotic family relationships is the central questions that obsesses Jack and Babette: who will die first? Death is everywhere in this story--on TV, radio, at the mall, in Hitler studies, and at home. Then an industrial accident releases an "airborne toxic event"--a lethal cloud of Nyodene D. to which Jack is exposed.

Absurd, witty, and almost plausible, the catastrophe answers his question about who will die first, but tells him nothing about death itself. What is the meaning of death, and, by implication, life? In the final section, dying Jack goes to hospital and meets nun Sister Hermann Marie and questions her about her faith. She explains that her piety is only a pretence: . . . "we are here to embody old things, old beliefs. The devil, the angels, heaven, hell. If we did not pretend to believe these things the world would collapse." (p. 318)

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