Literature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 1 Chapters 10 12 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 1, Chapters 10–12 : Waves and Radiation | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 10

Denise and Babette Gladney debate the dangers of chewing sugarless gum, which Denise claims causes cancer. Babette reminds her it was Denise's idea that she chew sugarless gum in the first place. Meanwhile, Jack Babette and Heinrich discuss Heinrich's chess pen pal, a prisoner, and Heinrich fills him in on the man's crime of murder. But the man didn't kill anyone famous and regrets that he won't go down in history.

Part 1, Chapter 11

Jack wakes up in the middle of the night in a sweat, feeling panicked. He notices the clock reads 3:51 and wonders what its significance might be, noting there are "always odd numbers at times like this." He goes into the kitchen and finds Babette and Steffie, and he announces to them that he is turning 51 next week. Later that day, Babette and Jack go to Murray Siskind's for dinner. Murray lectures them on how children are infinitely marketed to, because people begin to feel alienated from the products they consume as they get older and lose their youthful identities. They also discuss the role of television in people's lives; Murray calls it "a primal force in the American home" and likens it to the creation of myths. On their way home, Babette confesses to Jack that she worries she is becoming more forgetful. Jack tries to reassure her but reveals that Steffie told him Babette is taking "something." Babette denies it, though she concedes she may have forgotten.

Part 1, Chapter 12

Jack continues his German lessons with Howard Dunlop, who reveals that he also teaches "Greek, Latin, ocean sailing," and even meteorology. One evening, Jack drives Babette to blind Mr. Treadwell's house, where she reads books to him. Jack waits in the car, and Babette comes back and tells him Mr. Treadwell is gone. They drive to the state trooper's office to report him missing.


In the same way the supermarket becomes a more prominent setting in the novel, the television takes on an increasingly important role. It seems to be on constantly in the background, it brings the Gladney family together in bonding moments, and Murray observes it is "a primal force in the American home." In a way, television has come to replace religion as a form of spiritual guidance. Much in the same way religion has symbols that can be decoded, so does television. Even the morose Howard Dunlop reveals to Jack how he found solace and meaning by watching television after the death of his mother. Watching a weather show, he was reassured and comforted in a way he hadn't felt since he lost his faith in God. The randomness of the weather show is similar to that of the courses Howard teaches, making his salvation seem equally random.

Denise is seen as a source of reliable information in the novel. When Denise informs Babette Gladney that sugarless chewing gum can cause cancer, Babette grows frustrated, because it seems as if every day new information disputes previous information regarding what is considered healthy. Their interaction foreshadows the constantly revised "symptoms" that accompany exposure to the airborne toxic event. For Don DeLillo's characters, the world is full of facts, symbols, and data to be decoded, making the normal seem ominous and the threatening seem ordinary.

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