Literature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 1 Chapters 13 14 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 1, Chapters 13–14 : Waves and Radiation | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 13

Mr. Treadwell is found alive with his elderly sister in an abandoned store in the mall. They had wandered the mall for two days, lost and confused. Jack Gladney stays up late into the night studying German, worried that at the conference he will be called upon to speak German the entire time. Denise sneaks in and asks him what they should do about Babette Gladney—she can't remember anything. She tells Jack she saw a bottle of medication called Dylar buried in the trash, and she can't find any information about the drug in her reference books. Jack tries to reassure her that everybody takes medication and forgets things occasionally.

Part 1, Chapter 14

The family continues their Friday night custom of eating take-out dinner in front of the television, watching live footage of all the world's current disasters: earthquakes, mudslides, and erupting volcanoes. Jack observes, "every disaster made us wish for more, for something bigger, grander, more sweeping." A few days later, Jack asks Alfonse Stompanato, head of the American Environments department at the college, why people find themselves so intrigued by catastrophes they see on the television. Alfonse has a theory that people are suffering from "brain fade," an incessant bombardment of information, and catastrophes break up the bombardment. Murray argues that with the advent of commercials, people are no longer able to tell the difference between significant information and background information.


The background story of the Treadwells' ordeal in the mall serves to show a more insidious, if absurd, side to the places where Americans innocently spend their time. Both the supermarket and the mall have now been linked with death, as unlikely as it seems. Jack Gladney has observed more than once how purchasing things gives him a sense of renewal. At the same time, the specter of death hovers over the novel in other ways—Heinrich is watching them dredge the lake for the Treadwells' bodies when they are found at the mall. Don DeLillo suggests here the possibility that the consumers are themselves consumed.

The television continues to play a dominant role in the lives of the Gladneys, and they watch live disaster footage while they eat dinner together. The Gladneys seem unable to realize on a fundamental level that such news shows aren't just entertainments, but real disasters affecting the lives of real people. When Jack asks Alfonse Stompanato why people are so intrigued by seeing catastrophes, Alfonse tells him, "we need an occasional catastrophe to break up the incessant bombardment of information." This relates back to Murray's idea of "psychic data": it has become harder and harder for the characters to pick out the meaning from a barrage of information.

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