Literature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 1 Chapters 15 16 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 1, Chapters 15–16 : Waves and Radiation | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 15

Jack Gladney attends one of Murray Siskind's lectures on Elvis and interrupts him to discuss his parallels to Hitler. They trade anecdotes of each figure, noting their similar relationships with their mothers. Jack is pleased with what transpires, and believes he has helped Murray elevate Elvis as a possible subject of department study by associating him with Hitler.

Part 1, Chapter 16

Wilder begins to cry at two in the afternoon and doesn't stop. Babette Gladney tries to figure out what is wrong but can find nothing, and she and Jack debate taking him to the doctor. The doctor advises them to give Wilder an aspirin and put him to bed, which is the same advice Denise gave them. Jack notices that Wilder's crying now sounds different, like "a sound of inbred desolation." Jack tries to convince Babette that they should take him to the emergency room. Instead, he drops Babette off at her class. Hours later, just as suddenly as he began, Wilder stops crying.

Analysis

Jack Gladney and Murray Siskind's classroom exchange on Elvis and Hitler resembles performance more than it does an academic lecture. By comparing Elvis and Hitler, Don DeLillo emphasizes the way in which Jack views Hitler as a celebrity rather than a historical figure, and again satirizes the concept of elevating pop culture to a topic for serious study. The reputations and mythologies of their subjects of study also lend a celebrity aura to Murray and Jack by proxy. In their dual lecture, it seems as if power can be transferred through energy—from Hitler to Elvis, and from Jack to Murray.

Because Wilder is too young to express himself in words, his crying seems to be merely another piece of "psychic data" to be decoded, with its pulses and waves.

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