Literature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 1 Chapters 17 18 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 1, Chapters 17–18 : Waves and Radiation | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 17

Denise confronts Babette Gladney about the Dylar medication she found in the trash. Babette asks if Dylar is the name of the girl from Africa staying with their neighbors, and the conversation gets lost in distractions. At the mall, Jack Gladney runs into a colleague, Eric Massingale, who comments that Jack looks different without his glasses—he looks "harmless." Their encounter puts Jack in the rare mood to shop, and the family combs the mall, buying things. The more he buys, the more Jack feels he is beginning to grow "in value and self-regard."

Part 1, Chapter 18

Jack drives to the airport in Iron City to pick up his daughter Bee. He's surprised to find his ex-wife, Tweedy Browner, waiting to greet him instead. She tells him Bee is flying in later, and that's why Tweedy has come as well: to spend time with her. Jack drives Tweedy around the city, and they reminisce about their marriage. They return to the airport in time to see a crowd of passengers disembarking after their plane lost power and everyone aboard panicked, because an airline steward announced over the intercom they were all about to die. But the engines turned back on, and the plane landed safely. Bee emerges from a different flight, and they begin the drive back home.


Jack Gladney makes a significant observation amidst Babette Gladney and Denise's conversation about Dylar that "the family is the cradle of the world's misinformation." The Gladney family is in constant dialogue with each other, but much of it is one family member correcting or refuting the facts of another family member, which creates a general sense of uncertainty. The characteristics of the children—especially Denise's cool, accurate pronouncements and Heinrich's skepticism—contribute to this sense and to the book's satirical nature. The "learned" professor's own family cannot hold a coherent conversation.

Iron City, like Blacksmith, is another town name that evokes a long-gone industrial America. The motif of death continues, as evidenced by the passengers who narrowly escape a plane crash. Bee's observation that the passengers "went through all that for nothing" because the media weren't there to report it emphasizes that, for something to be real, it must be documented and broadcast. Bee's phrase, "for nothing," suggests that the media representation is the purpose of enduring a traumatic event.

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