Literature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 1 Chapters 19 20 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 1, Chapters 19–20 : Waves and Radiation | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 19

Bee's presence in the house makes the family self-conscious, aware of their flaws and strange rituals. Jack Gladney has the strange sense that Bee isn't his child because she is so self-possessed and sophisticated. Bee stays through the Christmas holidays, and then Jack drives her to the airport. On the way back, he stops at Blacksmith Village's old burying ground on the edge of town. Gazing at the headstones, Jack ponders the "power of the dead," and the presence they have in the lives of the living.

Part 1, Chapter 20

At breakfast, the question of who will die first comes up again between Jack and Babette. Babette claims she wants to die first because she would be lonely and sad without Jack. Jack says he would rather die first because he would feel incomplete without her. But secretly, he doesn't want to die first. Jack wonders who decides these things, what larger power might be out there. After Babette leaves to teach her class, Murray Siskind comes over to watch television with the children. Jack glances at the television, and sees Babette's face on the screen, and he feels disoriented by seeing her in another space. He realizes that the local cable station is televising her class.


Jack Gladney's stroll around the graveyard continues the motif of death in the novel. He is searching for answers to big questions, and questioning his own mortality in relation to them. For Jack, the cemetery serves as a rare place where he is not surrounded by "white noise," yet, in a way, death is the actual "white noise" of the book: ever-present and always on in the background. Jack's comment, "do not advance the action according to a plan," harkens back to his observation that "all plots tend to move deathward," for here he finds himself in a resting place for the dead, pleading for the action not to "advance." He is worried about aging and the coming of his own death.

The family's reaction to seeing Babette Gladney on the television is significant. The television is the common mode of entertainment and communality in the family, and to see one of their own projected on its screen takes their breath away, and they are uncertain how to react. The television is where disasters and sitcoms take place, and their minds don't know how to process that Babette is a real person—at first, Jack worries something has happened to her. It makes them wonder who the "real" Babette is.

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