Literature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 1 Chapters 2 3 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 1, Chapters 2–3 : Waves and Radiation | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 2

In Part 1, Chapter 2 Jack Gladney discusses the "day of the station wagons" with Babette, his large and big-hearted wife. Readers get their first glimpse of Babette Gladney's personality as she remarks, "I have trouble imagining death at that income level." The girls, Steffie and Denise, discuss Babette's habit of buying junk food and then throwing it out.

Part 1, Chapter 3

Jack reveals that even though he is the department head of Hitler Studies, his office is located in the popular culture department, and he notes that its professors seem bitter and suspicious of one another. One colleague who has been friendly to him is Murray Jay Siskind, a new professor who gives lectures on living icons. Jack and Murray debate the aspects of pop culture worth studying: Comic books? Cereal boxes? Murray praises Jack for founding the Hitler Studies department and notes that he wants to do the same for the rock-and-roll singer Elvis Presley.

A few days later, Jack and Murray visit a nearby tourist attraction known as "the most photographed barn in America." Cars and tour buses surround the barn, and a booth sells postcards and slides of the barn. Murray observes the phenomenon in silence, and then he makes his paradoxical pronouncement. He claims "no one sees the barn"; instead, they see only its "aura" as the most photographed barn in America. They'll never know what the barn was like before it was photographed, he muses.


Babette Gladney's obsession with death is revealed in Part 1, Chapter 2. Her fear is clearly related to her shopping habits: she buys unhealthy food, throws it out, and then shops again.

Jack Gladney and Murray Siskind's trip to "the most photographed barn in America" in Part 1, Chapter 3 introduces an important theme in the novel: simulation versus reality. The tourists at the barn are more interested in the illusion of the "celebrity" of the barn than they are in the reality: it's just a barn with no significant history distinguishing it from any other barn. In this light, the barn can be seen as an allegory for the aura people project onto all kinds of celebrities, and how that projection, in turn, changes the reality of the appearance. Murray observes that they'll never know what the barn was like before it was famous, because they "can't get outside the aura." He claims it is "a religious experience in a way, like all tourism." This claim connects to a larger idea in the book about belief: the need for people to believe in illusions in order to be happy.

Murray's strange pronouncements are also an example of the novel's satire of the study of popular culture. On the one hand, he is able to step back and analyze the tourists with a professorial vocabulary. On the other, he includes Jack and himself in the phenomenon by saying, "We're part of the aura"—raising the question: How can anyone take his analysis seriously?

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