Course Hero. "White Noise Study Guide." Course Hero. 20 Dec. 2016. Web. 20 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/White-Noise/>.
Course Hero. (2016, December 20). White Noise Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/White-Noise/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "White Noise Study Guide." December 20, 2016. Accessed September 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/White-Noise/.
Course Hero, "White Noise Study Guide," December 20, 2016, accessed September 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/White-Noise/.
In Part 1, Chapter 4 Jack Gladney finds himself at the high school looking for Babette, who is exercising on the stadium steps. After musing about the unique things each of them do and don't do well, he wonders to himself which one of them will die first, and notes that this is a question that comes up for them from time to time. Later that night, the family eats dinner and watches TV together, and Jack reveals to Babette that the chancellor at his college had urged him long ago to change his name to the initials J.A.K. in order to be taken more seriously "as a Hitler innovator." Jack is told to "'grow out' into Hitler," to make himself look ugly as a way to embody the "persona" of a Hitler expert, and as a means of furthering his career. "I am the false character that follows the name around," he muses.
Jack is stricken with a sense of foreboding that his enjoyment of aimless days is coming to a close. He tries not to listen when Babette Gladney reads their horoscopes out loud, but he thinks he might be looking for "some clues." He and Babette run into Murray Siskind at the supermarket, where Murray comments on the generic packaging of their food and notes that he wants "to immerse [himself] in American magic and dread." Jack notes that he finds a sort of well-being and contentment when he considers all the things they have purchased.
Jack Gladney's question of "who will die first?" introduces a constant refrain in the novel that also acts as a motif: death. Jack's theory is that death is harder on those left behind than it is on the person who dies, and this causes unceasing anxiety for Babette Gladney and him. The question is not presented in dialogue; it interrupts Jack's narrative observation of the landscape. Don DeLillo takes pains to make lively scenes of dialogue in other parts of Jack's family life, but this question is only summarized and reported. This keeps something of Jack's marriage private at this point, and perhaps also makes readers curious about how the reckoning with death plays out in Jack and Babette's marriage.
The fact that Jack develops a "persona" to heighten his aura as a scholar of Hitler studies further demonstrates the novel's focus on simulation versus reality. Jack is less invested in actually studying and teaching about Hitler than he is in maintaining the illusion that he is a "Hitler innovator," something none of his colleagues call him out on because they essentially do the same thing. It is as if the concept of Hitler studies has as much importance as the historical significance of a dictator responsible for the deaths of millions of innocents. This collapsing of distinctions is another satirical jab at contemporary higher education.
The supermarket becomes an important setting in the book, and is a place where Jack and Murray Siskind find much solace in the order of items. It's a ritual that provides them with a sense of comfort and security, and makes them feel good about themselves and their choices. For Murray, the supermarket also contains a near-mystical quality of "psychic data" and "American magic," the hum and backdrop of daily existence that provides a near-spiritual experience to shoppers. It is the perfect venue for him to spout his intellectual-sounding analysis of something perfectly ordinary.