HomeLiterature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 1 Chapters 6 7 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 1, Chapters 6–7 : Waves and Radiation | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 6

Jack Gladney observes his son Heinrich's hairline beginning to recede, and worries some unknown action on the part of himself or Heinrich's mother is the cause. Heinrich is 14, evasive and moody, but sometimes compliant. As Jack drives Heinrich to school, they debate the reality of the weather and the nature of truth. Jack claims, "people say the sunsets around here were not nearly so stunning thirty or forty years ago." Heinrich goes to school, and as Jack watches him walk away, he is crushed with a feeling of love and worry for him. The next day at college, Jack waits in the movie theater for his students to arrive. After they are seated, he begins his lecture and shows a film. Afterward, the discussion moves toward the plot to kill Hitler, and Jack tells them, "all plots tend to move deathward." Immediately after saying it, he wonders why he said it, and what it really means.

Part 1, Chapter 7

Babette Gladney teaches a class twice a week at the local church on correct posture, and Jack muses that people "seem to believe it is possible to ward off death by following rules of good grooming." He notices the students in Babette's class seem to accept and trust all her advice. Jack notes that he and Babette tell each other everything, a habit mirrored in each of his marriages, though Babette is the first of his wives not to keep secrets. For Jack, this is significant because he believes "it is a form of self-renewal and a gesture of custodial trust."

They plan on an evening in which Babette reads erotica to him, but in his search for something appropriate to read, he becomes distracted by old photo albums. He and Babette flip through the albums, and their recurring question of who will die first returns to him.

Analysis

Jack Gladney and Heinrich's argument over the weather might seem trivial, but in their back-and-forth, Don DeLillo reveals an issue the characters grapple with throughout the novel: What do they know to be absolutely true? Heinrich is the skeptic, Jack the no-nonsense empiricist whose ideas are based on experience.

Murray Siskind often makes reference to the "psychic data" of the world, and with this flow of information and facts comes a sense of certainty and reassurance in their truth. But as Babette Gladney points out, facts and information seem to be disputed on a regular basis, making it impossible to know what to believe. Jack's observation of how sunsets have been growing more intense in recent years shows how he is beginning to question his observations in a quest for the truth. This uncertainty about belief permeates the novel, filtering into everything from mundane assertions about the weather to questions about the existence of God.

Jack's claim, "all plots move deathward," is shaky, because Jack gathers very distinct phenomena under the term "plot." But the claim begins to give shape to his and Babette's question of who will die first. Death is clearly a motif of the novel and a preoccupation of its characters, even as they distract themselves with entertainment and consumption.

Jack's claim is also the author's metafictional comment on the structure of the novel, in which the plot must move toward an inevitable end. Because Jack is the narrator, to some degree he has control over his own story and how quickly it progresses toward "death."

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