Literature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 1 Chapters 8 9 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 1, Chapters 8–9 : Waves and Radiation | Summary

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Summary

Part 1, Chapter 8

Jack discloses that he has long concealed the fact that he does not know how to speak German. This is cause for embarrassment because he is the most prominent figure in Hitler Studies. Students at the college aren't even allowed to major in Hitler without taking a year of German. Jack has attempted to learn German many times but always struggles with it. He recently decided to take lessons in secret from a man named Howard Dunlop, who is not connected to the college.

Part 1, Chapter 9

The children's grade school is evacuated because kids were experiencing headaches and eye irritation, and "a teacher rolled on the floor and spoke foreign languages." The investigators offered a litany of possible causes, or possibly no cause. Denise and Steffie are forced to stay home while the investigation is underway. The family goes to the supermarket, where they run into Murray Siskind, and Jack Gladney finds himself distracted by all the competing noises in the supermarket: tones over the loudspeaker, shopping carts, children crying. Steffie casually mentions to Jack that Denise is reading a medical book in order to find out the side effects of "the stuff" Babette Gladney is using, but she doesn't clarify what "the stuff" is. Meanwhile, Murray tells Babette, somewhat flirtatiously, his theory about how supermarkets are full of "psychic data."

Analysis

Don DeLillo continues to satirize academia by revealing that Jack Gladney spearheads a department devoted to Hitler studies yet has never learned to speak German. This revelation lends itself to the theme of simulation versus reality woven throughout the novel. In Jack's case, not only does he obscure his real self behind his initials and costume, but he creates such a successful illusion that no one bothers to question whether he can speak or understand German. His lack of knowledge of German also calls into question his knowledge about Hitler and the legitimacy of his pop-culture approach to Hitler. Jack seems more preoccupied with the aura and celebrity of Hitler than with his historical implications and influence.

The evacuation of the children's school introduces the paranoia surrounding technology and man-made chemicals in the novel, foreshadowing the "airborne toxic event." Even though technology has brought Jack and his family such comforts as the television and the supermarket, Jack can't shake the suspicion that it also causes something more insidious. He clearly enjoys the benefits of technology, but in his anxious search for answers, he links it to everything from Heinrich's hair loss to the symptoms experienced at the school. Yet this chapter also introduces the novel's recurring emphasis on the tangled and uncertain relationship between information and misinformation. Symptoms are discarded and replaced, and the remedy may, in fact, be making the situation worse; it's unclear whether anyone knows the truth.

The scene in the supermarket demonstrates the postmodern theorizing of Jack Gladney and Murray Siskind: the daily backdrop most people take for granted becomes for the two professors a place to decode and interpret. The scene also shows Jack observing the "white noise" in the book, tucked between sentences in snippets of commercials and everyday sounds. Jack notices "the toneless systems, the jangle and skid of carts, the loudspeaker and coffee-making machines, the cries of children." In many ways, this white noise can be seen as the "psychic data" Murray mentions, a bombardment of information, sights, smells, and sounds. For Murray, this is a thing to be revered, a representation of the spiritual experience of rebirth. Or is it? His tireless theorizing makes it difficult for readers to give particular weight to any of his pronouncements.

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