Literature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 3 Chapter 33 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 3, Chapter 33 : Dylarama | Summary



Jack Gladney wakes up in the middle of the night to find Wilder standing near the bed, staring at him. Jack follows him down the hall toward a window overlooking the backyard, and they see someone sitting out there, a white-haired old man. Jack begins to panic: for a moment, he imagines it is the figure of Death who has come to collect him. He decides to go outside to confront the man and discovers it is his father-in-law, Vernon Dickey, who has shown up unexpectedly.

One night, Jack searches Denise's closet for the Dylar, causing her to wake up. He tells her he needs it to help him solve a problem, and tells her the basic story of what Dylar is supposed to do. She tells him he should be worried about the side effects, and Jack reminds her that sometimes the power of suggestion is strong, like the time she felt a side effect from just hearing the symptoms of the toxic event. Jack tells her that maybe if he merely thinks Dylar will help him, it actually will. Denise tells him she threw the bottle away.

Jack goes to the kitchen, where Vernon asks him to come outside with him before he leaves. They sit in Vernon's car, and Vernon gives Jack a gun he wants him to have. Jack asks him why he is giving it to him, and Vernon replies that they are living in dangerous times, and a gun is necessary.


Jack Gladney literally thinks he is seeing the figure of Death coming to take him, showing that the idea has manifested into something tangible for him. It's also significant that Vernon Dickey gives Jack a gun; the mistaken figure of Death now hands Jack something that can deliberately cause death, which moves Jack's fate and plot more into his own hands. Vernon tells Jack the gun is loaded; readers of all fiction know the "Chekhov's gun" principle: when a loaded gun shows up in a plot, it must be used.

After Vernon is revealed to be a relative and not the figure of Death, he remains a strange character. Vernon, a widower, is a flirt and womanizer; the novel's emphasis is not on his sexism but on the serial, unattached quality of Vernon's flirtations. He also "moonlights" in various kinds of construction and repair work, but because he has no job, "it's all moonlighting," as he says. He represents an extreme of rootlessness, which family man Jack has structured his life to avoid. As Vernon leaves, he gives a long, comic list of his bodily ailments; he deals with death by repressing it in humor.

Jack's conversation with Denise about whether Dylar works heightens the novel's focus on reality versus illusion. Jack tells Denise, "If I think it will help me, it will." He says it doesn't even matter what is in the pills, because he is eager to be fooled if it will help him in some way. When she tells him it's a stupid notion, he tells her, "This is what happens, Denise, to desperate people." That Jack sees himself as desperate means he can admit Dylar may be useless—but it also indicates his strong desire to believe in something, anything that might help him feel less afraid.

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