Literature Study GuidesWhite NoisePart 3 Chapters 39 40 Summary

White Noise | Study Guide

Don DeLillo

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White Noise | Part 3, Chapters 39–40 : Dylarama | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 39

Jack Gladney finds the motel in Germantown Winnie Richards described to him. His plan is to find Willie Mink and shoot him three times, then frame it as a suicide. He also plans to take any Dylar tablets he finds. He finds the only room at the motel that seems occupied, and he opens the door to find a man sitting there, watching television. The man, Willie Mink, asks Jack if he is "heartsick or soulsick," assuming he is there to procure some Dylar. Jack attempts to have a conversation with him about death, but Willie's responses are strange and nonsensical, containing fragments of commercials. Between sentences, Willie casually gulps down handfuls of Dylar. Jack remembers something Babette told him about Dylar's side effects; he tests it out by saying things like "falling plane" and "hail of bullets." Willie reacts to the words as if they were real events. Finally, Jack tells Willie who he is and his relationship to Babette Gladney, and then he shoots him. He wraps Willie's hand around the gun to frame him for suicide, as planned, but then Willie raises the gun and shoots Jack in the wrist.

Willie has suddenly forgotten who Jack is and why he shot him, so Jack tells him he is just a passerby and puts him in the back of the car. He drives until he finds a building that looks like a hospital, and he rings the bell. A nun answers the door, and Jack informs her that both of them have been shot. She brings them inside, where orderlies attend to them. The nun introduces herself as Sister Hermann Marie, and Jack speaks his limited German to her, listing the names of things and counting numbers. Then he asks the sister what the church says about heaven today, if it is still like the heaven depicted in old pictures. The sister laughs at him, and asks him if she thinks they are stupid. She says she doesn't believe in angels, which upsets Jack, who claims that seeing nuns cheers people up because they believe in things like angels. The sister agrees it's true that "the nonbelievers need the believers," but she doesn't believe in any of it. She tells Jack that if the nuns stopped pretending and abandoned all belief, the human race would die. She claims that because belief is shrinking in the world, "people find it more necessary than ever that someone believe." Jack finally leaves to drive home, returning the blood-covered car to the neighbor's driveway.

Part 3, Chapter 40

A few days later Wilder rides his tricycle away from home toward the expressway, and he pedals across several lanes on the highway, narrowly missing being hit by cars. A passing motorist leaps out and grabs him, rescuing him. Jack believes Wilder was heading for the overpass, where they often go to watch the sunsets. In town, the men in Mylex suits still gather data, and Jack now avoids visiting his doctor because undergoing his battery of medical tests. All the shelves at the supermarket are rearranged, which sends shoppers into a panic. But Jack notes that everything people need that isn't food or love can be found in the tabloids people read while waiting in line: stories, ads, and news.


Willie Mink is not the implacable enemy Jack Gladney had envisioned, but rather a sad, drug-addled man who has lost his mind. Willie's deranged speech consists of random lines from television shows and commercials; he is the novel's white noise in person. When Jack tests the effects of such phrases as "falling plane" and "hail of bullets," Willie also reveals that he has reached an advanced stage in the confusion between words and things.

Jack's attempt to become a killer instead of a dier—the master of his own fate—deflates in a series of mishaps: he gets in only two shots instead of the planned three, the shots aren't fatal, and his would-be victim shoots back. Although the wound in Jack's wrist is not fatal, the pain undoes him; he is no longer the resolute, icy killer who cheats death, but a mortal man in desperate pain. The drama of the scene is also undercut by Jack's saying, "hail of bullets," and Willie's reaction; the play-acted showdown dilutes the dramatic impact of the real one. However, Don DeLillo has prepared readers for all this comic deflation by giving Jack an absurd plan: Jack had intended to fake a suicide by shooting Willie three times in the torso and then planting the gun in the dead man's hand. This illogical and ridiculous crime scene is unlikely to have convinced anyone.

The scene with Sister Hermann Marie unfolds as a theological comedy routine, further deflating Jack's attempt to find redemption, first through violence, and now through the succor of pastoral care. Sister Hermann Marie is a nonbeliever who understands that other people need the illusion that someone—a nun, for example—believes in God; because they only need the illusion, she sees no reason to go the extra mile and actually believe. She is selfless, working in a hospital and devoting herself to providing the illusion of belief, but instead of redemption, Jack finds she can offer him only the same problems he has always known: "[a]ll the old muddles and quirks."

Wilder's tricycle ride across the freeway is appropriately death-defying, and it harkens back to Murray Siskind's claim in Chapter 37 that Jack is so comforted by Wilder's presence because the toddler doesn't know what death is. Wilder is thus "wild," a kind of primitive or pure being. The novel has also hinted that Wilder is becoming even wilder; in Chapter 35, Jack remarks that Wilder is "talking less than ever." Wilder's departure threatens the Gladney family. By having Wilder to survive his death-defying tricycle ride, DeLillo returns Wilder to the family and to Jack. Jack has failed in his quest for heroic redemption through violence, but he will continue to have the comfort of Wilder's savage presence.

Rather than redemption, Jack finds another way to stave off his fear of death. Murray had said that Jack was unable to do what most people do: repress their fear of death, forget it. Further, because repression is unconscious, Murray had said that Jack could never learn do it on purpose. But now, Jack avoids the doctor he once pestered, remarking "I am taking no calls." Rather than redemption, Jack finds a faulty but good-enough ability to repress.

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