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White Noise | Quotes


We seem to believe it is possible to ward off death by following rules of good grooming.

Jack Gladney, Part 1, Chapter 7

Jack Gladney makes this observation when describing the posture class Babette Gladney teaches at the church. It's a humorous comment, but it points to an underlying obsession Jack and the other characters have about their own mortality.


All the letters and numbers are here ... all the code words and ceremonial phrases.

Murray Siskind, Part 1, Chapter 9

Murray Siskind makes this observation to Jack and Babette Gladney while in the supermarket, which he claims is full of "psychic data." This attempt to decipher codes, data, and information is pervasive throughout the novel, an attempt to make meaning out of the white noise surrounding the characters' lives.


For most people there are only two places in the world. Where they live and their TV set.

Alfonse Stompanato, Part 1, Chapter 14

Alfonse Stompanato responds to Jack Gladney's questions about why he and is family are so fascinated by watching disasters on television. TV plays a prominent role in the novel, both as a bonding activity for Jack's family as well as a constant source of background noise.


The family is the cradle of the world's misinformation.

Jack Gladney, Part 1, Chapter 17

Jack Gladney's observation, a play on the phrase "cradle of civilization," comes after witnessing his family members debate a variety of facts without coming to any clear consensus. Like the television, radio, and the supermarket, Jack's family is constantly tossing out contrary facts and statistics, making it hard to decipher what is true.


Which was worse, the real condition or the self-created one, and did it matter?

Jack Gladney, Part 2, Chapter 21

Jack Gladney ponders the nature of the side effects of exposure to the airborne toxic event. Denise and Steffie claim to experience each symptom as it is announced on the news, which Jack finds suspicious. But his question ponders the nature of self-made reality, because if they believe they are experiencing the side effects, then it is real to them.


In the commonplace I find unexpected themes and intensities.

Jack Gladney, Part 3, Chapter 25

As a professor of cultural studies, Jack Gladney believes "the world is full of abandoned meanings" and that even detritus and low culture can reveal something. From the supermarkets to alarms clock, Jack decodes everyday objects. In this way, Jack and his colleagues are like Don DeLillo the novelist, and however much he lampoons "Hitler Studies," DeLillo is sympathetic to this attempt to wrest insight from the commonplace.


You have to ask yourself whether anything you do in this life would have beauty ... without the knowledge you carry of a final line.

Winnie Richards, Part 3, Chapter 30

Winnie Richards's view on the necessary fear of death runs counter to Jack Gladney's. Here, she gives him a counterpoint that knowledge of one's own mortality is what makes life feel urgent and precious—and meaningful.


To plot is to affirm life, to seek shape and control.

Murray Siskind, Part 3, Chapter 37

Murray Siskind offers a counterpoint to Jack Gladney's belief that all plots move toward death. Jack's belief gives him anxiety in advancing the plot of his own life, because it will only bring him closer to his death. But Murray argues that not only is plotting one's life unavoidable, it's also necessary and gives individuals a sense of control.

Jack Gladney has already tested his theory that taking Dylar causes the user to confuse words with the things to which they refer, again blurring the line between simulation and reality. Now he says words that make Willie Mink believe he is being shot at to prolong Willie's death.


Is it better to commit evil and attempt to balance it with an exalted act than to live a resolutely neutral life?

Jack Gladney, Part 3, Chapter 39

Jack Gladney asks himself this question after shooting Willie Mink, only to rescue him. It harkens back to Murray Siskind's statement that Jack can be a killer or a dier, and here, Jack chooses neither. Jack's question here is philosophical in nature, and also seems to be a reassurance to himself.


Our pretense is a dedication. Someone must appear to believe.

Sister Hermann Marie, Part 3, Chapter 39

Sister Hermann Marie responds to Jack Gladney's disbelief that she and the other nuns don't believe in angels or heaven. "Your dedication is a pretense?" Jack has asked her, shocked. Sister Hermann Marie inverts the phrase; what matters is that someone appear to believe, and the nuns' dedication to this spurious pretense is every bit as selfless as their saintly outward image.


Everything we need that is not food or love is here in the tabloid racks.

Jack Gladney, Part 3, Chapter 40

As the novel ends, Jack Gladney finds comfort in the supermarket tabloids, a symbol of "white noise." Uplifted by Wilder's survival of his dangerous tricycle ride across the highway, Jack has reached a state of acceptance. He can keep his fear of death at bay by immersing himself in the ordinariness of life.

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