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Course Hero. "White Noise Study Guide." December 20, 2016. Accessed December 9, 2018.


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White Noise | Symbols


Airborne Toxic Event

The airborne toxic event occurs at the midpoint of the novel, and it causes the characters to confront philosophical questions about death and reality. The airborne toxic event is man-made, and the text highlights the ways in which the technology humans create can be used for good or ill but is often beyond their control. The event affects everyone in the book, but no one more so than Jack Gladney, who is exposed to the chemical and discovers it will affect him in a way he won't be able to feel for another 15 years.


As the instigator of the Holocaust, Hitler, for Jack, is a man who both propagated death and one who defied death in establishing his notorious immortality in the pages of history. As such, Jack transforms Hitler into the ultimate symbol of death. Hence, in becoming a professor of Hitler Studies, Jack stems his personal fear of death by cloaking himself in Hitler's aura, hiding behind Hitler's power, threat, and notoriety. Murray Siskind muses to Jack that he is fascinated with Hitler because Hitler is "larger than death," an inverted twist on the idiom "larger than life." As repellent as it is, Jack uses Hitler to reinforce his own false or constructed sense of identity as a man able to control his image, his surroundings, and, ultimately, his life.


The characters in White Noise often observe that the sunsets in Blacksmith grow more and more brilliant. Even before the airborne toxic event, Jack can't help but wonder if humans have affected the quality of the air in such a way that causes the sunsets to look different. By planting this idea early on, Don DeLillo foreshadows the eventual airborne toxic event that truly does cause the sunsets to change. It also hints to the reader that there is some sort of human-made dread lurking in the beauty of nature, something reflected in the "white noise" of technology and death that haunts the novel.

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