Literature / White Noise

The emptiness, the sense of cosmic darkness.
Mastercard, Visa, American Express.

White Noise is a 1985 novel, a postmodern Lit Fic novel by Don DeLillo, dealing with themes of media overload, consumerism, and paranoia. The novel tells the story of Jack Gladney, Professor of Hitler Studies, whose banal suburban life is shaken up by an "Airborne Toxic Event". Afterward, he seeks out a drug called "Dylar" which is meant to relieve the fear of death. Along the way, Gladney spends much time contemplating his navel and having Seinfeldian conversations.

As you might expect, this book comes up often in college literature classes.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Our own mortality.
  • Arc Words: "Who will die first?"
  • Chekhov's Gun: Quite literally, the Zamkuft. Jack uses it to shoot Willie.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: About half the dialogue.
  • Going to See the Elephant: The "Most Photographed Barn in America" early in the book, a Deconstructive Parody of roadside tourist attractions whose fame is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
  • Lemony Narrator: Gladney, who frequently indulges in philosophical asides, quotes random things "the TV said", and sometimes drops brand names into his narration as if they rise up from his subconscious.
  • Mind Screw: For most of the novel we just get the playfully enigmatic postmodern style one would expect, but near the end, as Jack begins to unravel and fray and the plot build to the climax, it gradually gets more and more bewildered, only to resolve in what appears to be clarity in the last chapter.
  • There Are No Therapists: Both Jack and Babette are preoccupied to the point of near-constant terror with their own mortality, and are driven to try and obtain a rare, illegal drug to try and alleviate it; Babette even goes so far as to cheat on Jack to obtain it. And yet neither of them think to consult a psychologist about what would no doubt be classified today as an anxiety disorder. Especially surprising oversight from an academic like Jack.
  • The Tetris Effect: Gladney notices one of his children reciting brand names in her sleep, apparently as a result of seeing too many commercials, and he does so himself in his narration.
  • The Treachery of Images: A major theme of the novel is the blurring of simulacra and reality.
  • Tranquil Fury: Jack comes off as quite calm and methodical as he psychologically tortures and then shoots Willie Mink.
  • Yes But What Does It Do: The side effects of Dylar include losing one's ability to tell words from real things and reciting utterances heard on TV. And it doesn't actually eliminate the fear of death, but makes people more fearful.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Nobody seems to suffer any physical symptoms from the toxic cloud until they hear about the symptoms it supposedly causes on the radio.