White Noise


Don DeLillo

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White Noise: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Jack and Babette go to Murray’s boarding room for dinner. Murray tells them that he’s interested in studying children because they represent a “true universal,” unlike older people who become more and more difficult for advertisers to target. He describes that in lectures he tells his students: “Once you’re out of school, it is only a matter of time before you experience the vast loneliness and dissatisfaction of consumers who have lost their group identity.” This leads Jack to suggest that Murray talk to Babette’s son Eugene, who is growing up in Australia without TV. Murray says that “TV is a problem only if you’ve forgotten how to look and listen.” He insists that people have to learn to look at TV as if they are children again in order to “find the codes and messages” it has to offer.
The “vast loneliness and dissatisfaction” Murray insists people feel once they lose their “group identity” sets forth the idea that consumer culture shapes identity in what feels like—for contemporary Americans struggling to understand themselves—a meaningful manner. This concept of a “group identity” also relates to Jack’s observation that his students and their parents revel in crowding themselves into groups of “the like-minded and the spiritually akin.” TV, it seems, is capable of uniting people into such groups, so long as they tune into the deeper messages Murray believes lie embedded in the medium.
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Related Quotes
On the walk back from having dinner at Murray’s, Babette asks Jack if her memory is truly as bad as Denise makes it sound. He tells her that everybody forgets things, saying that “forgetfulness has gotten into the air and water.” But then he asks her if she’s taking any medication. In response, she says that she doesn’t think she’s taking anything, but that it’s possible she is and simply doesn’t remember. “Either I’m taking something and I don’t remember or I’m not taking something and I don’t remember,” she says.
Once again, Jack displays a fear or suspicion of his surroundings, believing that the very elements around him—“air and water”—pose threats to health and psychological wellbeing. Just as toxic elements seem liable to arise at any moment—creeping up, for example, in the elementary school—the deterioration of memory and the mind is framed as an inescapable and ever-present; Jack, it seems, is deathly terrified of the very world he lives in.
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Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon