White Noise


Don DeLillo

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White Noise: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Babette calls Jack at his office to tell him that Heinrich was down at the river during the search for the Treadwells (Gladys Treadwell, the old man’s sister, is also missing) when he heard that the two old-timers had finally been found in an empty kiosk in the Mid-Village Mall. The elderly brother and sister had, apparently, been wandering the mall for two days before finding relative safety in an “abandoned cookie shack,” where they spent two more days cowering in fear. Jack suspects that the “vastness and strangeness of the place” discouraged them from asking for help, making them feel “helpless and adrift in a landscape of remote and menacing figures.”
The Treadwells’ ghastly mall experience is the absurd and comedic epitome of consumer culture’s antagonism: its ability to alienate anybody who exists outside its influence. Trapped in a place dedicated to advertising and material consumption, the two old-timers appear unable to interface with the contemporary American world—they are “helpless” and “adrift,” unfamiliar with the “remote” “landscape” of the shopping mall. In the face of their own uncertainty—or ignorance, perhaps—regarding consumer culture, they become outsiders in their own country and succumb to fear.
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Before finding the Treadwells, Jack explains, the police consulted a local psychic named Adele T., who, after performing various rituals, directed them to a mineral processing plant along the river. When the police arrived, they found a bag containing a handgun and two kilos of heroin. This discovery is in keeping with Adele T.’s track record as a psychic who, when asked to find evidence, always leads police to places where they end up solving unrelated crimes.
Uncertainty once more factors into the logic of White Noise, propelling police officers to consult a psychic in a desperate attempt to escape the terror of unsolved mysteries. That they continue to use Adele T. despite her inaccuracy illustrates their delight in defeating uncertainty, even if the questions they’re answering aren’t the ones they set out to answer in the first place. In this way, answers of any kind are valued more than questions.
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