White Noise


Don DeLillo

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White Noise: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

That day, Wilder starts crying at two in the afternoon and doesn’t stop for almost seven hours. He sobs so intensely that Babette, at Jack’s suggestion, takes him to the doctor, who tells her to give the child an aspirin and put him to bed. Instead, she and Jack drive to the Congregational church, where Babette teaches her posture class. While she’s inside, Jack holds Wilder in front of him and lets the waves of sobbing wash over him, beginning to hear the cries like a “Mideastern lament.” He finds himself not wanting Wilder to stop, overcome by the sound and beginning to feel that the boy’s crying calls out “nameless things,” “touch[ing] him with its depth and richness.” When Wilder finally stops crying later at home, everybody acts carefully around him, as if by disturbing him they will set off yet another bout of tears. Jack, for his part, regards the boy as if he has just returned from an ancient journey to some “remote and holy place.”
Implicit in Jack’s appreciation of Wilder’s senseless crying is a reverence for the boy’s nonverbal capacity to feel. Jack, for his part, uses language to define and understand his emotions. Constantly examining his fear in this way, though, leads only to painful acknowledgements regarding what awaits him: death. Wilder, on the other hand, is unburdened by the human impulse to linguistically define his feelings and can therefore experience the vast spectrum of human emotion without crippling himself with worry, a capability that renders him—in Jack’s eyes—simultaneously profound and ignorant, a state Jack clearly wishes he himself could achieve.
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