Jack runs into a colleague at the hardware store. Because he isn’t on campus, he’s not wearing his thick dark glasses, a change in appearance the colleague remarks upon by telling Jack he looks “harmless.” This fleeting encounter makes Jack want to shop. With the family in tow, he goes the Mid-Village Mall and spends money without guilt or reservation, even telling the kids—who are in awe of his desire to buy more and more things—that they should pick out their Christmas presents. When they return home, they all retreat to their rooms, each one of them wanting to be alone.
Because his colleague’s remark undermines his image as a powerful, authoritative figure, Jack finds himself stripped of the illusion of his own significance. This, in turn, completely disarms him. His desire to shop is therefore an attempt to regain control over his identity: by buying new clothes, he strives to shape his appearance and tailor his image. DeLillo reveals the emptiness of this attempt by showing its lonely aftermath, when the family members feel a clear sense of exhausted meaninglessness, isolating themselves in their rooms.