White Noise


Don DeLillo

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White Noise: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Jack goes to the airport in Iron City to pick up his daughter Bee, who is visiting for Christmas. Instead of finding her there when he arrives, though, he finds her mother, Tweedy Browner, who tells him that Bee has been in Indonesia with her jungle operative stepfather, Malcolm Hunt. Tweedy has come to say hello to her daughter before leaving for Boston to attend to some family business. Killing time before Bee’s arrival, the ex-lovers talk about their current relationships, Tweedy expressing that Malcolm’s work as an undercover operative makes it difficult to feel she truly knows him, a problem she’s hoping Bee will illuminate by passing along new information about her stepfather.
Once again, the leftover pieces of personal history find their way into Jack’s present. Tweedy’s uncertainty about Malcolm also reinforces the idea that identity is often an unstable concept, a notion that is perhaps troubling to Jack, who spends so much time and energy crafting his professional persona.
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Before Bee’s plane lands, a number of passengers from another flight arrive looking haggard and disturbed. When Jack asks what happened, one of the passengers tells him that the plane’s engines failed, resulting in a sudden altitude drop of 22,000 feet. The pilot spoke over the loudspeakers and told everybody that they were falling out of the sky, which provoked mass hysteria throughout the entire cabin. Eventually, though, a flight crew regained control of the situation by spreading the false news that they would be “crash landing.” Jack notes that the addition of the word “landing” added an element of procedure and control to the otherwise rampant chaos. Then, miraculously, the engines restarted.
Although the flight crew’s addition of the word “landing” is merely a semantic difference, it suggests a level of control over an otherwise chaotic deathly situation. This is exactly the sort of linguistic manipulation Jack searches for in his own struggle to conceptualize death. His long intellectual conversations with Murray, for example, all seek to find the right words—the right theories—that will calm his fears and give him a sense of agency in life.
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