White Noise


Don DeLillo

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White Noise: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Bee’s presence gives the family a certain double-consciousness. Jack feels that he can’t help but see the family’s routines through her eyes and he assumes that she is quietly judging all of them. He is simultaneously impressed and suspicious of her maturity, not fully knowing how to conceptualize her adult mannerisms. At one point, Bee mentions to him that she doesn’t like how Tweedy seems so desperate to understand Malcolm, arguing that her mother needs to get to know herself better rather than focusing on the elusive identity of her partner. Jack doesn’t know how to respond, finding it difficult to connect to his daughter and wondering what she wants him to say.
Bee deftly articulates the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own identity, which is ultimately the only thing a person can change about him or herself. At the same time, though she doesn’t voice her concern, she would surely disapprove of Jack’s attempt to overcompensate for his insecurities by throwing himself headlong into a false identity like the one he’s cultivated on campus. Perhaps aware of this, Jack is sensitive of Bee’s opinion and worries about how she views him.
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After Christmas, Jack drops Bee off at the airport again. On his way back, he gets off of the expressway to visit an old cemetery. Far away from the noise of traffic, he walks between the old stones, trying to read them and occasionally straightening the little flags surrounding them in the ground. He stands in the graveyard, ruminating about the nature of death, wondering if there is “a level of energy composed solely of the dead.”
Jack frames death in terms of energy, a conceptualization that speaks directly to the novel’s interest in auras, waves, radiation, and (of course) white noise. Jack reasons that if such things are seemingly ever-present in life—“psychic data” constantly radiating from TVs, radios, and consumer products—it would make sense if death itself occupied its own level of transmittance.
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