White Noise


Don DeLillo

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White Noise: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Arriving home after watching the students arrive on campus, Jack tells Babette that she has once again missed the fantastic spectacle. She tells him that she needs reminding. Together they discuss the wealthy parents Jack saw at the college, wondering if such people conceptualize matters of health and death differently than others. At one point, Babette points out that they themselves have a station wagon, but Jack brushes this off, saying that it’s ugly and battered.
The fact that this conversation leads to a contemplation of death indicates that, for Jack and Babette, death is never far from the mind. By framing these wealthy parents as immune to death, Jack imagines that if he himself becomes rich, he will be able to avoid death. To preserve this reasoning, Jack denies that he is already wealthy, which casts doubt on the acuity of his class analysis of the students and parents.
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Jack and Babette’s home is cozily cluttered with toys and “the unused objects of earlier marriages and different sets of children.” They spend most of their time in the kitchen or the bedroom, rooms in which they have long discussions. After talking about the procession of station wagons, they are joined by three of their children, Denise, Steffie, and Wilder, and the group sets about quietly preparing their own lunches. Denise, who polices Babette’s health, gives her mother a hard time (with Steffie joining in) for buying healthy food and then neglecting to eat it. Jack tries to make his wife feel better by telling her there is an “honesty inherent in bulkiness,” but she ignores him because she believes he shelters the people he loves from hard truths. Toward the end of lunch, the smoke alarm upstairs goes off, causing everyone to fall silent as they finish their meals.
The blended nature of the Gladney family lends the fictional world of White Noise a sense of fraught, complicated history; these are people living in a present made up of past sorrows and former lives that render the current moment fragile and sensitive. Nevertheless, they appear lovingly bound together, a fact illustrated by Jack’s eagerness to protect Babette from having her feelings hurt. Despite their familial contentment in this moment, though, the smoke alarm poses a vague threat, the uncertainty of which halts all conversation.
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