White Noise


Don DeLillo

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White Noise: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

In a dinner conversation about the airborne toxic event and the lingering harmfulness of Nyodene D., Heinrich argues that all the family’s talk about toxic spillage only distracts them from the true danger at hand: radiation caused by the radio, TV, microwave, and other everyday objects. Taken aback by Heinrich’s thorough knowledge of terrifying scientific statistics, Babette asks if this is what people are teaching in school these days, remarking that she, for her part, still remembers the history she was taught as a kid. This inspires her and Jack to go through a list of common knowledge they acquired in school, silencing the children while showcasing the piecemeal nature of the anecdotes they’ve retained.
This scene appears to ask what kind of knowledge is necessary for leading an enlightened, well-educated life. The gap between what the children know and what Jack and Babette know is quite large, a fact that highlights the time period’s shifting concerns; rather than learning basic geographical and historical ideas, Heinrich and his sisters have internalized information about disastrous manmade materials, a stark indication of the most pressing worries in the 1980s.
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