White Noise

White Noise Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In bed that night, Jack confronts Babette once more, this time refusing to be sidetracked. She reluctantly tells him that about a year and a half ago she started going through a phase that she thought would pass, but it eventually developed into a condition. Jack asks what the condition is, but she says, “Never mind that for now.” Throughout Babette’s explanation, Jack fluctuates between gently encouraging her (offering liqueurs and snacks to ease the process along) and bemoaning the fact that she has acted deceitfully—a complaint she refuses to hear, saying that this is her story and that he doesn’t have the right to overshadow it with his own problems.
Babette’s insistence that she be allowed to tell the story in her own way seems an acknowledgement of Jack’s tendency to contribute his own narrative to other peoples’ stories. As such, he must relinquish any control he has over the situation, which he struggles to do, periodically interrupting her to add what he’s thinking. Yet again, Jack shows his discomfort with uncertainty and lack of control.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
Plots and History Theme Icon
Continuing with her story, Babette tells Jack that she went searching for a way to understand her problem, visiting libraries, reading magazines, watching TV, making lists and charts, calling scientists, visiting a Sikh holy man, and studying the occult. None of these things led her to any answers, so when she saw a tabloid ad that addressed her issue by calling for volunteers to partake in secret research, she eagerly answered. She refers to the company as Gray Research in order to protect the people she met. She calls her contact Mr. Gray—who, she tells Jack, is actually a composite of the many different people she was in touch with—and she says that she was interviewed as part of research into the field of psychobiology. Then she took a battery of psychological and physiological tests and was told she was a finalist to be a test subject in the development of Dylar.
It is noteworthy that, by refusing to reveal what her condition was, Babette keeps Jack in a prolonged state of uncertainty, putting him in a situation he very much dislikes, considering the fact that he is constantly searching for ways to escape uncertainty and gain control over his life. Adding to this uncertainty, she applies the word “gray” to the company and to her nondescript contact, emphasizing the pill’s ambiguity and menace.
Themes
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
Dylar, Babette tells Jack, has many related dangers and side effects. Mr. Gray told her that she could die, or perhaps one side of her brain could die while the other side went on living. She could also possibly lose her ability to interpret language, such that if somebody said “speeding bullet,” she would take the statement literally and duck for cover. Right as she was about to sign a contract and become a test subject, though, Gray Research backed out, saying that Dylar was too dangerous to test on human subjects. Feeling desperate, though, Babette made a deal with Mr. Gray (at this point in her narration to Jack, she begins to referring to Mr. Gray as one person, no longer a composite of multiple people). The only way she could convince this Mr. Gray to let her take the drug was to have sex with him on a regular basis. Upon hearing this, Jack feels a “sensation of warmth creeping up [his back] and radiating outward across [his] shoulders.”
Dylar’s possible side effects are in keeping with the novel’s interest in exploring products and elements that are harmful to humans. That Babette was willing to take the drug despite the possible related dangers illustrates how desperate she was to address her condition; a desperation made all the more clear by her infidelity.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
Babette carries on with her explanation, informing Jack that she went to Mr. Gray’s seedy motel and had sex with him in exchange for Dylar. At this point in her narration, the radio randomly turns on because it has a broken auto-timer. When Jack tries to attain information about Mr. Gray, Babette sidesteps his questions, saying that it’s better if he knows as little as possible about the man. Finally, she reveals her condition: she is afraid to die, she tells him, weeping. Jack hates hearing this and even tries to talk her out of such an irrational fear, saying, “How can you be sure it is death you fear? Death is so vague. No one knows what it is, what it feels like or looks like.” But his skepticism doesn’t last long, and he eventually tells her that he is the one who fears death.
Yet again, Jack tries to use language to reframe something he doesn’t want to believe. The irony here, though, is that the thing he is trying to talk Babette out of is the very thing he is himself unable to ignore: the fear of death. Nonetheless, he clearly thinks if he can convince her that this fear is irrational, perhaps he too will be able to let go of the idea. Unfortunately, he can’t talk his way out of uncertainty, telling her that “death is so vague,” a statement that speaks directly to his own terrors.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
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Dylar was designed, Babette explains, to eliminate the human fear of death. She tells Jack that she learned from Mr. Gray that “everything that goes on in your whole life is a result of molecules rushing around somewhere in your brain.” Jack recognizes in this statement the same logic by which Heinrich argues that humans are “the sum of [their] chemical impulses,” a sentiment he hates, calling it “unbearable to think about.” However, the Dylar appears to have not worked, because Babette still fears death. Apparently, her memory lapses have not been the side effect of Dylar, but rather a side effect of her fear. Mr. Gray told her that her memory loss is an “attempt to counteract” the fact that she is so afraid of death. Nonetheless, Dylar failed her. Knowing this, Mr. Gray apologized, telling her that he made a mistake and that she wasn’t the right subject for the test.
Jack dislikes the idea that humans are the sum total of their “chemical impulses” because the notion seems to indicate that he has no control over his own identity. If everything in his life is “the result of molecules rushing around” in his brain, there is no way for him to manipulate his reality. Regardless of whether or not he wears dark glasses and an academic robe—no matter if he’s a powerful chairman at a prestigious college—he is helpless in the face of biology and chemistry.
Themes
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Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon
Jack takes this opportunity to tell Babette about his exposure to Nyodene D. and the possible harmful effects it had on him. Explaining the way the SIMUVAC technician entered his history into the computer and received an ominous report, Jack says that “we are the sum of our data, […] just as we are the sum total of our chemical impulses.” This news deeply upsets Babette, who climbs on top of Jack and sobs loudly into his face, shaking his head in her hands before eventually falling off his body and into a deep sleep. At this point, Jack creeps out of bed and goes to the bathroom, where he opens the radiator to find that the bottle of Dylar is gone.
The notion that humans are the “sum total of [their] data” relates to Murray’s theories about the ways consumer culture informs peoples’ lives. The “psychic data” that TVs and products radiate—all those messages and cultural codes—end up building the identities people don. This is why he is so interested in children growing up with TV, as their entire worlds will be shaped by the stimuli of this “psychic data.”
Themes
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon