White Noise

White Noise Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the late spring, the Hitler conference takes place. Jack manages to make his opening remarks in stilted German, but he spends the rest of the conference avoiding the Germans for fear of having to actually hold conversation in this foreign language he barely knows. He is intrigued by the people who attend, noting that they are all good-natured and enthusiastic.
Jack’s sense of inferiority and shame—his feeling that he is the “false character that follows the name around”—is strengthened by his inability to fully engage at the Hitler conference. At the same time, he clearly takes pleasure in seeing so many people who have made their careers in the field he founded. As such, his delicate ego is somewhat balanced.
Themes
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon
Jack goes to Autumn Harvest Farms for his tests. He is seated in front of computer, into which he types “the story of [his] life and death, little by little, each response eliciting further questions.” He lies three times and then is taken down the hall to be “scanned and probed in room after room.” Afterwards, he speaks with a young man in a white smock, whom he asks when the results will come in. The young man responds by telling him that the results are already in, to which Jack replies, “I’m not sure I’m ready.”
Again, Jack tiptoes to the edge of certainty by asking for the results of his tests, and again he tries to run from that certainty once it’s made available to him—a cycle that seems to have no end. The fact that he types “the story of [his] life and death” into a computer evokes his previous experience with the SIMUVAC technician, an experience that led only to worry and sorrow, which is perhaps why he lies three times on this particular test; yet again, he seeks to control the information he’s about to receive.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
Plots and History Theme Icon
The young man from Autumn Harvest Farms tells Jack that he will ask him some questions while looking at the printout results of his tests. Jack takes this as some sort of test that he can either pass or fail and, as such, he does everything in his power to pass. He initially feels as if the conversation is going very well, as he is able to (almost) honestly answer all the questions the man poses, and these answers seem to please the man. But when he is asked whether or not he’s been exposed to any harmful chemicals, he is taken aback. He asks if the question is normal, calling it a “scheduled question,” and the young man tells him that it is not, revealing that the machines picked up trace amounts of Nyodene D. in his bloodstream. In response, Jack pretends to have never heard of the chemical. “What had happened to our tacit agreement to advance smartly through the program without time-consuming and controversial delving?” he wonders to himself.
Jack’s use of the word “controversial” speaks directly to the fact that he views doctor-patient relationships as engaging in an oddly competitive rapport; Jack wants to hear one thing, the doctor (or so Jack thinks) wants to hear another. This is why he delights in the “tacit agreement” he believes he has struck with this particular doctor, and why he is consequently so disheartened when he must answer something he doesn’t want to talk about. The two men are each vying for control, but the doctor has machine results—certainty—on his side, so Jack finds himself defeated.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
Plots and History Theme Icon