White Noise


Don DeLillo

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White Noise: Chapter 37 Summary & Analysis

Murray and Jack go on a very long walk, focusing their discussion primarily on Jack’s fear of death. Murray suggests many things, including that Jack should see his looming death as an opportunity to be treated as somebody with wisdom, somebody with something important to say. Jack asks him how he can avoid his fear of death, and Murray tells him to put his faith in technology, which has already gotten him this far. Alternatively, he suggests taking up a religious faith, but Jack finds this too difficult, given the fact that he doesn’t actually believe in any religion. Their walk winds them through the supermarket. Eventually, while emphasizing that he is speaking only theoretically, Murray says that if Jack killed somebody, he would be relieved of his fear of death. “In theory,” he says, “violence is a form of rebirth. The dier passively succumbs. The killer lives on.”
It is fitting that Jack and Murray end up in the supermarket during this prolific discussion of death and the ways Jack might escape his fear of it. After all, the supermarket houses massive amounts of the kind of psychic data Murray believes can essentially ward off death. This time, however, Murray speaks in more concrete—though equally absurd—terms about how to avoid death. He seems to understand that Jack is unable to believe that shopping will prolong his life, which is why he suggests killing somebody else, the only other kind of practical action he can think of. Yet again, DeLillo shows the ways in which academic, theoretical thought can often lead to outlandishly out-of-touch conclusions.
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Jack and Murray’s discussion of murder as a form of rebirth leads them to examine the nature of plots. “Plot a murder, you’re saying,” Jack says. “But every plot is a murder in effect. To plot is to die, whether we know it or not.” Murray counters this by telling him that “to plot is to live,” since humans come into the world in utter chaos, “in babble,” and as they grow up, they impose a plan onto the random order of their lives, seeking to “shape and control” their existence. Murray then forces Jack to answer with whether he’s a killer or dier, whether he believes—as Babette does—that there is a homicidal element to his identity, something lurking in the depths of his person. Jack concedes that perhaps Murray is right: a dier can become a killer. At the end of their conversation, Murray earnestly remarks that, in the name of camaraderie and total transparency, he’s glad it’s Jack who’s dying rather than himself.
In this moment, Jack’s earlier declaration that “all plots tend to move deathward” inches its way toward the truth, since Murray is suggesting that plotting a murder would free him of his fears. Furthermore, it makes sense that Jack takes quickly to Murray’s notion that a dier can become a killer because this idea insinuates control, which Jack desperately wants. When Murray says that he’s glad Jack is dying instead of himself, he gives rise to the idea that there is a sense of competition among the living.
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