White Noise

White Noise Chapter 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Upon finding Willie Mink’s motel, Jack devises a plan to locate the man, “shoot him three times in the viscera for maximum pain, clear the weapon of prints, place the weapon in the victim’s staticky hand, find a crayon or lipstick tube and scrawl a cryptic suicide note on the full-length mirror, take the victim’s Dylar tablets,” and retreat. As he parks and walks through the motel, this plan shifts slightly—as it does for the rest of the night—but altogether remains more or less the same.
Now Jack is heavily involved in the process of plotting, clearly having given himself over to Murray’s idea that to plot is to live. His ever-evolving plan to kill Mink is evidence of this belief; as he moves forward with his plan, he actively shapes and re-shapes it, thereby gaining what he thinks is control over his own life.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Plots and History Theme Icon
Jack locates Mink’s motel room and opens the door without knocking. Mink is sitting in a chair in a Hawaiian shirt and Budweiser shorts, watching a TV that hangs in a metal case near the ceiling. Before Jack can say anything, the man says, “Are you heartsick or soulsick?” Jack doesn’t answer, instead trying to engage in conversation. Mink answers questions rather coherently, but often inserts TV dialogue or slogans at random times, speaking them aloud without context. He periodically flings fistfuls of Dylar into his mouth, appearing to be somewhat removed from the current situation. Nonetheless, he tells Jack that he wasn’t always like this, explaining that he used to be doing important work with the development of Dylar. “Death without fear is an everyday thing. You can live with it,” he says.
When Mink asks Jack if he’s heartsick or soulsick, he seems to have intuitively put his finger on the complicated nature of Jack’s arrival. On the one hand, Jack is probably heartsick because of Babette’s infidelity—no matter what he says about why he’s there, it seems unlikely that his visit has nothing to do with the fact that this man slept with his wife. On the other hand, Jack is there because he is afraid of dying and wants to take Dylar in order to address this problem; in other words, he’s soulsick. Despite this surprisingly astute question, though, Mink is the pure embodiment of too much consumerist consumption: unable to separate reality from the TV, he is an overloaded amalgamation of psychic data.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon
After several minutes of strange and confusing conversation (in which, at various points, Jack asks about the nature of fearing death and Mink admits to his agreement with Babette), Jack says the words “plunging aircraft,” remembering that one side effect of Dylar is that it can cause the user interpret certain phrases literally. Mink jumps to the floor. Jack backs him into the bathroom, feeling an increasingly sensational feeling, as if everything is glowing with his power. Once in the bathroom, he shoots Mink twice in the stomach and then tries to put the pistol in his hand, at which point Mink pulls the trigger and a bullet goes into Jack’s wrist. Suddenly, his wonderful feeling of power—and a fearlessness of death—dissipates, and Jack realizes what he’s done. Feeling remorseful, he uses a handkerchief to slow his own bleeding and then sets to work helping Mink, dragging him out of the motel and into the backseat of the car. As he does this, he feels beneficent and mighty, thinking himself a deeply magnanimous man.
In this scene, Jack moves from one form of authority to another. At first he feels powerful because he’s about to kill Mink. Later, though, he assumes yet another position of power by helping save Mink’s life. Both roles bolster his sense of self, though they are wildly different in nature. What links these two feelings—other than the sense of authority they give Jack—is the fact that they make him feel in control of life and death.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Consumer Culture and Identity Theme Icon
Once in the car, Mink asks Jack who shot him. “You did,” Jack replies. “Who shot you?” asks Mink. “You did. The gun is in your hand,” Jack points out. After driving around Iron City in search of a hospital, Jack finds a Pentecostal church with a neon cross above the entrance. Inside, German nuns treat both of their wounds. Jack is cared for by Sister Hermann Marie, to whom he tries to show off his knowledge of the German language, pointing to things and naming them, which seems to please her. When he asks her about heaven, though, she tells him that she doesn’t believe in God. She tells him, “The nonbelievers need the believers. They are desperate to have someone believe.” She then makes fun of him for thinking that she would believe in angels, heaven, and God. Jack appears quite troubled by this, saying, “I don’t want to hear this. This is terrible.”
Even in this moment of extreme duress, Jack exhibits the desire to be on good terms with his doctor. His attempt to impress Sister Hermann Marie with his German is not unlike the effort he put into establishing a “tacit agreement to advance smartly” through the list of questions the doctor asked him at Autumn Harvest Farms. Like that interaction, this conversation with Sister Hermann Marie also devolves into a disagreement, one that clarifies what Jack is looking for in a doctor: someone to take on his burden of worry without sharing any bad news with him. In turn, this renders the nun’s admission that she doesn’t believe in God even more devastating, for it represents yet another burden she is unwilling to shoulder for him.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon
Uncertainty and Authority Theme Icon
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Before he leaves, Jack learns from the doctor that Willie Mink will survive. He then drives his neighbors’ car home, parking it in their driveway without bothering to clean up the massive amounts of blood coating the upholstery. At home, he watches the children sleeping, then slips into bed fully clothed and finds that he can’t sleep. He gets up again and goes downstairs, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and considering the pain in his wrist.
Though Jack stole his neighbors’ car and shot a man in the stomach, the thing that is truly important to him seems not to be dealing with the fallout of what happened, but rather considering how he found a way to talk himself into doing it in the first place.
Themes
Fear, Death, and Control Theme Icon