White Noise


Don DeLillo

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White Noise: Chapter 40 Summary & Analysis

That same day, Jack and Babette learn from two old women who watched it unfold that Wilder took his tricycle beyond the Gladneys’ property, past a guard rail, along a walkway, and through abandoned lots before stopping at the top of a twenty-step concrete set of stairs. He then diligently walked his tricycle down the steps, rode at a smart angle down a steep hill, and arrived at the expressway, which he proceeded to slowly pedal across despite the constant speeding traffic. The two old women who witnessed the spectacle were stranded on an overlooking porch, unable to do anything but yell. When Wilder reached the opposite side of the expressway, he fell into the grassy embankment and began to cry. Eventually a passing driver pulled over and safely retrieved him. Jack notes that he, Babette, and Wilder frequently visit the same expressway to climb up the overpass and watch Blacksmith’s baroque sunsets.
There is no reason provided for why Wilder rides his bike across the expressway. Above all, it represents the child’s state of blissful ignorance regarding death. The action proves that he has no concept of fearing death and, as such, can do whatever he wants. The fact that Jack and Babette have frequently taken him to watch the sunsets from the expressway suggests that the boy was perhaps making his own way toward scenic beauty, an image fraught with meaning considering the fact that the magnificent sunsets in Blacksmith are the result of the airborne toxic event and other poisonous pollutions that help light up the sky at dusk. In all his purity and innocence, then, the boy can appreciate beauty without having to acknowledge that it is inextricably intertwined with terrible, frightening elements.
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In the book’s final passages, Jack notes that the men in Mylex are still in town “gathering their terrible data, aiming their infrared devices at the earth and sky.” Dr. Chakravarty continues to reach out to Jack, wanting him to come in to discuss the results of the Autumn Harvest Farms tests, which Jack never delivered to him. But Jack decides to stay away, afraid of what he might learn. Finally, one day “without warning,” the supermarket shelves are rearranged. There is a discernable “agitation and panic in the aisles” as customers search desperately for the products they’ve come to rely on. Nobody can make any sense out of the new organization of goods. Only generically-labeled, store-brand foods have remained in their rightful places on the shelves. Utterly confused and disarmed, the shoppers increase their consumerist scrutiny by reading the fine print on labels and checking for expiration dates. But, Jack says, none of what they do matters, because in the end their products will pass under holographic scanners that interpret the data once and for all; “This is the language of waves and radiation,” he says, “or how the dead speak to the living.”
White Noise ends by giving the impression that data will continue to mount, accumulating overwhelmingly and without signs of stopping. Men in Mylex suits will continue taking dire measurements. The supermarkets will continue stocking their shelves with products rife with psychic data. And though the organization of this data may change, as it does when the grocery store is rearranged, Jack and his family will come no closer to understanding what messages are contained therein. For perhaps the first time, Jack appears uninterested in deciphering these messages, content in merely knowing that a deep, spiritually-inflected knowledge lurks within the data surrounding him on all sides.
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