While driving his fourteen-year-old son, Heinrich, to school one day, Jack finds himself trapped in a circuitous debate about whether or not it is raining. Heinrich viciously maintains that there is no way for Jack to know with absolute certainty that the raindrops on the windshield indicate that it is raining outside. Exasperated, Jack tries to get his son to stop being such a literalist, but Heinrich tirelessly persists in his argument that truth is relative to the beholder. When he gets out of the car, Heinrich walks slowly to the school’s entrance, allowing himself to get drenched in order to further deny the fact that it’s raining. Watching this, Jack feels a pang of indescribable love for his strange, hard-headed son.
Heinrich’s commitment to literal thinking ironically supports a worldview that champions uncertainty. By accepting only the most rigorously provable facts, he essentially advances the notion that nothing can be known for sure, an opinion that pervades the entirety of White Noise, both in terms of factual knowledge and in terms of more existential matters, such as death and the uncertainty it poses.
Later that day, as his students enter the classroom, Jack arranges himself in a pose he thinks communicates professorial authority. Toward the end of the lecture, a student asks about the plot to kill Hitler, and Jack finds himself saying, “All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots. Political plots, terrorist plots, lovers’ plots, narrative plots, plots that are part of children’s games. We edge nearer death every time we plot. It is like a contract that all must sign, the plotters as well as those who are the targets of the plot.” After saying this, he wonders if it’s true, why he said it, and what, exactly, it means.
Again, uncertainty takes center stage, this time in relation to authority; in order to fulfill his role as the all-knowing professor, Jack allows himself to conceptualize the meaning of a plot before fully considering what he means. In this moment, then, Jack’s own uncertainty leads him to contemplate death, a contemplation that only leads to more uncertainty. It seems that death presents a never-ending loop of indecision for Jack, but this doesn’t stop him from trying to gain control over the concept.