Jack is fascinated by history and conspiracy and the relationship of both to death. Through these fascinations with plots and history, he seeks new ways to clarify, define, and eke meaning out of his existence, hoping to alleviate the banal but overwhelming existential anxiety from which he suffers.
When a student asks him in class about the plot to kill Hitler, he says, “All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots.” In somewhat reductive terms, he means that to plot is to plan, and planning involves projecting oneself into the future. At the end of that future—no matter what—lies death, the only thing a person can fully count on. Thus, to plot is to project and propel a person towards death. “Plot” also evokes the idea of narrative—the story a person can tell about his or her own life. Because he fears death so much, Jack obviously doesn’t want to reach the end of his narrative. As such, he condemns the act of plotting. As White Noise progresses, he grows increasingly disdainful of plotting, as if by refusing to engage in the act, he can avoid its inevitable end.
Murray, on the other hand, believes that to plot is to live. According to him, plotting is to “seek shape and control.” By striving toward something, he believes, people can “advance the art of human consciousness.” Murray’s outlook is much more optimistic than Jack’s, and the stark contrast between the two illuminates the fact that, while Jack resentfully tries to avoid his life’s story, Murray celebrates his own personal agency by taking an active role in plotting his life. However, Murray’s philosophy about plotting is shown to be no more coherent than Jack’s when he suggests that Jack plot and carry out a murder as a way of relieving his fear of death. Murray, then, suggests a dangerous, immoral, and absurd plot as a way for Jack to feel control over his life, which is just as ludicrous as Jack’s insistence on avoiding death through a refusal to actively engage.
In addition to plot, Jack turns to history—or his idea of it—when considering death. Despite his best efforts, he seems to have constructed a self-image based on the belief that he is weak. He compares himself to the leaders of history, like Attila the Hun, the great 5th century leader who died in his forties. Jack imagines Attila dying in a tent, “wrapped in animal skins” while saying “brave cruel things to his aides.” He imagines “no weakening of the spirit” and that the fearless man was not “ineffably sad” at the fact that he knew he was destined to die. This mentality stands in direct opposition to Jack’s own unwillingness to accept the cold hard facts of mortality.
History also figures into Jack’s conception of his own identity. When the SIMUVAC technician tells Jack that he “tapped into [his] history” in order to arrive at the numbers indicating the danger of Jack’s exposure to Nyodene D., Jack is disconcerted; “I wondered what he meant when he said he’d tapped into my history. Where was it located exactly?” In keeping with his skittishness when it comes to uncertainty, Jack is troubled by not feeling in command of his own personal history. He becomes afraid of himself because of the possibility that the details of his personal history will have negative repercussions on his present wellbeing. History, then, presents yet another threat to Jack’s conflicted desire to live in a willfully ignorant present, a mentality that keeps him from looking both backwards and forwards.
Plots and History ThemeTracker
Plots and History Quotes in White Noise
Babette and I do our talking in the kitchen. The kitchen and the bedroom are the major chambers around here, the power haunts, the sources. She and I are alike in this, that we regard the rest of the house as storage space for furniture, toys, all the unused objects of earlier marriages and different sets of children, the gifts of lost in-laws, the hand-me-downs and rummages. Things, boxes. Why do these possessions carry such sorrowful weight? There is a darkness attached to them, a foreboding. They make me wary not of personal failure and defeat but of something more general, something large in scope and content.
[…] I’ve been sitting in this room for more than two months, watching TV into the early hours, listening carefully, taking notes. A great and humbling experience, let me tell you. Close to mystical. […] I’ve come to understand that the medium is a primal force in the American home. Sealed-off, timeless, self-contained, self-referring. It’s like a myth being born right there in our living room, like something we know in a dreamlike and preconscious way.
All this time she’d been turned away from me. There were plot potentials in this situation, chances for people to make devious maneuvers, secret plans.
[…] it’s not a question of greatness. It’s not a question of good and evil. I don’t know what it is. Look at it this way. Some people always wear a favorite color. Some people carry a gun. Some people put on a uniform and feel bigger, stronger, safer. It’s in this area that my obsessions dwell.