White Noise is Don DeLillo’s breakout novel that won the National Book Award in 1985, catapulting the author into the elite circle of well-known postmodern writers. It deals with the main protagonists’ fear of death amidst the superficial consumerism that overwhelms America during the late 20th century. The novel follows the life of Jack Gladney, a college professor in a school known as The-College-on-the Hill.
He teaches Hitler studies, a discipline he invented himself, and lives happily with his fifth wife, Babette, and his four children from different women. During this period, America is undergoing transformation wherein the nation develops strong attachment to materialistic values brought by the inevitable modernization. Jack and his wife are caught in the web of industrialization that brings complications into their lives instead of comfort.
The machines, televisions, supermarket and traffic noises creates an irritating sound that continuously hums in their head, compounded by the incessant whining of consumerism. The momentary luxury they get from many various products is replaced by emptiness that lingers with them for a long time, and during this period, the protagonists develop a peculiar fear of dying. In this early part of the book, Chapters 1-14, Jack’s fear of death is gradually revealed; it has been lurking in his mind as he observes that his life seems going too fast for him.
Here, Jack’s fear of dying is seen as not a because of the physical pain brought by death or the terror of being thrown into the eternal flame of hell; rather, he is afraid to die because he cannot leave everything behind. He earned his success. He worked hard to establish a prestigious status in his school, even going as far as doing silly things, like wearing elaborate robes in the school campus, just to solidify his credibility. He cannot allow a mere dying to cut him from the glory he is enjoying on earth.
Besides, he has a loving wife and healthy children that he is sincerely proud of. The first fourteen chapters do not show the entirety of the book, but they are enough to portray the patience of Jack as a father to his children and his dedication as Babette’s husband, despite his previous four marriages to different women. All these cause him to dread death even more. This paranoia becomes a disturbing spectre that influences his judgments and rendering him inefficient at times. He tries to find strength in Babette, who Jack describes as ample and reliable woman.
In fact, Jack favors Babette over his previous wives because of her strong character. However, it turns out that Babette, too, is afraid of dying. Suddenly, their marriage is consumed by the spectre of death. They often talk about it over dinner and in almost every occasion. The question of who is going to die first is prevalent in most of their conversations, and soon enough, the topic becomes a part of their daily interaction. The issue has been looming in their thought all along, and when it is brought into open, things change between them and in their family.
They become more preoccupied with the thought of death than with the welfare of their children. Thier anxiety over the issue dominates most of their waking hours that they tend to set everything aside. This novel is significant to the readers. It gives a moral lesson that death is a phenomenon that should not be feared about. It has been a part of human existence and must be accepted as such. One must not dwell too much on the thought of dying. It must be understood that it happens to everyone, regardless of race, age, sex or status.
Every human life ends in death and nobody can change it. Instead of focusing much on the thought of death, which gives nothing but worries and anxiety that can ruin happiness, the best thing to do is to enjoy life to the fullest. Another revelation of the story is that no material things in the world can mask the gloomy effect of death. Latest technology, impressive packaging of products and the flashiness of popular culture give momentary comfort, but they cannot conceal the terror of death. Work Cited: DeLillio, Don. White Noise. Penguin (Non-Classics), January 7, 1986.