At once hilarious and horrifying, Don DeLillo’s White Noise dramatizes a contemporary American family’s attempt to deal with the mundane conflicts of day-to-day life while grappling with the larger philosophical issues of love, death, and the possibility of happiness in an uncertain world. The novel is divided into three sections. All incidents, images, and exchanges among characters in the first section, “Waves and Radiation,” culminate thematically in the second section, “The Airborne Toxic Event.” The third section, “Dylarama,” chronicles not only the direct effects of the “event” but also the indirect but even more profound changes in the way the characters subsequently see themselves and their world.
The novel’s first-person narrator is Jack Gladney, a college professor specializing in studies of Adolf Hitler. Many of the other characters are also in some sense observers of contemporary culture: Murray Jay Siskind, an Elvis Presley specialist; Jack’s other colleagues in the popular culture department; his son Heinrich, who translates technical information to his father and the reader; and his daughter Steffie, whose obsession with health has made her into an expert in drugs and medical matters. The bulk of the novel is less a sequence of important events than a series of dialogues concerning various interests and obsessions.
Immediately after the opening chapter, with its description of incoming college...
(The entire section is 603 words.)