The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
One of the principal philosophical conclusions of White Noise is that people act less than they are acted upon, as victims of forces beyond their control or knowing. Appropriately, Jack, the central character, does very little in the novel. His one dramatic action is to shoot Willie Mink, but this has no more practical effect on the direction of the novel than the tossing of a pebble has on the course of a river. Jack sees, listens, thinks, and comments, but there is little that he can do. Mostly, he thinks about death and chaos in reference to himself, his family, and ultimately American society.
Babette broadens and intensifies the emotional impact of themes that Jack, early in the novel, considers mostly in the abstract. When it is discovered that the apparently normal Babette has been taking drugs (at the expense of giving herself to the contemptible Willie Mink), for example, Jack realizes that her fears are symptomatic of life in modern America.
Similarly, their nine-year-old daughter Steffie’s precocious knowledge of pharmaceuticals and health matters indicates her to be a budding Babette. At some point in the future she will become obsessed with death, if she is not already.
Her half-brother Heinrich serves a similar, although more complex, function. Like Steffie, he is precociously aware of the intricacies of modern technological society, his field of expertise being science and the media. Whereas Steffie is...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of White Noise Characters. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Jack A. K. Gladney
Jack A. K. Gladney, the narrator. Fifty years old, Jack enjoys his academic success as founder and chair of the unique Hitler studies department at the College on the Hill in Blacksmith, a pastoral Midwestern town. Not a German speaker, he takes German lessons so that he will not make a fool of himself at a planned international conference on Hitler studies. Jack appears happy with his fifth wife, Babette, and his children and stepchildren, but he suffers an unease in his materialist and consumerist world of shopping malls, supermarkets, and television, all products of technology. In particular, he finds in them no solace for his great fear of death. Jack’s obsession with death intensifies when he suffers from a technological disaster that exposes him to Nyodene D., a toxic agent. Jack’s concern about death causes him to throw out many of his possessions and search out the inventor of Dylar, a medication that might cure his fear of death. Denied the medication and told that it is a failure, Jack shoots its inventor, Mr. Gray, but also shoots himself. Neither dies.
Babette Gladney, Jack’s current wife, the mother by her earlier marriages of Denise and Steffie. In addition to her family roles, Babette is a jogger, reads tabloids to the blind Old Man Treadwell, and lectures adults on good posture. Babette is very forgetful but denies to Jack and Denise that she is taking any...
(The entire section is 796 words.)
The central character of White Noise is Jack Gladney, a professor of "Hitler Studies" at an elite private college (somewhat like Sewanee, in that its faculty members wear academic garb to class, but located in a more urban area), and his wife and children. Gladney's profession offers many opportunities for satiric digs at the pretensions of contemporary academics (including a shot at a descendant of Endzone's Anatole Bloomberg, a neurotic Jewish intellectual called Murray Jay Siskind, who is a visiting professor in Jack's general area of popular culture), and provides a suitably ambivalent context in which the reader must attempt to evaluate the moral stance of the novel. In the course of the narrative, Gladney discovers that he knows little or nothing about his nearest relatives. His wife, apparently, has become addicted to prescription drugs without his knowing it; he cannot talk at all with several of his children; and his sense of his surroundings becomes increasingly uncertain as he tries to navigate the "evacuation route," which no one believes will be effective, though everyone seems to cooperate up to a point. The claustrophobic effect of the narrative increases as Jack becomes more aware of his isolation and inability to communicate. (One comic aspect of this inability is Jack's ignorance of the German language; as a professor of Hitler Studies, he is hosting a conference at which most of his colleagues will surely speak German. He tries...
(The entire section is 245 words.)