Read the passage at the beginning of chapter 31 of White Noise by Don DeLillo, from “No one wanted to cook that night” to “We went back to eating for as long as it took to bite off and chew a single mouthful of food.”
This passage involves DeLillo doing something he does very well: describing the rituals of modern industrial society, and capturing the rhythms of a mundane conversation. What do you think about this representation of eating fast food? What about the representation of family life? Do we feel this conversation is realistic, or stylized?
Don DeLillo is often accused of stylized writing and this passage from White Sound does appear to be somewhat contrived. However, the need to eat cannot be overlooked and, at least, in its very direct way, this passage creates visual images for the reader that he may otherwise fail to recognize. The images are exaggerated versions of the real thing. By using exaggeration, DeLillo is able to draw attention to the "real" meanings behind the family's actions.
The sentence structure and vocabulary contribute to the mood of this passage - one of despondency and even a misplaced anger as they rip,tear and suck the chicken. The hopelessness they feel is revealed as they "eat, facing in the same direction," having no need of "complex...signals and codes." Conversation is apparently a challenge for this family. It leads the reader to question the social issues that they apparently have. There is no enjoyment to be had from the food or from the company and they do not feel any unity or bond with each other. The relevance of discussing "air" and "nothingness" is crucial as it expresses the feelings the family is unable to. It could even make the reader question the purpose of life. This supposition that the passage is trying to tell the reader something very important, despite it being nothing more than eating, reveals DeLillo's expertize in creating an atmosphere.
The lack of direction of everyone in the car which is highlighted by the seemingly random questions and discussions, leads to the possible stylized aspect of this passage. They are eating in a car - having no direction, lost in a figurative sense intensifying the situation and introducing irony. The conflict and further irony in the weather getting colder, the higher you go and yet "The higher you go, the closer you get to the sun. So the warmer it gets" does make the reader realize that he is being led towards a conclusion. However, DeLillo is subtle and the reader can identify with the situation and perhaps the family's issues. An astute reader can learn from the message and ignore it at his peril.