White Noise Questions and Answers
by Don DeLillo

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Summarize the characters of White Noise.

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White Noise captures the quality of daily existence in media-saturated, hyper-capitalistic postmodern America, and its characters are very much an extension of a society obsessed with chemical cures. The family structure is in the midst of disintegration in this novel, as characters tend not to know who they are or who anyone else is.

Jack Gladney: Jack is the narrator and protagonist of the novel and Chair of Hitler studies at College-on-the-Hill. He is obsessively afraid of death—which drives much of the novel and generally influences his reflections. He lives with his wife, Babette, and their four children (from different marriages) in the town of Blacksmith.

Babette: Babette, Jack's fifth wife, who teaches adult education classes and volunteers to read tabloids to the blind. She, too, fears death, and goes on to test an experimental drug that promises to reduce her fears. She hopes to die before Jack as she fears loneliness above all and even more than death.

Murray Jay Siskind: Murray is a visiting lecturer at Jack's college who talks about “living icons” like Elvis (who he talks about in the same way Jack talks about Hitler). He is always brimming with ideas on American culture, which he shares with Jack as their friendship develops.

Heinrich: Heinrich is Jack's fourteen-year-old son, an encyclopedia of facts and conspiracy theories. He is generally reserved, reveals himself as a leader during the evacuation scene.

Willie Mink/Mr. Gray: Mink is the antagonist and the supplier of Dylar who has illegally given Babette tablets in return for favors of a sexual nature.

Wilder: A quiet though important figure who influences Jack’s ideas on death, Wilder is representative of many things: ignorance of death, rabid consumerism, and superficial joy.

Denise: Denise is Babette's daughter who discovers her mom’s use of Dylar and eventually throws it out in hopes of protecting her family.

Steffie: Steffie is Jack's daughter, who, while a minor character with few lines, sheds light about the fear of death in interesting ways. For example, when she refuses to take off her mask during the evacuation or expresses anxiety about being kidnapped by her own mother.

Dunlop: Dunlop is Jack’s German tutor, who apparently finds dead bodies erotic.

Mr. Treadwell: He is a blind elderly man Babette reads tabloids to through her volunteer program, and who one day disappears, only to be found with his sister in a mall.

Orest Mercator: Orest is Heinrich's friend from school who wants to break the world record for sitting in a cage full of poisonous snakes. He also is of uncertain ethnic descent, which causes anxiety for Jack.

Winnie Richards: Winnie is a neurochemist at Jack’s college who brings the tablet of Dylar for examination and believes death is necessary for the appreciation of life.

agionet3 | Student

The novel White Noise by Don DeLillo contains a few characters whose motives drive the plot of the book. The main characters are as follows:

Jack Gladney: Jack is the narrator of White Noise. He works as the chairman of Hitler Studies at College-on-the-Hill and lives in Blacksmith with his wife, Babette, and their four children from previous marriages. Jack's obsession with death, based partly off his own conscious and subconscious fears and partly from the constant reminders he finds in the outside world, is a main plot point throughout the novel.

Babette: Babette is Jack's wife and the mother of two children, Wilder and Denise. She teaches adult education classes and has, similar to Jack, a deep-seeded fear of dying. However, she keeps this secret from Jack and attempts to use an experimental treatment to address this issue, with mixed results.

Heinrich: Heinrich is Jack's 14-year-old son from his ex-wife. He is very skeptical and constantly questioning his father.

Other characters within the novel include Willie Mink, project manager from the experimental drug Babette tries; Murray Jay Siskind, Jack's colleague and a professor at the college; Howard Dunlop, Jack's German teacher; Steffie, Jack's daughter; Wilder and Denise, Babette's children; and Winnie Richards, a neuroscientist at the college. While this is not a comprehensive list on all the characters in the novel, it covers the most vital ones.