White Noise Questions and Answers
by Don DeLillo

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What did the posters of lost pets mean at the beginning of the book White Noise by Don DeLillo?

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It was an immediate and electrifying success. The Chancellor went on to serve as adviser to Nixon, Ford and Carter before his death on a ski lift in Austria.
    At Fourth and Elm, cars turn left for the supermarket. A policewoman crouched inside a boxlike vehicle patrols the area looking for cars parked illegally, for meter violations, lapsed inspection stickers. On telephone poles all over town there are homemade signs concerning lost dogs and cats, sometimes in the handwriting of a child.

In the first, short chapter, DeLillo is establishing the protagonist/narrator's characterization and the setting, which includes place and mood, also called atmosphere. Parts of the atmosphere that DeLillo establishes, as part of Jack Gladney's characterization and the setting, are:

  • physical atmosphere
  • intellectual atmosphere
  • emotional atmosphere

The posters are part of the emotional atmosphere of the location: the town of the setting is caring, with feelings of connectedness through concern and caring, or else large numbers of people would not have entertained the hope of rescue for pets, perhaps one of two people might venture to try but not "all over town." Mention of the posters also hints at Gladney's emotional characterization: he is a sentimentalist who looks for connections and is caring and who notices the human element around him.

The posters also foreshadow the theme of white noise drowning out vital communication. The poles covered with communication--juxtaposed next to the "policewoman patrolling the area" for car violations--introduce and foreshadow the theme of a community awash in communication, which includes bickering about yogurt and chewing gum, while important information about health and safety arises like a "dark, black breathing thing of smoke" or a "feathery plume" over them and forces an evacuation of town and of their sense of relationship, although the vital information is hard to access through the white noise: vital communication moves upward to their comprehension through the white noise like a "slowly moving line" past the "tabloid racks" of community communication.

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