White Noise Part 1, Chapter 10 Summary

Don DeLillo

Part 1, Chapter 10 Summary

College-on-the-Hill charges fourteen thousand dollars for tuition, Sunday brunch included; its students come from affluent homes.

Denise watches Babette unwrap a package of sugarless chewing gum and tells her this gum causes cancer in laboratory animals; Babette reminds Denise that she is the one who suggested this product to her mother. But that was before the gum came with a warning label.

Babette suggests that Denise can choose the lesser of the two harmful products, sugared or sugarless, and Steffie suggests Babette chew no gum at all. That is not an option, as Babette has to chew gum to help her quit smoking and tells Denise she is “making a fuss over nothing.”

The phone rings. Some neighbors want to come over; however, neither Babette nor Denise wants them to come and Steffie is stuck delivering the awkward verdict. Babette continues to insist that a little warning is meaningless since she only chews several pieces of gum a day; both girls sarcastically respond to her denial of the dangers.

Gladney stops in Heinrich’s room to find him playing chess with a man in prison; Heinrich is examining the board and thinks he has the man cornered. The boy has been playing chess with the man for months, and Gladney finally asks something about the prisoner. Most of their communication is confined to chess moves, although they occasionally exchange notes.

The prisoner only killed five people in Iron City because he was under pressure; the state trooper died later. The killer had only a small arsenal, “some handguns and a bolt-action rifle with a scope,” and did all the things deliberate assassins do. He made tapes to his loved ones asking them to forgive him, had been hearing voices talking to him through the television (telling him his time to make history was running out), made his way to a roof, and gunned down complete strangers.

The murderer told Heinrich he would do things less like a typical murder if he could do it again. Heinrich says all he writes about to the prisoner is that he is losing his hair.

Heinrich’s mother wants him to spend the summer with her at the ashram where she lives. When Gladney asks if he wants to go, Heinrich grows philosophical again and wonders how one is to know with certainty what one does or does not want to do. Perhaps his impulse to go—or not go—is based on mere synaptic impulses, similar to those that prompted the prisoner to kill.

Gladney checks his bank balance in an automated teller machine, relieved that his tortured and lengthy figuring at home agrees with the white printout he just received. Despite its steel frame here and the mainframe computer in some distant city, the machine has provided Gladney with a “pleasant interaction,” and something more than money has been “authenticated and confirmed.”

Although the entire exchange was done invisibly, which Gladney finds disconcerting, he and the machine are temporarily in accord.