White Noise Part 1, Chapter 14 Summary

Don DeLillo

Part 1, Chapter 14 Summary

Gladney is in bed studying German when Denise tells him she discovered a medicine bottle buried in the trash container under the sink; the bottle had Babette’s name on it along with the name of the medication. The substance is Dylar and the directions say it is supposed to be taken once every three days; Denise has not been able to find this drug in her reference book and she is concerned. Gladney is not.

Denise asks Gladney a serious question: why he named his son Heinrich Gerhardt Gladney. At the time, Gladney was just starting the Hitler department and he wanted to do something German as a gesture. He thought the name sounded forceful and strong. Gladney still thinks Heinrich is an impressive name, which he hopes has made his son fearless.

Denise is silent for a bit, prompting Gladney to ask if she thinks he made a miscalculation; she does not answer directly but says there is something awful about everything German, especially Hitler. The Germans cannot be that great or they would not have lost the war. Gladney tells her it “is not a question of greatness” or of good and evil. It is a matter of putting on something that makes one feel “bigger, stronger, safer.” This is what Gladney thinks about most.

Steffie comes into the bedroom unexpectedly wearing the green visor Denise habitually wears, and Gladney is not sure what to think of that. As the three of them are look for unusual words in Gladney’s German-English dictionary, Heinrich runs in and tells them they need to come see the footage of a plane crash.

The girls run for the television, leaving Gladney stunned and immobile. By the time he reaches the television, all he sees is a puff of black smoke. The analyst tries to explain what is happening as the video replays a jet trainer crashing in an air show in New Zealand. That night the family is especially absorbed in their Friday night television ritual because it includes footage of erupting volcanoes, floods, mud slides, and earthquakes.

Siskind is upset that the department head, Alfonse Stompanato, believes a former Elvis bodyguard, Dimitrios Cotsakis, has a greater claim to teach an Elvis course of study than Siskind does. Gladney says he will lend Siskind his support by attending one of Siskind’s lectures.

Stompanato’s manner allows him to “absorb and destroy all opinions in conflict with his.” At lunch, Gladney asks him why people are so fascinated with and entertained by catastrophes. Stompanato claims it is from “brain fade,” because brains need something to “break up the incessant bombardment of information.” Only a catastrophe is able to break through the never-ending stream of mindless transmissions. Although viewers feel some empathy for tragedies, for most people there are only two places in the world: where they live and the television set.

Stompanato, Gladney, and their colleagues discuss their pasts in connection with significant moments in pop culture history.