White Noise Part 2, Chapter 21 (Pages 126-135) Summary

Don DeLillo

Part 2, Chapter 21 (Pages 126-135) Summary

At the Boy Scout camp, some families choose to sleep in their cars; others are forced to do so because there is no more room. The Gladneys are in one of the barracks, a dismal place made cheerier by the presence of other refugees and their belongings as well as the helpful Red Cross workers. It feels like a safe place to be.

Gladney walks the room seeking information; he learns there are nine evacuation centers and that the governor is on his way to the site. He is surprised to find Heinrich at the center of a cluster of other people seeking information; the boy, “speaking in his new-found voice,” is sharing his technical knowledge and his “morbid delight” about the impending calamity. The impressed crowd moves closer, and Gladney wonders if this tragedy will provide the impetus for Heinrich to “learn to make his way in this world.”

Heinrich explains that Nyodene D is the byproduct of insecticides; while the insecticides kill insects, the byproducts kill everything else. It stays active in the soil for forty years, and the result is that eventually all sorts of fungi will begin growing in and out of houses. Its effects on humans have yet to be fully determined. Gladney leaves before Heinrich sees him and grows self-conscious.

The Gladneys are camped next to a black Jehovah’s Witness family passing out tracts and predicting even worse calamities to come. Gladney and Babette discuss whether the girls are reacting to the news or really suffering symptoms of the Nyodene D. Babette experiences déjà vu as they talk. Gladney tells her that Heinrich is being funny and charming as he talks knowledgeably about the substance unknown to most of them, and Babette suggests he go and show his support for his son. Gladney turns the conversation to the something she surreptitiously swallowed earlier and she still claims it was only a piece of candy.

The couple is interrupted by the Jehovah’s Witness husband, who wants to talk about all kinds of impending national disasters as signs of God’s judgment. This forces Gladney to think, unwillingly, about his eternal destiny—until his thoughts are interrupted by a woman at the other end of the room outlining all of the dangers for anyone who has been exposed. Babette is worried because Gladney got out of the car to pump gas on their way to the camp and was almost certainly exposed to Nyodene D.

Gladney stands in a long line waiting to talk to someone about his possible exposure. Two and a half minutes in the toxic air concerns the official and he taps some data into the computer. After accessing Gladney’s computerized history, the man (who is part of the evacuation team) says the conclusion is not something Gladney will be happy to hear.