White Noise Part 2, Chapter 21 (Pages 136-149) Summary

Don DeLillo

Part 2, Chapter 21 (Pages 136-149) Summary

The evacuation worker tells Gladney that they will all know more about the effects of his exposure to Nyodene D in fifteen years; until then, he “definitely has a situation.” Nyodene D has a life of thirty years, so in fifteen years Gladney will have made it halfway. The man says if he were a rat, he would not have liked to be exposed to the toxic chemical; however, since the long-term effects on humans are unclear, he would ignore the computer’s assessment and go on to live a productive, happy life.

Gladney is not comforted; he knows he is the sum total of his data and feels as if he is already dead. He wishes he had his dark glasses and academic robe.

He needs a distraction, so he sits behind Babette as she reads from the tabloids to Treadwell and several others. Babette reads the dramatic story of several people who have discovered their past lives and can confirm that there is, indeed, life after death. The others seem unfazed by the astounding revelation, but Gladney wants to believe them.

Babette continues, reading bizarre and dramatic psychic predictions for the year ahead. Once again the listeners are unmoved by the dramatic forecasts of destruction and disaster. Gladney suspects it is because, sitting here in the midst of a disaster, these outlandish events do not seem so far-fetched.

Gladney goes back to his family. Heinrich is awake and they have a philosophical discussion about time, knowledge, and science before Gladney goes outside for some air. There he sees his friend, Murray Jay Siskind, talking with a carload of prostitutes from Iron City. Siskind was on his way back from New York when the airport bus got diverted to the Boy Scout camp. He heard there were prostitutes and has come to hear their stories.

Gladney explains his brief exposure to Nyodene D and the computer’s dire prediction; death has been planted inside him and the only question is whether he can outlive it. Siskind says this is a condition everyone shares, and the more people learn about death, the more it grows. The dead are closer to everyone now than they have ever been.

Siskind expresses his sincere sorrow about Gladney’s circumstances; Gladney admits he has had a dread and fear of death since he was in his twenties and now he is enmeshed in it. Siskind explains that déjà vu is happening because “death is in the air,” and people are more connected to the supernatural in such crises. Siskind says all Gladney can do is immerse himself in his work.

After listening to others exchanging outrageous rumors, Gladney goes back inside to watch his family sleep, something he finds tremendously comforting. He finally crawls onto the air mattress to sleep with Babette.