White Noise Part 3, Chapters 23 Summary

Don DeLillo

Part 3, Chapters 23 Summary

Gladney feels an urgency to learn German, so he asks his German teacher to add an extra half hour to each lesson. Gladney does well with the vocabulary and grammar rules, and if he were given a written test, he would score well. He still struggles with pronunciation, however; Dunlop does not seem to mind and ceaselessly enunciates words for (and emits motes of spit on) his pupil. Now they meet three days a week, and Dunlop seems to have lost some of his reticence.

Men in Mylex suits still patrol the town. Although the citizens of Blacksmith welcome the dogs, the men in suits remind them of their trouble and fear. At dinner, Denise wonders why the men do not dress in regular clothes; Babette assures her that they only wear them as part of their job and the dogs have only sniffed out “a few traces of toxic material on the edge of town.” Heinrich, as usual, disagrees. He claims that if the actual findings were released, panic, violence, and lawsuits would ensue.

Babette does not believe officials have any reason to lie about their findings, but Heinrich tells her there are investigations being conducted all over the country. Babette agrees, saying reports are released every day about toxic soil, radioactive water, and poisoned air. These things happen so often, in fact, that they cannot possibly be all that serious. Heinrich tells her to forget about the toxic spills; the quicker these events are forgotten, the sooner everyone will start worrying about the real problem: the radiation that surrounds everyone every day.

Radiation is emitted from televisions, microwaves, power lines, and radar in speed-traps. For years the people have been told that none of these things is dangerous, but Heinrich claims they are. In fact, he says, people are more likely to die from toxins emitted from magnetic and electrical fields in their own homes than they are from any dramatic spill, leakage, or fallout. These emissions cause headaches and fatigue, but the worst effects include strange and violent behavior and nervous disorders. He finishes his speech by claiming that “deformed babies” are due to television and radio.

The girls look at Heinrich with admiration; Gladney wants to argue with him. He wants to know why he should believe the scientific data Heinrich is citing but not the scientific conclusion that the townspeople are safe from Nyodene D contamination.

Given his condition, however, Gladney cannot say anything. He wants to tell his son that statistics are misleading and any catastrophic news must be accepted with maturity, skepticism, and equanimity. Instead, he says disseminating “terrifying data” is now an industry, and people compete to see how badly they can scare everyone. Babette is dismayed at everything her children are not learning is school, which prompts another inane family conversation.

People in town are still experiencing déjà vu; over time, it makes them feel isolated, since there is no other place that has experienced what they are experiencing.