White Noise Part 3, Chapters 32 Summary

Don DeLillo

Part 3, Chapters 32 Summary

Gladney and Siskind walk companionably across campus. Gladney’s hands are folded monkishly under his robe and across his abdomen. They discuss Gladney’s progress in learning German. Howard Dunlop is teaching Gladney some opening remarks for the convention, but there is something about the man which makes Gladney uneasy. Siskind lists several aspects of the man which make him uneasy, and Gladney agrees.

Dunlop’s skin is too soft, he has dried saliva in the corners of his mouth, looks at people over their shoulders, and walks rigidly even though he shuffles when he walks; but there is something even worse. Gladney is certain Siskind will be able to identify what has been eluding Gladney, but Siskind just walks and nods. He nods all the way to their destination, but he never offers Gladney the answer he seeks. Four days later, Siskind calls Gladney at one o’clock in the morning and whispers this observation: Dunlop looks like a man who “finds dead bodies erotic.”

Gladney has one final German lesson. The windows in Dunlop’s room are still covered, and the things piled in front of them seem to Gladney to be encroaching on the rest of the room. Dunlop closes his eyes and recites useful traveling phrases, as usual, but Gladney has to force himself to continue sitting there; Siskind’s assessment is exactly what Gladney had felt, but now that it has been iterated his feelings have changed. What had seemed “strange and half creepy” now feels like a disease. Despite that, Gladney will miss the lessons just as he misses the German shepherds which were sent to Blacksmith to sniff out toxic chemicals but have just left.

Tonight the insane asylum burns down, and Gladney and Heinrich drive closer to watch the conflagration. Other father-son pairs are there to observe, as well, as if fire somehow draws men closer. The building crumbles, bit by bit, in the heat and the noise. As firefighters work to contain the blaze, Heinrich says he finds this just as fascinating as looking at a fire in the fireplace. Siskind’s rooming house is nearby, and Siskind silently joins the Gladneys and solemnly shakes their hands. After watching for a bit, he silently shakes their hands again and then disappears.

The mood of the spectators changes when something acrid, perhaps insulation, begins to burn. The odor causes eyes to burn, and soon the betrayed onlookers hurry back to their cars. At home, Gladney fixes some warm milk and Heinrich talks enthusiastically about the fire until he goes to his room to do chin-ups.

Gladney stays up late thinking about the unknown researcher, Mr. Gray; he does this often now, and the man seems somehow to be taking over Gladney’s mind. All he can see and hear is Gray and Babette making illicit love in some dingy hotel room.