White Noise Part 3, Chapters 36 Summary

Don DeLillo

Part 3, Chapters 36 Summary

Occasionally, Gladney thinks about the gun his father-in-law gave him, now hidden in the bedroom. It is warmer now, and when he walks down the street he can hear everything the women inside are saying as they talk on the telephone. One night Gladney gets a collect call from Mother Devi (Heinrich’s mother, Janet); she wants to know if Heinrich will be joining her at the ashram this summer. Gladney will let his son go if he wishes, but he does not want Heinrich to be sucked into the philosophy she has espoused. Later Gladney wonders if Janet’s swami has the answers to Heinrich’s questions, the questions Gladney cannot answer.

Delegates for the Hitler conference are arriving. The ninety participants will spend three days attending lectures, panel discussions, and movies; they will walk the campus exchanging Hitler gossip and spreading Hitler rumors. Though the delegates are diverse, they look astoundingly similar. Gladney’s five-minute opening speech is five minutes of prepared and disjointed remarks, heavily laden with words which are essentially the same in both languages: wolf, baseball, brother, mother, and beer.

Gladney spends the rest of the conference trying to avoid the delegates. He has nothing to add to their guttural sounds and Hitler jokes, so he hides in his office. Every time he thinks of the gun hidden at home, a shiver runs through him, “the profound stir of secret-keeping.” A handgun is a cunning device, and it makes him wonder about those who owned it before him.

That evening Gladney collects an excited and happy Steffie from the airport; the next day he drives to Glassboro to take the tests his doctor recommended, equipped with all the requisite body fluid samples. He answers questions on a computer, is scanned, probed, and tested; he reminds himself the people here are trying to help him. Finally he is dressed and sitting across the desk from a mumbling doctor. Gladney had assumed his results would be available in a few days, but they are ready now. He is not sure he is ready and jokes that the testing is enough to make someone ill.

The doctor follows the usual procedure: he asks Gladney questions and will then send Gladney home with a sealed envelope containing his results. Everything seems typical until the doctor asks if Gladney has ever been exposed to toxic material in the air or water and if he has ever heard of a substance called Nyodene Derivative. Gladney has traces of the substance in his bloodstream, and it can eventually cause a “nebulous mass,…with no definite shape, form, or limits.” The mass can be deadly. Gladney tries to stall, but the doctor insists he take the envelope and see his own doctor who will know what the symbols on his printout mean.

That night Gladney walks the streets of Blacksmith, thinking about mundane things—and the fact that his doctor knows the symbols which will reveal Gladney’s future.