Student Question

Who is Orest Mercator in White Noise and what point is DeLillo making?

Expert Answers

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Orest Mercator is Heinrich's friend from school. Though a foolish young man, he is nothing if not ambitious, hoping one day to break the world endurance record for sitting in a cage full of poisonous snakes. He claims to be unafraid of death, which you'd have to be in order to contemplate sitting in a cage full of Gaboon vipers with two-inch fangs for any length of time.

Jack finds Orest's cavalier attitude towards death rather fascinating, not least because he himself is absolutely terrified of death. An additional characteristic of Orest's that Jack finds intriguing, albeit not in a good way, is his uncertain ethnic origins.

When it comes down to it, though, Orest's a bit of a phony. When he gets in the cage with the snakes it turns out that they're not actually poisonous at all, so he's never in any danger of being killed. The whole town regards Orest as a laughingstock for his pointless stunt. And for Jack, Orest comes to symbolize the unattainability of dreams. Like the Dylar tablets that he believes will cure him of his morbid fear of death, Orest's dreams of setting a new world record for sharing a cage with poisonous snakes are just false hopes.

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