Genre: Satirical Fiction
White Noise, by Don DeLillo, covers an array of thematic ideas that relate to something the American culture cannot escape: consumerism.
The novel is told from Jack’s first person past perspective. Jack is in his fifties, has married multiple times and has a number of children among the marriages. He is also the founder of Hitler Studies as his local small-town college. His fascination with Hitler is interesting in that how we look at Hitler today is a man of terror. Why might Jack be so interested? Hitler surrounded himself with death, and now, as he ages, Jack is surrounded by the fear of death, consumed by thoughts of what age he will die and “Who will die first,” him or his wife, Babette? The question appears multiple times in the novel, driving this obsession of man vs self.
The novel has an interesting structure. There are three sections of the novel: “Waves and Radiation,” “The Airborn Toxic Event,” and “Dylarama,” each adding to the thematic ideas and meaning behind consumerism and the satirical development that shows readers to not give in to consumer culture. While “Waves and Radiation” sets the reader up with the characters and their personalities, it is slow in comparison to the rest of the novel. Once the family experiences the Airborn Toxic Event, things really heat up in the final part of the book, “Dylarama.” Dylar, for short, is a fictional drug for the sake of the novel that is meant to cure the fear of death, a major theme in the novel.
The fear of death is something all people must face. We all have that fear, to some extent, and the various characters in the novel approach that fear on varying levels, some even looking at it in a positive light, because why fear something you cannot control?
Another interesting aspect to the structure is its “white noise” and random consumerism inferences. For example, we see a number of single lines similar to “Blue jeans tumbled in the dryer” (18), “‘Kleenex Softique, Kleenex Softique'” (39), and “Mastercard, Visa, American Express” (100), all hinting to white noise and consumerism. The dryer, the running sink, the garbage compactor, the TV or radio on in the background, cars rushing by–all these things are “white noise,” the noise of everyday life that we often do not singulary hear because it is not what is important in the now. These background noises are all contrubutors to the daily life of the average American lifestyle, always needing to clean house, drive somewhere, throw trash away. And where does our trash come from? Consumerism. the “Kleenex Softique” is an announcement over the mall speaker, both white noise to those who don’t care, and an advertisement to consumers. And of course, the major credit card companies being randomly thrown into the structure show how consumerism is all around us no matter where we go, in our pockets.
Through the lens of Jack, the reader can establish through DeLillo’s use of satire, that consumerism is negatively impacting our culture because we buy and waste so much more than we need to. As Jack meander’s through his fear of death, he comes to find that shopping, for him and everyone else in the world, is a way to put off death, to mingle until our time comes. Consumers are the residents of Purgatory.
Overall, an interesting book. I read and taught this to high school seniors and find that the novel has a number of real-world applications that students who are turning 18 should be aware of as they ready themselves to enter the world on their own, to go to college, find a job, and pay their bills. This book makes them more aware of consumerism and highlights how being afraid of death is trivial. Many instances in the book relate to many of the experiences we simply have as human beings, and that is what teaching English is all about: learning what it means to be human. Recommended for those who want to be aware of issues in society through an interesting and relatively humorous and fun satirical lens.