White noise Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


White Noise: Part I - Chapter 10,11,12

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Chapter 10

Denise gives Babette  a hard time over her habit of chewing gum. Denise says the gum has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Babette does not take her objections seriously. She says chewing helps her to relax. Denise points out that Babette is very forgetful.


Jack goes to Heinrich’s room and asks him about the convicted murderer with whom Heinrich plays chess by mail. The man killed six people, shooting them at random. Heinrich tells Jack that his mother, Mother Devi, wants him to go and stay on the ashram for the summer, but he has no way of determining whether he really wants to go or not. For all he knows, any desire he has is a result of some random activity in some part of the brain, so how can it be relied upon?


In the morning, Jack checks his bank balance at the automated teller machine and is relieved and comforted to know that the system confirms his own laborious calculations. He is in tune with the invisible electronic system on which everyone depends, and this makes him content.


Chapter 11

Jake wakes up in the night, his fears of death assailing him. In the morning, he talks to Babette about his former wife Dana Breedlove, who is a CIA agent. In the evening, he and Babette go to Murray’s room for dinner. Murray talks about how he has been watching TV for two months, far into the night, taking notes. He calls TV “a primal force in the American home” (51). 


As Jack and Babette go home, Babette admits that she is continually forgetting things, and she wonders why. Jack tries to get her to tell him what drug she is taking that may be affecting her memory, but she answers evasively.


Chapter 12

Jack takes German lessons twice a week from Howard Dunlop. At a personal level, Jack does not find him very easy to get on with, but he does learn that Howard also teaches Greek, Latin, ocean sailing and meteorology. On his return home Jack finds Bob Pardee, Denise’s father, practicing gold swings in the kitchen. Later, Bob takes the three older children to dinner while Jack takes Babette to the house of Mr. Treadwell, an old blind man to whom Babette reads. When Babette arrives she finds that the old man is not there. They report him as a missing person to the state trooper barracks.


Analysis, Chapters 10-12

Heinrich’s observations about the functioning of the brain reinforce his comments in chapter 6 about not trusting the evidence of the senses. He tells Jack that he has no good way of knowing what he really wants: “How do you know whether something is really what you want to do or just some kind of nerve impulse in the brain?” (45). Again, this strikes the postmodern note of the impossibility of arriving at an objective truth by rational, scientific inquiry. Taken to an extreme, it might suggest a world devoid of meaning and values.  As William S. Haney describes postmodernism, “All values are replaced by interpretation, which becomes the foundation or essential feature of the universe” (Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained, p. 24). 


Jack’s fear of death surfaces again and runs like a leitmotif through the novel, as does Murray’s almost mystical love of television. The latter strikes a rather surprising note, since it is more common for social scientists to disparage television as superficial. Oddly, Murray’s students, who might be expected to like television, in fact dislike it. But for Murray, it is a treasure trove of secret symbols and signs, a databank full of “sacred formulas,” (51) a timeless American myth constantly in the making.  The power of television is confirmed by Howard Dunlop’s story. He was severely depressed following his mother’s death but was brought back to life one day when he saw a weather report on television: “A dynamic young  man with a glowing pointer stood before a multicolored satellite photo . . . I sat there mesmerized by this self-assurance and skill” (55). Just as Murray argued in the previous chapter, television has a kind of mythic power to those who allow themselves to receive it. It is a positive manifestation of the “waves and radiation” that permeate American society, and which give Part I of the novel its title. 


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