White Noise: Part I - Chapter 13,14,15,16

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Chapter 13

The Treadwells are found alive in an abandoned area of a shopping mall out near the interstate. They had been wandering around the huge mall for two days, “confused and frightened (59) before taking refuge somewhere quiet. They did not ask anyone for help. The police consulted a psychic named Adele T. who told them to look for the Treadwells at a place that had a “moonscape” look, within a fifteen-mile radius of the Treadwells’ home. The police go somewhere that fits the description but all they find is a bag containing a gun and some heroin.


Chapter 14

Denise and Jack again discuss Babette’s secret medication. Denise says it is a prescription drug called Dylar, but she does not know what it is taken for. Denise asks Jack why he named his son Heinrich. Jack replies that he wanted a forceful, strong name. Heinrich rushes in and says there is footage on television of a plane crash; Denise, Steffie and Heinrich rush off to watch it; Jack follows them more slowly. That night they all gather around the TV and watch footage of various kinds of natural disasters, enjoying it immensely.


On the following Monday, Murray tells Jack of his difficulties in establishing his claim to be the expert in Elvis studies. It seems that another faculty member has a better claim, since he actually interviewed members of Elvis’s family after Elvis died. Jack says he will attend one of Murray’s lectures, to lend his influence to Murray’s cause.


At lunch that day, Jack sits with members of the popular culture department, including Alfonse, the formidable chairman. In response to a question from Jack, Alfonse says it is natural to be fascinated by disasters on TV, because we are all suffering from “brain fade” and need a disaster to break up the constant barrage of information of all kinds that we are subject to. The hilarious conversation flows back and forth, involving Murray and other faculty members, Grappa, Lasher, and Cotsakis who discuss the most trivial personal matters with great intensity, as if they are really important, often linking their memories to iconic moments in popular culture.


Chapter 15

Jack attends Murray’s lecture on Elvis. Murray talks about Elvis’s obsessive attachment to his mother, and Jack comments about Hitler’s similar attachment to his mother. After a while, Jack takes over the lecture, talking about how the crowds that assembled in Nazi Germany did so in order to keep their fear of death at bay. “To become a crowd is to keep out death,” he says (73). Jack thinks that he has done Murray a favor by allowing a lesser figure, Elvis, to be associated with a greater one, Hitler, and Murray seems to agree, looking at Jack with gratitude. Jack’s lecture is successful, and at the end people gather around him. He too is in a crowd.


Chapter 16

At two o’clock one afternoon, two-year-old Wilder starts crying, and at six o’clock he is still crying, in spite of all Babette’s attempts to soothe him. They decide to take him to the doctor, who tells Babette to give Wilder an aspirin and put him to bed. After the doctor visit, Wilder is still crying. He has been crying for nearly six hours. After Babette goes to her class, Jack picks Wilder up and holds him, listening to the crying, telling himself that it might not be such a bad thing and allowing the sounds to wash over him.  Babette returns, and as they drive home, Wilder finally stops crying after nearly seven hours.  


Analysis, Chapters 13-16

The fact that the Treadwells got lost and nearly died in the vast mall suggests the other, darker side of the consumer culture. We have seen Jack and Murray in supermarkets, feeling nourished and strangely uplifted by the experience of shopping for consumer items. But for the two old people, all the consumer options, and the vastness of the mall, were not comforting but dangerous. The novel seems to be saying that one has to connect in a certain way to consumerism, be in tune with it, so to speak, if one is to enjoy what it offers. This links to the “waves and radiation” of the title of Part 1. The consumer culture may be frightening to some, trivial and debased to others, but to those who can enter into it in a certain spirit of discovery, it is a nourishing and almost spiritual force that does possess depth of meaning.  It is this same “waves and radiation” that the police try to tap into when they consult a psychic about the whereabouts of the Treadwells. The information the psychic gives turns out to be wrong, but the validity of some kind of subtle energetic level of life at which disparate things are connected seems to be affirmed. It is this that promises to give life a kind of coherence that postmodern culture otherwise does not possess, as shown perhaps in Jack’s obsessive fear of death, which emerges again in these chapters. He seeks connectedness through people in order to assuage that fear.


It may also be that Wilder’s near seven-hour crying session is an infant expression of the fear of death.  This may be conveyed in Jack’s description, “There was something permanent and soul-struck in this crying. It was a sound of inbred desolation” (77). Perhaps this explains why Jack feels such empathy for the distressed infant; he recognizes a fear they both have. This is why he allows himself to, so to speak, enter into the boy’s crying and together seek some kind of meaning in it: “I let it wash over me, like rain in sheets. . . . I began to think he had disappeared inside this wailing noise and if I could join him in his lost and suspended place we might together perform some reckless wonder of intelligibility” (78). 

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