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White Noise: Part III - Chapter 22,23,24

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Part III, Dylarama


Chapter 22

The supermarket is crowded as people stock up on supplies to tide them over during the coming snowstorm. Jack runs into Murray, who reports that Dimitrios Cotsakis, his colleague and rival for the Elvis Presley niche in the department, has drowned while surfing off Malibu. The scare about the toxic spill has died down, and the children are back in school.


That evening Jack drives Babette to her class. They stop to observe the sunset. Sunsets have become particularly brilliant since the toxic spill.


That night, Jack lies with Babette in bed, reaffirming his decision not to tell her that the computer data indicates that since he ingested Nyodene D, he would almost certainly die before she did.


Chapter 23

Jack extends his German lessons by half an hour, and now takes them three times a week. He still has trouble with pronunciation. At dinner, Babette and Heinrich discuss the toxic spill. Heinrich thinks the situation is very serious and that there are similar spills happening all over the country. The authorities do not reveal all the information they have for fear that it will create social unrest. Babette dismisses the dangers as exaggerated. Heinrich goes on to talk about the danger from electrical and magnetic fields. According to him, it is hazardous to live near a high-voltage power line. He cites scientific evidence to support his claims about other dangerous developments in society. Jack wants to disagree with him but feels he is on shaky ground. The town is now supposed to be free of the effects of the toxic spill, but there are a large number of experiences of déjà vu.


Chapter 24

The following evening, in the bathroom, Jack finds the tablets Babette is taking. The drug is called Dylar. He tells Denise, who apparently already knows. She has asked pharmacists what the drug is for, but they have never heard  of it. Jack decides to call Babette’s doctor at his home. Dr. Hookstratten, however, says he has never heard of Dylar and did not prescribe it to Babette. Jack decides to have one of the tablets analyzed by someone in the chemistry department at the college.


Heinrich tells Jack about his friend Mercator, who is nearly nineteen but still a senior in high school. Mercator is training to break the world record for the amount of time spent sitting in a cage with poisonous snakes. Jack finds the idea of this attempted feat annoying.


Analysis, Chapters 22-24

White Noise has been called a plotless novel, or at least a novel with a thin plot. Apart from the “toxic airborne event,” little seems to happen beyond the usual round of watching television, going to the mall, Jack’s teaching at the college, his conversations with his family and with Murray. But in chapter 24, the plot does start to move forward, creating something of a mystery. Why does Babette take Dylar? What is the drug supposed to do? Why have the doctor and pharmacists never heard of it? So far, all we know is that Babette is having memory loss. Is that somehow related to the drug? Or is she  taking the drug to prevent memory loss?


The significance of Heinrich’s story about his friend Mercator who is planning on sitting around in a cage with poisonous snakes is that he is in a sense deliberately courting death, putting himself in a position in which it could easily happen, rather than fleeing from it. In this respect he is the opposite of Jack, who is so afraid of death. This explains why Jack feels hostility to the very idea of what Mercator plans to do, because it seems so unnatural to him, impossible to understand.


Also significant is the fact that not for the first time, Jack gets some solace from watching his young children sleeping. The image of sleeping children apparently suspended in a state of tranquility (a state that Jack finds unobtainable) leaves him “feeling refreshed and expanded in unnameable ways” (182). But it offers him no permanent solution to the existential problem that gnaws away at him: his bitter sense of his own mortality. He is always being reminded of death, as for example when he hears of the drowning of  Dimitrios Cotsakis. 


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