White Noise: Part III - Chapter 25,26,27,28

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Chapter 25

Jack takes a Dylar tablet to Winnie Richards, a young research chemist at the college. She says she will analyze the contents of the tablet. Back at home, Jack tries to quiz Babette about her state of mind, thinking that she has become withdrawn, but she denies that she is bothered by anything. He tells her that he has found the Dylar pills.


Winnie tells Jack that Dylar is “some kind of psychopharmaceutical, probably designed to interact with a distant part of the human cortex” (189). But she cannot give any more details; she does not know what the chemical components of the drug are, or what it might be used for. She also tells him that Dylar is not available on the market. The drug is unknown.


Chapter 26

In bed one night, Jack confronts Babette about Dylar. He tells her he found the bottle and had a tablet analyzed. Babette tells her story in a roundabout way. About a year and a half ago, she began to experience a certain condition, although she does not at first say what it was. In an attempt to alleviate it, she did a lot of research, finally contacting a firm called Gray Research. Her contact was a man named Mr. Gray. After undergoing a series of tests, she became a test subject in the development of an experimental drug, Dylar, that could produce serious side-effects. However, the firm’s lawyers decided it was too risky. But Babette refused to accept their verdict, and made a private arrangement with Mr. Gray, whereby she offered him sex in exchange for him permitting her to use the drug. They met at a motel regularly for several months. She finally admits to Jack the condition she suffered from: fear of death. She thinks all the time about it. Jack tries to persuade her that the condition is not as serious as she thinks, because everyone fears death. She replies that the tests she took revealed that she was unusually sensitive to the fear of death. Jack says he thought he was the one who feared death, and they have a conversation in which each tries to establish that they fear death more than the other person does. They try to reach an understanding, but Jack feels she has tried to conceal the truth from him. They end up making love, after which Babette explains that Gray Research managed to isolate the part of the brain that conveys fear of death, and the researchers designed a drug that interacts with the neurotransmitters of that part of the brain. But Babette then tells Jack that the drug is not working. She has taken nearly two bottles of it over a period of  several months but there has been no improvement in her condition. She is becoming discouraged. She also claims that her frequent loss of memory is not a side effect of the drug. Instead, she thinks it is caused by the condition itself; it is caused by the mind’s attempt to counteract the fear of death.


Jack informs her that he has been exposed to Nyodene D and is therefore “tentatively scheduled to die” (202). He had been concealing this information from her. Babette cries and then falls asleep. Jack goes into the bathroom and finds that the bottle of Dylar is missing from its hiding place behind the radiator cover.


Chapter 27

Jack sees his doctor, Sundar Chakravarty, for a medical checkup. Nothing unusual shows up. As Jack drives to the supermarket, he stumbles upon a full-scale simulation of emergency procedure to deal with a toxic spill. Emergency vehicles are everywhere and volunteers lie in the street pretending to be victims. Jack discovers that his daughter Steffie is one of them. He then listens as an amplified voice coming from a supermarket gives details of this simulated evacuation.


Jack returns home to find Heinrich with his friend Orest Mercator. Jack tells Orest that he is likely to die if he persists in his plan to sit in a cage full of deadly snakes just to beat a world record. Orest is convinced he will not be bitten.


Jack goes into the house, where he quizzes Babette about where she put the Dylar, but she denies having moved it. She thinks he wants to try it for himself, and she tells him that she will not reveal the identity of Mr. Gray, which is not the man’s real name. 


Jack drives to pick Denise up after school, and asks her what she did with the Dylar bottle. Denise refuses to hand it over or say where it is. But Jack cannot stop thinking about it, realizing that Dylar, if it works, is the perfect antidote for his fear of what Nyodene D is doing to him.


Analysis, Chapters 25–27

These chapters further develop the theme of death, since fear of it is now shown to afflict Babette as well as Jack. Orest remains in the story as an unreasonable (in Jack’s eyes) contrast to this all-pervading fear and reality of death. Jack thinks Orest is simply refusing to face reality.


A key development in these chapters is that a certain amount of alienation and lack of trust emerges between Jack and his wife, who up to this point have been an almost ideal couple, talking to each other freely and sharing all the details of their lives. But now Jack acts secretively, taking the Dylar tablet and getting it analyzed without Babette’s knowledge. In turn, Babette reveals that she was driven by her fear of death to sexual infidelity, which puts a strain on their marriage and begins to drive the plot to its conclusion. She too has behaved secretively, not only in conducting an affair, but also in researching and then taking Dylar. Fear of death therefore can undermine even the closest of relationships.


The possibility of an antidote to the fear of death has now been raised, even though it has not worked for Babette. The concept of Dylar is another example of the author’s prescience, since it anticipates by a few years the vast expansion of mood-altering drugs such as Prozac and other SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) that were and still are used to treat clinical depression. Dylar would in a sense be the ultimate discovery in the quest for mood-altering drugs, since it is designed to remove the most primal fear of all, that of death. Also, if Dylar can be shown to work, it seems to confirm what Heinrich has been saying all along, that all emotions can be explained as due merely to certain chemical activity in the brain.


The threat of death is also kept in the reader’s mind by the simulated evacuations, which convey the idea that natural or man-made disasters may come at any time. But there is a twist here. The simulators seem more interested in the simulation than in the real thing. Even if a real emergency arises, the spokesman says, “it is important to remember that we are not here to mend broken bones or put out real fires. We are here to simulate” (206). They also think that the more they simulate, the less likely there will be a real disaster. This is in keeping with the idea presented in the novel that we are living in a society at one remove from reality. Reality has been replaced by the symbols and signs that Murray Suskind is so expert at decoding.


Chapter 28

In the kitchen, Steffie tells Jack that her mother Dana wants Steffie to visit her in Mexico City at Easter, but she can’t go because she has signed up to be a victim again in another disaster simulation.


At lunch in the college cafeteria, Jack listens to the members of the popular culture department asking each other about significant moments in their lives that are also inconsequential: “Did you ever spit in your soda bottle so you wouldn’t have to share your drink with the other kids?” (215) Many of their memories are linked to certain films—events in popular culture. Jack gets tired  of listening to them, especially the self-pitying Grappa. He slips away and waits for Murray, and they walk across campus, deep in conversation. Murray talks about his seminar about car crashes. He has collected hundreds of crash sequences from various films, and offers the observation that “they mark the suicide wish of technology” (217) but represent the optimistic spirit of America, since every car crash  sequence is designed to be better than the previous ones. They are not presented as tragedies but are more lighthearted, to be viewed as celebrations.


Chapter 29

Jack and Babette are shopping in the supermarket. He tries to reassure her that things will work out well, that they will come through their present difficulties.


Jack continues to take German lessons, and starts to plan the remarks he will make in welcoming delegates to the upcoming Hitler conference. One day he notices a book at Howard Dunlop’s apartment, a German version of The Egyptian Book of the Dead.


Over the next few days he starts to sort through his belongings and throw a lot of stuff out, everything from old paperbacks to tennis shoes. He watches a report on TV about the discovery of bodies buried in someone’s backyard. The authorities think there may be more. Three nights later, in Heinrich’s room, he watches another report on the same story. No further bodies have been discovered, and the reporter seems disappointed that the story has petered out.


Chapter 30

In bed at night, Jack starts to feel panicky, alone, his fear of death arising. He wakes Babette and tells her they must talk. He tells her he wants to contact Mr. Gray, so he can try Dylar out. She says that Mr. Gray will think he wants to kill him, since Mr. Gray will know that Babette has told Jack about the encounters she had with Mr. Gray in the motel. Jack insists that all he wants is the chance to try the tablet. Babette thinks he might kill Mr. Gray and refuses to give him any contact information.


That afternoon, Jack sees Winnie Richards. They look at another rich sunset, and then Jack reminds her of Dylar. He tells her it is designed to remove the fear of death and was designed by a secret research group. She knows nothing about it, but says it would be a mistake to lose the fear of death because the knowledge of death gives a kind of meaning to life. She also says that fear is a part of life. She tells him to forget about seeking out a medicine to cure the fear. Jack thinks she is right, and that he should just get on with his life.


Analysis, Chapters 28-30

The death theme becomes quietly more insistent. Wherever Jack goes, he cannot escape it. In chapter 28, he is reminded of death by Grappa’s self-pitying comments about how, when he is upset, he imagines himself dead, and all his friends and family are gathered around the coffin, regretting that they had not been nicer to him. Then Murray talks about the “suicide wish” of technology, as if everything, even what we most rely on for progress, is in fact hurtling toward death. He also comments that in the past, when he and his fellow sportswriters used to get together, there were only two topics of conversation: sex and death. Death appears again in chapter 29, when Jack spots the book, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, in Howard Dunlop’s apartment.


In these chapters also, the undercurrent of random violence in society, which has been underlying theme throughout, becomes more prominent. Not only is there the TV report about the victims of the serial killer, but Babette starts talking about the “insane rage” of men, their “homicidal rage” (225), and she fears this may be triggered in her husband if she divulges the whereabouts of Mr. Gray. 

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