White Noise: Part III - Chapter 34,35,36

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Chapter 34

Jack looks into the trash bag from the compactor, even though he knows the trash that contains the crushed Dylar has already been collected. Even so, he spreads the contents all over the floor and examines them. Finding nothing related to Dylar, he resolves to stop seeking a drug to deal with his fear of death. He goes for another medical exam, and discovers he has an elevated level of potassium, but the doctor cannot tell him how significant that is. He tells him to go to another facility for further tests.


Jack goes home and has another session in which he throws away large amounts of old stuff. It takes him more than an hour to get everything out on the sidewalk.


Chapter 35

Jack notices that Babette spends a lot of time listening to talk radio and has taken to wearing her sweatsuit almost all the time. He tells himself that there is nothing to worry about, and Babette tries to reassure him that she is all right, although she admits to still having her fear of death.


Jack takes Heinrich and Orest Mercator out to dinner. Orest is training for his exposure to the venomous snakes, and Jack asks him about his training regimen. Orest denies being nervous about what might happen. Jack asks him again whether he is afraid to die, but Orest does not think in these terms. Jack finds himself admiring the young man.


After Jack returns home, he finds Babette ironing in the bedroom. The subject of Mr. Gray comes up again, and again Babette refuses to supply Jack with any information about him.  Jack goes to help Steffie pack; she is soon to visit her mother in Mexico.


The next day there is another simulated evacuation, this time for a noxious odor. Three days later a real noxious odor drifts over the town from the river, but no one does anything about it. 


Chapter 36

A week or so later, Jack’s ex-wife Janet, now known as Mother Devi, calls him to ask whether Heinrich, their son, will be visiting the ashram where she lives this summer. Jack says that will be fine, but he is puzzled about why Janet called him.


The three-day Hitler conference takes place at the college, with ninety attendees. Jack manages to give a five-minute welcoming address in German. The rest of the time he tries to avoid the Germans.


Steffie returns from her trip to Mexico; Jack goes to take the further medical tests his doctor advised, at a place called Autumn History Farms. After numerous tests, he has a consultation with a young man who has a computer printout of the results of all the tests. The young man tells  him there are traces of Nyodene D in his body, which can cause a “nebulous mass” (280) which can lead to death.


That night Jack walks around the streets in Blacksmith, pondering his situation. He sees the glows of many TVs, imagines voices on the phone, and invents a conversation between grandparents and a grandson whose only ambition is to become a bagger at a supermarket.


Analysis, Chapters 34-36

Jack’s ransacking of the family garbage shows his increasing desperation. His fear is not alleviated by his doctor, Dr. Chakravarty, who seems to take pride in keeping his patient as uninformed as possible. When Jack asks what the data in the computer printout means, the doctor replies, “There’s no point in your knowing at this stage” (260), and when Jack questions him further, he says, “There isn’t time to explain.” In this novel, doctors are inadequate authority figures; they may be the high priests who preside over all the computerized data of a patient, but they are curiously powerless to answer Jack’s direct questions or to alleviate his existential fears.


Jack desperately throws out his possessions, as if by doing so he could free himself from the grip of mortality. But who is he, essentially, when all the trappings of his life that he has accumulated over the years are stripped away? He does not know the answer. As Babette says in the next chapter, in a different context, “What is the truth?” (263). That question is not one that will be answered in this novel, but Jack continually seeks some kind of answer to the questions that are tormenting him. He remains fascinated by Orest and his death-defying stunt and questions him repeatedly, puzzled by the fact that Orest appears to have no fear of death: “You are setting out to do exactly what people spend their lives trying not to do. Die. I want to know why” (266). But nothing Orest says enlightens Jack about the issue that has come to completely his mind as the novel moves to its violent climax. 

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