White Noise: Part III - Chapter 37,38,39,40

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Chapter 37

Jack joins Murray for another one of their long walks around the campus. He confides in Murray about his continuing fear of death, saying that he is already “technically dead” (283) since the poison of the Nyodene D is working its way through him. Murray asks him if there are things he still hopes to accomplish, but Jack denies that his fear of death is caused by any sense of tasks unfinished. He just wants to live, and there is no other reason for it. Murray asks him if he thinks love is stronger than death, and Jack replies no.


They cross an old highway bridge and walk along a footpath. Murray suggests that Jack put his faith in technology, which can prolong life. When Jack expresses no enthusiasm for this, Murray suggests he concentrate on the afterlife and read about reincarnation. When Jack implies that he doesn’t really believe in that kind of thing, Murray says that belief in it as a kind of fact is unnecessary. It’s just an idea that he can adopt or not, as he pleases.


They have reached a commercial part of town and enter a shoe store. Murray comments that Jack was drawn to study Hitler because he thought he could hide his fear of death through immersion in the life and work of a powerful, almost mythic figure. 


They go into a supermarket. Murray tells Jack he is afraid of death simply because he has not learned how to repress that fear. Learning how to suppress it is the key to survival. As they exit the supermarket, Murray come up with another theory about how to counter the fear of death: kill someone; “If he dies, you cannot” (290). The more a person kills, the more “life credit” he builds up. He adds that he is just talking about a theory. He goes on to say that there is potential violence in every man.


After Jack leaves Murray, he goes home and again throws out many of his possessions, feeling that they have been dragging him down and keeping him captive.


Chapter 38

Jack tells Babette about Murray’s theories, but she says it is wrong to repress fears. As they lie in bed together, Jack cannot help thinking of Mr. Gray. The next day he starts taking his gun to the college, keeping it in a pocket when he lectures, and then in a desk drawer.


That night Jack learns from Heinrich that Orest had his encounter with the snakes in a hotel room, since that was the only place they could find. There were only three snakes rather than the twenty-seven planned, and Orest was bitten within four minutes. But the snakes turned out to be harmless. Orest, humiliated, has now gone into seclusion.


Jack goes onto campus in the evening and thinks he is being chased by someone. He has his gun at the ready but finds out that the person is only Winnie Richards. She has discovered that the man who helped to create Dylar, Babette’s “Mr. Gray,” is named Willie Mink. He is living in a motel in Germantown, in nearby Iron City.


Jack goes home. That night he steals his neighbor’s car and drive to Iron City, running several red lights along the way. He has his gun with him.


Chapter 39

Jack finds the motel where Willie Mink is staying. He plans to shoot him three times, make it look like a suicide, take the Dylar pills, drive back and park the stolen car in the garage of Mr. Treadwell (the old blind man to whom Babette reads), and then walk home.


He finds Mink in his room, watching TV without the sound. Mink assumes that he has come because he wants some Dylar. They have a conversation during which Mink keeps swallowing Dylar tablets, even though he admits that the drug is a failure. He asks Jack how many tablets he needs. Jack thinks of what happened in the motel room between Mink and Babette, and Mink tells him that the woman wore a ski mask. Jack is mentally prepared to carry out his plan. He shoots Mink in the stomach, then fires again, hitting him in the right hip. He wipes the gun clean of his fingerprints and wraps Mink’s fingers around it. Mink pulls the trigger, hitting Jack in the wrist. He staggers back and tries to stem the flow of blood. He then decides to help Mink, dragging him out into the street  and into the car. He gives him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but when the confused Mink asks who shot him, Jack lies that he shot himself. He takes him to the trauma room of what turns out to be a clinic staffed by nuns. A doctor arrives to treat Mink while a nun, Sister Hermann Marie, tends to Jack’s wound.  Jack finds out that she does not believe in Catholic concepts of heaven, angels and salvation, which surprises him. She says that she and the other nuns are there solely to take care of the sick and injured.


Jack finds a doctor who tells him that Mink will live. Jack drives home, leaving the car in his neighbor’s driveway, where he first took it. The back seat is covered in blood.


He gets into bed with Babette but cannot sleep. He goes down to the kitchen and makes coffee.


Chapter 40

Wilder manages to ride his plastic tricycle all the way from the house to the expressway. He begins to pedal across the busy highway, reaching the median without mishap. He then cycles across the remaining three lanes and miraculously reaches the other side unharmed. Then he appears to lose balance and fall down the embankment. He ends up sitting in a creek, and he begins to cry. A passing motorist stops and rescues him.


Some time elapses following this account of Wilder’s miraculous escape. Then Jack reports that he, Babette and Wilder often go to the overpass to watch the spectacular sunsets. He stops seeing the doctor. He also reports that the supermarket has been rearranged, and old people are confused about where they can find things, and they also have difficulty reading the labels. But  it does not matter in the end, since the scanners at the checkout read everything perfectly, and as everyone waits in line they get the chance to look at the tabloids in the racks, which contains all the helpful, hopeful information that they are ever likely to need.


Analysis, Chapters 37-40

The plot now drives relentlessly forward. Jack, who up to now has been, in spite of his interest in Hitler and his imposing physical appearance, a rather gentle soul, is transformed into a man of violence. But the way has been well prepared for this transformation. His jealousy of Willie Mink may be understandable. Babette has talked about the homicidal rage that lurks within all men, Vernon Dickey has given him a gun, and in chapter 37 Murray comes up with his theory about becoming a killer in order to enhance and prolong life. This, of course, as Murray points out, is only a theory, and, the reader may think, not one of Murray’s most convincing ones, but it is enough to influence Jack, and also to prepare the reader for what Jack is about to do. Nothing else Murray says in their long talk about death is of any comfort to Jack. There seems to be no solution to his ills, whoever he talks to, whether it is the doctor, Orest Mercator, Murray, or even his beloved wife. who suffers from the same complaint that he does.


In his trip to the motel room, and then again when he is inside it, Jack repeats several times the plot he has in mind, spelling out the stages of it—what he plans to do and how he plans to escape. It seems that in this respect also, he has absorbed the words of Murray, who has acted as a kind of mentor to him. In chapter 37, Murray tells Jack, “To plot is to live” (291). According to Murray, the whole of life is a plot: “To plot is to affirm life, to seek shape and control,” and it is this that Jack has in mind as he seeks revenge against Mink and an end to his fear of death.


Although the novel seems to be moving to a tragic conclusion, it manages to reverse course and ends on an optimistic note. Jack reins in his desire to kill and exercises compassion instead. Wilder has a miraculous escape, as if to show that miracles are possible for the innocent. Jack and Babette are awed by the beauty of the sunsets, and the final scene shows order restored in the supermarket, that place in which hope and fulfillment still seem able to thrive. 

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