The Death of Identity in DeLillo's White Noise

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The Death of Identity in DeLillo's White Noise

In addition to addressing the premonitory electricity of death, the title of Don DeLillo's White Noise alludes to another, subtler, sort of white noise - the muted death of suburban white identity. College-on-the-Hill is not only an elite academic promontory, but also a bastion for white flight in which Jack Gladney's family has taken refuge. Instead of John Winthrop's clear City-on-a-Hill morality, DeLillo presents us with J.A.K. Gladney's muddled postmodern inheritance of J.F.K.'s civil rights legacy. Racial identity no longer demarcates a simple binary between whites and Native Americans, but complicates a nation in which all races stake a claim towards American nativity. Jack's inability to classify the Other in obvious racial terms feeds back into his own identity crisis; unable to gauge what he is not, he is left without the tools necessary to understand what he is. This anxiety of faulty racial organization leaves Jack with America's preeminent homegrown product, consumerism, as a cultural machete for cutting through swaths of identity. But consumerism, exemplified by the supermarket's position as the novel's locus of societal reflection, is a philosophy too scattered and massive to equip Jack with any ordered understanding of race. Furthermore, any insight consumerism might yield is negated by its production of a confusing strain of commercial colonialism. The most feasible "solution," although the novel's persistent chaos denies any clear answers, is for Jack to accept racial hybridization and regard the world not as white noise and black clouds, but as shades of gray. This diminishes his anxiety for a need to identify others and, consequently, him...

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Online Sources

A Don DeLillo Page. April 1998. Berkeley. March 1998.

Interviews with Don DeLillo. April 1998. Berkeley. March 1998.

Jackson, Jon. A letter from Don DeLillo. 25 April 1998.

Sippey, Michael. White Noise on White Noise. 25 April 1998.

White Noise. April 1998. Berkeley. March 1998.

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