Essay on Death and Dying in DeLillo's White Noise

Essay on Death and Dying in DeLillo's White Noise

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Death and Dying in DeLillo's White Noise

 
   Among other things, Don DeLillo seems completely preoccupied with death and the arduous task of living with the knowledge of death in his novel White Noise. Acceptance of our finite, fragile existence over time is certainly not a phenomenon unique to a single civilization or historical era. Rather than discuss the inescapable mortality that connects all humankind with broad, generalized strokes, DeLillo is concerned with the particular (peculiar?) late Twentieth Century cultural and psychological mechanisms that attempt to define, recast, or obscure the relationship between the self and death. Technology, he asserts, has fostered a material culture of consummation, of insatiable appetites which simultaneously confirms and allows us to temporarily escape knowledge of our mortality. "We've agreed to be part of a collective perception...To become a crowd is to keep out death. To break of from the crowd is to risk death as an individual, to face dying alone" (12,73). Whether the dominant system is desirable or reprehensible, there seems to be an almost primal need for a structure of some sort. The very human impulse to order, "to break things down,...to separate and classify" as Babette puts it, is an integral part of establishing an identity (192). Jack Gladney is, thus, ironically a critic and a victim of this very dilemma.

 

            Technology distances Jack from death as well as life. The scientific method upon which technology is based begin with a fundamental assumption of objectivity. Observation at a distance is necessary to form legitimate conclusions, to construct knowledge of an "invisible... impressive... disquieting" truth (46). Jack's mind is attuned, sensi...


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...elf of products and past possessions which are reminders of his previous or alternate identities. This residue of past lives drags him down and makes "escape impossible" (294). Jack does seem either incapable or unwilling to stand apart from the consumer culture, presenting the reader with the supermarket checkout line as a compelling metaphor for life and hope. "Here we don't die, we shop...This is the language of waves and radiation, or how the dead speak to the living. And this is where we wait together, regardless of age, our carts stacked brightly with goods" (38,326). It seems he has found his demographic niche in the cosmic marketing scheme (50). Jack is thus capable of critique, but is no less susceptible to the convenient fantasies and self delusions which surround us as well.

 

Works Cited

DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.

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