Don Dellilo's protagonist in his novel "White Noise," Jack Gladney, has a "nuclear family" that is, ostensibly, a prime example of the disjointed nature way of the "family" of the 80's and 90's -- what with Jack's multiple past marriages and the fact that his children aren't all related. It's basically the antipodal image of the 1950's "nuclear family." Despite this surface-level disjointedness, it is his family and the "extrasensory rapport" that he shares with them allows Jack to survive in his world. Murray, Jack's friend, argues that "The family is strongest where objective reality is most likely to be misinterpreted" (82). Heinrich, Jack's son, explicates this notion in his constant "doubting" of reality, arguing, for example, that it's "all a question of brain chemistry, signals going back and forth, electrical energy in the cortex" (45). Jack is caught in a perpetual tension between experiencing reality and relationships with his family as "actual" while simultaneously being told that there is no "actual," that man is nothing more than "the sum total of" his "data" (141). It is only through a recounting of the past, the sensual experience of objects and the transcendent nature of his relationship with is children that Jack is able to affirm the actuality of the "actual," to affirm, for example, that love is more than merely a biological chemical.
Ironically, for Jack and Babette, it is only by recounting the past that they are able to "rescue" themselves "from the past" (30). Jack explains that Babette and he talk of everything, "The smell of panties, the sense of empty afternoons, the feel of things as they rained across our skin, things as facts and pas...
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...sure of truth, and Murray's claims as to the strength of families having a direct correlation with the inability to perceive reality, Jack's family nonetheless, and the "extransensory" moments he shares with them, prove to him that feelings like these don't exist solely on a biological level, that their reality lies not in their chemical composition but in another separate reality, a reality which allows Jack to affirm the actuality of the "actual."
Works Cited and Consulted
Aaron, Daniel, “How to Read Don DeLillo.” In Introducing Don DeLillo, edited by Frank Lentricchia, 67-81. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.
Conroy, Mark: “From Tombstone to Tabloid: Authority Figured in White Noise.” In Don DeLillo’s White Noise, edited by Harold Bloom, 153-168. Broomal: Chelsea House Publishers, 2003.
DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Viking, 1984.
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