Death is probably the most feared word in the English language. Its undesired uncertainty threatens society’s desire to believe that life never ends. Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise tells the bizarre story of how Jack Gladney and his family illustrate the postmodern ideas of religion, death, and popular culture. The theme of death’s influence over the character mentality, consumer lifestyle, and media manipulation is used often throughout DeLillo’s story.
Perhaps, the character most responsive to death is Jack Gladney. In fact, he is so consumed by his fear of death that his ordinary thought processes are often interrupted by the question: “Who will die first” (DeLillo 15)? In Jack’s mind: “This question comes up from time to time, like where are the car keys” (DeLillo 15). Jack finds the aura of death to be very noticeable and real, and he relies on his consumer lifestyle as an escape from his fear of death.
Jack uses the supermarket as his base for his consumer lifestyle and a place to escape, which is validated by the interpretation of his friend and colleague Murray Siskind. Murray views the supermarket as almost a holy place, an atmosphere with rays and “white noise” everywhere. It’s full of psychic data….Everything is concealed in symbolism, hidden by veils of mystery and layers of cultural material…The large doors
slide open, they close unbidden….All the letters and numbers are here, all the colors of
the spectrum, all the voices and sounds, all the code words and ceremonial phrases. It is just a question of deciphering, rearranging, peeling off the layers of unspeakability…. We don’t have to cling to life artificially, or to death for that matter. We simply walk toward the sliding doors. Waves and radiation. Look how well-lighted the place is. The place is sealed off, self-contained…. It is timeless…. Here we don’t die, we shop. But the difference is less marked than you think (DeLillo 37-38).
John N. Duvall, author of “The (Super)Marketplace of Images: Television as Unmediated Mediation in DeLillo’s White Noise,” believes that “Murray’s interpretations become Jack’s convictions; Murray’s speculations, Jack’s experiences” (143). Drawing on Murray’s speculation‘s, Jack embraces Murray’s analysis as a truth and uses the supermarket as security, a place where colors and names always in the same place, a place where ...
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... profoundly important questions about death, the afterlife, God, worlds and space, yet they exist in an almost Pop Art atmosphere(268).
By treating these false tracts of literature as some sort of god, consumers can escape the reality of death since the content is not in day to day, ordinary life. Death is a fear that has attacked the minds of man since the beginning. For years people have treated death as a unspeakable occurrence, and White Noise shows those desperate attempts through postmodern imagery. According to Don DeLillo, death is an assailant that creeps its way into the subconscious of society but is prevented from tainting the gratification of life by way of the postmodern army- technology.
Conroy, Mark. “From Tombstone to Tabloid: Authority Figured in White Noise.”
Critique 35.2 (1994): 97-110.
DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Penguin Books 1999.
Duvall, John N. “The (Super)Marketplace of Images: Television as Unmediated
Mediation in DeLillo’s White Noise.” Arizona Quarterly 50.3 (1994):
Maltby, Paul. “The Romantic Metaphysics of Don DeLillo.” Contemporary
Literature 37.2 (1996): 258-277.
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