White Noise by Don DeLillo was a novel I was expecting to dislike. For some reason, the front cover was repelling me, and I thought it was going to something similar to a postmodern ghost story. I was right, to a certain extent, because Don DeLillo does write a prelude to a ghost story. He maps the mentality of death, and an abject fear of what is to come, and what comes afterwards. His protagonists, Jack Gladney, and his wife, Babette, represent a kind of paralysis of mentality; their fear of death overrides their sense of everything else.
This, I think, can be considered both an advantage and a disadvantage. A disadvantage, because they live, believing that they can and will be dead at any moment; their marriage is overshadowed by a fear of the other dying, and so their petty rows, and Babette’s ‘arrangement’ with Mr Gray is insignificant, in comparison to her fear of losing the physical and emotional entity that is Jack. Therefore in many ways, the sanctity of marriage and union itself is questioned.
Their sense of death however is an advantage because it allows them to explore the parameters of marriage in terms of a whole existence. Instead of a focus on small events, the couple manage to look at everything as a whole. The ‘airborne toxic event’ is not an individual disaster, and instead, the protagonist seems to focus on the impact it has on his entire life; the fact that it is shortened by this unknown threat. In some ways then, the fear of death provides a mechanism so that both protagonists can stay united by the unresolved fear.
The novel places a very heavy emphasis on the importance of technology to modern-day life. Throughout the text, phrases such as “the radio said” are used. This reminds the reader of George Orwell’s 1984, because there is an outside force that influences the character’s movement. The instantaneous information that is available through the television and radio influences the fear of death that Jack and Babette experience; unreliable information seems to only emphasize the unreliable nature of life, and the unpredictability of death. The relative power of the medical industry is also highlighted by Jack’s “brackets and stars” status. His doctor represents an omen, and therefore towards the end of the novel, Jack refuses to visit him, to find out more details of his impending death. This refusal shows a monumental step in his life, because he refuses to indulge the fear itself.
By far my favourite scene however, is when Jack shoots Mr. Gray, the man who has allegedly created the drug that removes a person’s fear of death. The shooting can be seen as an irony, because Mr. Gray represents being fearless. Therefore by causing him serious injury and plotting to kill him, he metaphorically attacks the idea of being unafraid of death. Gunshot wounds are an unnatural way to die, in the same way that it is unnatural to be unafraid of one’s own passing.
The novel itself is an interesting comment on 1980s society, especially because of the novelty value of technology at the time. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I should.