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DeLillo's White Noise

This paper discusses the ways in which the opening and closing sections of Don DeLillo's White Noise frame and exemplify the novel's main themes. By concentrating on minutiae and specific detail, DeLillo paints a haunting picture of modern life. His opening and closing incidents are superficially similar, but what occurs between them throws an entirely new light on the observable reality he records. In fact, DeLillo is not concerned with recreating reality but with questioning the ordinary, and these two framing sequences provide a dramatic contrast between the world as it is usually perceived and the perception DeLillo suggests might provide more powerful meaning to everyday life. DeLillo attempts both to record the "white noise" that provides the masking background for modern life and to cut through the background clutter to hear what lies behind it. It is a fascinating exercise.

White Noise begins with a description of a line of station wagons arriving at the start of the college semester, carrying the luggage, equipment, and families of the arriving class of students. He spends most of the first paragraph simply listing objects, right down to "the junk food still in shopping bags - onion-and-garlic chips, nacho thins, peanut butter creme patties, Waffelos and Kabooms, fruit chews and toffee popcorn; the Dum-Dum pops, the Mystic mints" (3). It is an intriguing litany; by providing so much specific detail, he gives each item its own importance, while also echoing the advertising jingles and colorful packaging that first gave each product its fame and therefore attracted the eye of the arriving consumers.

Throughout the book, DeLillo periodically invokes brand names as though they were holy phrases. At one point, his daughter, Steffi, breathes two words in her sleep, "two clearly audible words, familiar and elusive at the same time, words that seemed to have a ritual meaning, part of a verbal spell or ecstatic chant. To...

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DeLillo's White Noise. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 10:23, August 08, 2020, from