header logo
White Noise

White Noise Summary


Here you will find a White Noise summary (Don DeLillo's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

P.S.: As an Amazon Associate, we earn money from purchases made through links in this page. But the summaries are totally free!

Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

White Noise Summary Overview

The story revolves around a narrator, Jack Gladney, who is a professor and head of Hitler studies at a school called College-on-the-Hill in the peaceful town of Blacksmith. He shares his life with his wife Babette, and their children from previous marriages. A recurring theme in their lives are the various half-siblings and ex-spouses who intermittently visit them. Jack has a deep affection for Babette, taking solace in her honesty and domesticity. However, he battles with his self-crafted prestige, fearing being unmasked as an imposter, especially since he doesn't speak German, a requisite for his Hitler studies role. To overcome this, he takes secret German lessons. Two significant events take centre stage in the narrative: an airborne toxic event and Jack learning about Babette's involvement in a drug trial. Jack stumbles upon his son, Heinrich, observing a smoke cloud, resulting from a train derailment and subsequent fire, which releases a deadly chemical substance in the air. As a result, the entire town evacuates to a disused Boy Scout camp. It's here where Jack discovers he's been exposed to a deadly chemical, Nyodene D., and this revelation sparks an obsession with death. At home, Babette's daughter, Denise, uncovers a bottle of mysterious pills called Dylar that Babette is secretly consuming. Upon confronting her, Babette confesses that the pills are experimental and she believes they can cure her fear of death. She also admits to having an affair with the project's manager, Mr. Gray, to gain access to the drug. After this revelation, Jack discloses his exposure to the lethal chemical and takes Denise's discarded Dylar pills, heightening his death anxiety. Jack's sleep becomes erratic, he seeks frequent medical attention, and becomes obsessed with decluttering his home. During a surprise visit from his father-in-law, Vernon, he's secretly handed a gun, which eventually accompanies him to class. He confides in his friend and colleague, Murray, about his fear of death. Murray theorizes that committing murder can alleviate the fear of death, an idea that starts to consume Jack. Armed with this notion and the gun, Jack confronts Willie Mink, Babette's affair partner and Dylar project manager, intending to kill him. However, after shooting Mink, Jack is shot before driving Mink to the hospital to save his life. On the final day, Jack watches his son, Wilder, narrowly escape death while crossing a highway, allowing Jack to finally let go of his death fear. The narrative concludes with Jack, Babette, and Wilder enjoying the beautiful sunsets and a reshuffled supermarket, throwing everyone into confusion.

chapter 1

The narrator of the story, Jack Gladney, observes the annual influx of students returning to the College-on-the-Hill campus. This sight has been a part of his life for 21 years, and he never ceases to be astounded by the students' enthusiasm and the satisfaction of their wealthy parents. Following this observation, Jack walks home, depicting the charming town he resides in—with its historical homes, stunning churches, and a local mental hospital. Jack briefly shares his relationship with the College-on-the-Hill. He is the department head of Hitler studies, a subject area he pioneered in 1968.

chapter 2

Jack returns home and discusses his wife, Babette, a tall, full-figured woman with disheveled blond hair. He says her unkempt appearance suggests she has more important things to worry about. Babette’s contributions include caring for their children, reading to a blind man named Old Man Treadwell, and teaching adult education. Babette’s openness and capability are comforting to Jack, and he contrasts her with his previous wives, calling them a "self-absorbed and high-strung bunch, with ties to the intelligence community.” Three of Jack and Babette’s children from different marriages, Wilder, Denise, and Steffie, gather in the kitchen for lunch. Jack considers the kitchen and bedrooms as the heart of the Gladney household. His oldest son, Heinrich, enters and then leaves without interacting with the family. Denise criticizes Babette for buying but not eating healthy food. Jack swiftly defends his wife and shares details about Babette’s exercise habits. During their lunch, the smoke alarm rings but no one pays it any attention.

chapter 3

Jack talks about the grand attire he dons for teaching and gives a glimpse into his co-workers. His department of Hitler studies is housed with the Popular Culture division, more officially recognized as American environments. The staff here, led by Alfonse (Fast Food) Stompanato, predominantly consists of individuals Jack refers to as "New York émigrés," who are tough, cynical, and obsessed with media. Murray Jay Siskind, an erstwhile sports journalist turned lecturer, notably differs from this description. During a meal, Murray shares with Jack his experience of living in a boarding house and his decision to relocate to the quiet college town of Blacksmith to escape the city's complexities. He expresses admiration for Jack's work in Hitler studies and aspires to achieve something similar for Elvis Presley. In the following days, Jack and Murray embark on a drive to the countryside to see the Most Photographed Barn in America. They encounter a gathering of tourists avidly taking notes, readying their cameras, and capturing images of the barn. Murray suggests that the barn’s significance doesn’t lie in the building itself, but in the enchantment of the crowd assembled to witness it, pooling their energies in a single place. The barn’s charm is heightened by the thousands who have visited, bestowing it with an irresistible and impactful aura, Murray joyfully proclaims.

chapter 4

Jack encounters Babette in the local high school, where she's exercising on the stadium stairs. He observes her and reflects on the monotony of their shared life, with the ominous question "Who will die first?" recurring in their daily activities and dialogues. Jack ponders whether the concept of mortality is intertwined with love or if it looms in the ambient air like an inert gas. He occasionally considers that the dread of death strips their marriage of its naivety. The family congregates for a habitual Friday night television viewing, an activity endorsed by Babette. She hopes this regular, homely pastime will diminish television's harmful influence. Despite her good intentions, the family finds it slightly agonizing, especially Steffie who is deeply distressed by scenes of humiliation or shame on TV. Post the viewing, Jack has the habit of reading books about Hitler into the late hours of Friday night. He recollects a particular Friday when he disclosed to Babette that, upon establishing Hitler studies in 1968, the college chancellor suggested him to create a formidable persona to gain credibility in academia. As a result, he altered his name to J. A. K. Gladney and began to sport heavy glasses with dark lenses. Despite his then-wife's objection, he planned to grow a beard. Jack reflects that he has turned into an artificial persona that merely shadows his new identity.

chapter 5

Jack is concerned that his life is racing past him. He describes one day, from Babette reading horoscopes at breakfast, a snippet of a post-dinner commercial, to a sudden intense fear of death that hits him in his sleep. During a supermarket visit, Jack and Babette encounter Murray. Murray shares his fascination with the minimalism of generic packaging, claiming it makes him feel more spiritual compared to buying branded goods. As Babette heads to the frozen food section, Murray expresses his admiration for her. Leaving the supermarket, Jack reflects on the solace he receives from the place. The abundance of vibrant products in their shopping bags seems to add richness to their lives. After their shopping trip, they drop Murray at his place. Jack observes that Murray has deliberately crafted an image of himself which he believes is attractive to women.

chapter 6

Jack is concerned about Heinrich's thinning hair, unsure if he's to blame or if environmental pollutants are the cause. During their car ride to school, Jack's attempts at a casual chat about the weather are met with Heinrich's philosophical responses. Watching Heinrich stride away, an intense affection for his son, who he perceives as dangerously magnetic, overwhelms Jack. At a campus cinema, Jack organizes a documentary showing for his Advanced Nazism class. The film, devoid of narration, comprises clips from Nazi propaganda movies, showcasing scenes of parades, gatherings, and enormous crowds. When a student queries about Hitler's assassination plot post-screening, Jack unexpectedly answers, “All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots.” He later contemplates whether he truly subscribes to his own declaration.

chapter 7

Babette instructs a bi-weekly posture class for seniors in a church basement. Jack is often amazed at the trust her students place in her teachings, believing grooming can deter death. After class, he escorts Babette home and they retire to bed. Conversing about their evening plans, Babette suggests reading him an erotic piece. Jack appreciates the candidness of their relationship. They share everything, helping them bond and also distance themselves from past distress. Jack looks for a risque magazine for Babette's reading, but instead, he stumbles upon old family photo albums. They get lost in the photos for hours, but Jack can't help but wonder, “Who will die first?”

chapter 8

Jack, the head of Hitler studies, is self-conscious about not knowing German and secretly begins to learn it from Howard Dunlop, a quiet man residing in Murray’s boarding house. Jack views German as a harsh and alien language. Yet, he needs to learn it as it would be scandalous if his deficiency were exposed during the upcoming Hitler conference at the College-on-the-Hill. After his lesson, Jack visits Murray, inviting him for dinner. Murray, who was reading American Transvestite, puts it aside and dresses for the occasion. As they leave, Murray mentions his landlord's handyman skills and his prejudice. When asked about the basis of his assumption, Murray suggests that handy people tend to be biased. Returning to Jack’s chaotic house, Denise is busy with the trash compactor, Heinrich is on the phone, Babette has just come from her run, and Steffie echos a radio warning about boiling tap water. Amidst the commotion, Wilder is contentedly quiet.

chapter 9

Denise and Steffie's school has to close due to a strange outbreak of symptoms such as headaches, eye discomfort, and a metallic taste. Even a teacher begins to act bizarrely, rolling on the floor and speaking in different languages. The school is shut down for a week as people in Mylex suits inspect it, but their results are unclear because the Mylex interferes with their equipment. During the school shutdown, Jack, Babette, Wilder, and the girls go grocery shopping. They run into Murray, who Jack has seen as often in the supermarket as he has on school grounds. Jack believes he can hear a faint, unidentifiable noise among the human sounds in the supermarket. While shopping, Steffie tells Jack that Denise has been researching a medication that Babette is taking, using the Physician’s Desk Reference. Jack isn't aware of any medication. Elsewhere in the supermarket, Murray assists Babette with her shopping cart and discusses Tibetan death philosophy. He shares his belief that the chaos and energy of the supermarket are spiritually invigorating and full of hidden symbolism. Babette listens, smiles, continues shopping, and listens to Murray talk about death. Meanwhile, Wilder momentarily wanders off into a stranger's cart but is quickly located. At the end of their shopping trip, Murray awkwardly asks Jack and Babette to join him for dinner, which they agree to. Outside, they hear a shocking rumor that one of the inspectors at the school, dressed in Mylex, died during the investigation.

chapter 10

Jack notices the wealthy upbringing of the college students reflecting in their demeanor and actions. The way they carry themselves suggests a mutual bond, defined by their economic background. Denise scolds her mother at home for constantly chewing gum. She educates her about the potential harmful effects, including causing cancer in rodents. Denise insists her mother should quit the habit and during the heated conversation, she also mentions Babette's recent forgetfulness. In his room, Jack finds Heinrich engrossed in planning chess moves for a game he plays via post with a convict named Tommy Roy Foster. Heinrich shares details of their correspondence and Tommy's regret over his crime. Tommy had intended to gain fame through his crime but now realizes that his actions were insufficient for such recognition. Tommy wishes he had instead targeted a famous person. Jack admits he won't be remembered in history either, to which Heinrich responds by drawing a comparison between Jack's fascination with Hitler and Tommy's lack of a similar fixation. The father and son also discuss Heinrich's mother's invitation for a summer visit to her ashram. Heinrich is uncertain about his willingness to visit, suspecting it might be due to random brain activity. The following morning, Jack visits an ATM to check his account balance. The accuracy of his own records, as confirmed by the bank's computer, provides him a sense of reassurance.

chapter 11

Jack is jolted awake in the early hours of the morning, overcome with an intense fear. He sees it's 3:51 and contemplates if some numbers carry a hidden, ominous meaning while others are more benign. The next day, he awakens to the aroma of charred toast. He comments that Steffie, his daughter, often overcooks her toast as she enjoys the smell. He finds Steffie and his wife, Babette, in the kitchen and mentions his upcoming 51st birthday. After discussing the relative normality of turning 51, Babette notes the distinction between odd and even numbers. Their conversation turns to Steffie's mother, Dana Breedlove, a CIA contract agent involved in clandestine operations in South America. When Steffie is occupied with a phone call, Jack tells Babette about Dana's propensity for scheming and how she often dragged him into various conflicts. He also notes Dana's multi-lingual abilities. Later, Jack and Babette join their friend Murray for dinner, where they feast on a Cornish hen cooked on a hot plate. Murray holds forth on his views about television. He believes that despite its reputation for mindless content, television plays a vital role in American society and can offer profound insights if approached with an open mind. After dinner, as they walk home, Babette mentions the memory issues Denise has noticed in her. Jack attempts to downplay her concerns, and they talk about the pills Denise allegedly saw. Babette insists she isn't on any medication that could lead to memory lapses.

chapter 12

Jack's German lesson with Howard Dunlop is highlighted, with Dunlop's unnatural pronunciation of the language noted. In an attempt to know more about him, Jack learns of Dunlop's various skills including teaching Greek, Latin, sailing, and meteorology. Dunlop's interest in meteorology began as a means to cope with his mother's death, finding solace in studying weather patterns. Upon returning home from the lesson, Jack encounters Bob Pardee, Denise’s father and Babette’s former spouse. Bob decides to take the elder children for a meal as Jack drives Babette to her tabloid-reading session at Old Man Treadwell’s place. Not long after Babette is dropped off, she returns informing Jack about the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Treadwell and his older sister. They report the incident to the police before joining Bob and the children at a donut shop. Jack observes Babette's thoughtful and empathetic gaze towards Bob, reflecting on their shared turbulent past. The following day, a search for the Treadwells commences as the police start to scour the river.

chapter 13

Heinrich observes the events at the river when news arrives that the Treadwells were located at the local mall, where they'd been hiding for four days. They spent half of this time in a booth, with the sister scavenging for leftover food from trash bins. Their presence at the mall and their reluctance to seek assistance remains a mystery, but Jack speculates it could be due to feeling overwhelmed by the mall's enormity and their own sense of powerlessness. Prior to the discovery of the Treadwells at the mall, the authorities had sought Adele T., a psychic's assistance to find them. Her efforts were futile in locating the Treadwells, but she inadvertently led the police to two kilograms of heroin hidden in an airline bag alongside a gun. While Adele has a history of aiding authorities in uncovering various criminal evidence, she typically does so inadvertently while searching for something else.

chapter 14

Denise confronts Jack about Babette's forgetful behavior and reveals a drug, Dylar, she discovered in the trash. When she can't find any information about the medication, Jack attempts to pacify her, maintaining that everyone takes some form of medication. Despite this, Denise remains unappeased. The conversation shifts as Denise questions Jack about his choice of name for their son, Heinrich. Jack justifies his decision, citing the authority the name carries and his interest in German culture, which he began studying around the time of Heinrich's birth. While leafing through a German-English dictionary with Steffie, another daughter, Heinrich interrupts the moment to announce a plane crash being televised. The family later congregates for their weekly television viewing, engrossed in scenes of disasters and tragedies. At work, Murray expresses his frustration over struggling to be recognized as an expert on Elvis, due to competition from Dimitros Cotsakis, who has more credibility due to his past interviews with Presley's family. Jack suggests boosting Murray's reputation by attending his lecture. Subsequently, Jack dines with the New York émigrés, including Alfonse Stompanato, an influential and dominating figure. Jack initiates a conversation about the public's attraction to disasters on television, to which Alfonse attributes it to the sensory overload from daily influx of information and the need for a break from it. The gathering then turns into a competition of personal anecdotes about times they brushed their teeth with fingers or used unclean toilets. Alfonse ups the ante by asking everyone to recall their whereabouts when James Dean died. Everyone responds promptly except Nicholas Grappa, who is mocked for his hesitation.

chapter 15

Jack takes part in Murray's discourse on Elvis, particularly focusing on the singer's deep bond with his mother. Interrupting, Jack draws a parallel to Hitler's adoration for his own mother. The pair begin to exchange stories regarding their favorite figures from history. Murray recounts the impact of Elvis' mother's passing on the star, causing Jack to recount Hitler's lavishly expensive funeral for his mother. Just then, Alfonse Stompanato enters and settles in for the discussion. As Murray delves into the circumstances surrounding Elvis' demise, describing the icon's descent into a grotesque state, Jack counters with details about Hitler's death and the throngs of people that assembled in reaction. Jack theorizes that these crowds were less about paying respect to Hitler, and more about the inherent comfort of losing one's individuality within a mass of people, a defense mechanism against mortality. Following this in-depth exchange, the lecture concludes, and Murray appreciates Jack's contribution. As students gather, Jack observes that they've formed their own crowd. This time, however, he feels no need for the safety of obscurity within the crowd, as death within an educational setting appears a strictly professional concern. In the classroom, Jack finds himself at ease with the idea of death.

chapter 16

In the afternoon, Wilder can't stop crying, leading Jack and Babette to consult a doctor. The doctor's advice is simple: give him an aspirin and rest. Jack suggests a trip to the emergency room, but Babette needs to teach her posture class. With Babette in class, Jack stays in the car, holding Wilder. He becomes mesmerized by Wilder's tearful sounds, sensing an ancient and primal essence in it. When they finally drive back home after the class, Wilder's tears stop. His presence at home brings a hushed reverence, as everyone moves cautiously around him.

chapter 17

The clan embarks on a journey to the Mid-Village Mall. In the car, Denise makes light attempts to query Babette about Dylar, yet their talk quickly strays onto different topics, leaving Denise unable to achieve her goal. At an enormous hardware store in the mall, Jack comes across Eric Massingale, a computer tutor at their college. Eric notices how different Jack appears outside the academic environment, devoid of his dark glasses and traditional professor attire. This chance meeting invigorates Jack's shopping spirit. Together with his family, they meander around the mall, with Jack buying items eagerly. Each item he buys amplifies his sense of strength and power. Upon reaching home, every family member secludes themselves in their individual rooms, preferring solitude.

chapter 18

Jack heads to Iron City airport to collect his daughter Bee, but instead encounters her mother, Tweedy Browner. Tweedy informs him Bee will be arriving in a couple of hours from Indonesia, where she was with her stepfather, Malcolm Hunt. Tweedy is due to leave for Boston the next day, but has come to visit Bee beforehand. While driving around Iron City, Jack and Tweedy converse about their previous and current marital relationships. Tweedy voices her dissatisfaction with her enigmatic husband Malcolm, a diplomat involved in covert operations overseas. She describes Malcolm's disappearances so thorough that it's as if he never existed. She questions whether she really knows her husband and fears his espionage activities might be more important to him than their life together. Jack fills Tweedy in on his ex-wife Janet Savory, who now lives in an ashram under the name Mother Devi. Despite Tweedy's attempts to reminisce about their past marriage, Jack deflects her efforts. After a while, they return to the airport. Before Bee's flight lands, passengers from an earlier flight enter the airport, having just survived a near crash. One passenger recounts to Jack how their plane lost engine power and began a frantic descent. The intercom broadcast a frantic message about falling from the sky, followed by a calmer one detailing what would happen to the passengers upon impact. Miraculously, the plane regained control and everyone onboard questioned their prior fear. Jack then meets up with Bee and Tweedy. Bee queries about the media's absence during the plane crisis, Jack informs her that Iron City lacks media. Bee responds with disbelief, implying the passengers' ordeal was pointless without media coverage. On the journey back to Blacksmith, Tweedy opines to Jack that all children should experience solo flying when young. Unless an unexpected accident occurs, Tweedy declares, an airplane represents one of the few remaining realms of etiquette and refined living.

chapter 19

Bee, a sophisticated twelve-year-old, arrives at Jack's home, causing everyone to feel self-aware. Jack admires her but also feels intimidated. On Christmas, Jack and Bee discuss Bee's mother, Tweedy. Bee shares that Tweedy always appears worried, largely due to her husband, Malcolm's consistent absence. Bee believes Tweedy's main issue is her lack of self-identity. As Bee continues, Jack senses she might be trying to extract some hidden information from him, using a coded, enigmatic method of communication. The following day, Jack drives Bee to the airport. During the silent drive, with only the radio for noise, Jack senses Bee scrutinizing him, her gaze filled with a mix of empathy and disdain. Returning from the airport, Jack pauses at a cemetery labeled "The Old Burying Ground". The graveyard is quiet, away from the busy roads. He waits for a moment, anticipating the tranquility usually attributed to the deceased. Jack feels a distinct energy in the graveyard, a lingering presence of those who have passed.

chapter 20

Gladys, the sister of Mr. Treadwell, passes away due to a deep-seated fear after being lost in a mall for four days along with her brother. Jack, reflecting on this, admits to comparing his age with those in obituaries. He ponders the fear of mortality, wondering if notable historical figures like Attila the Hun faced death fearlessly as a natural part of life. In a morning conversation with his wife Babette, she expresses her contentment with their life. She also shares her nightmares and they delve into a recurring discussion about who would pass away first. Babette insists she should be the first to go, expressing her belief that their children's presence would prevent serious mishaps. Jack disagrees, arguing that her absence would make him feel incomplete. This discourse extends into the night. When Babette leaves to teach her posture class, their friend Murray visits to engage with the children, convinced that they possess a unique form of consciousness. As Jack prepares coffee for Murray, Heinrich criticizes him for his inefficient way of doing things. Jack then confides that he doesn't really want to die before Babette, but he is also afraid of being alone after her death. He's unsure who to appeal his dilemma to, and wonders who determines such matters. Later, while watching television, they are startled to see Babette's face on screen. It turns out to be the local cable station broadcasting her class. Despite the lack of sound, they watch her mesmerized. Jack feels as if Babette's image is invading and irradiating them. When Babette's image disappears, their youngest son, Wilder, begins to cry softly as the other children rush to welcome Babette downstairs.

chapter 21

Jack and his son Heinrich spot a distant black cloud of smoke from a derailed train, caused by a fire involving a toxic substance known as Nyodene D. The radio announces various symptoms of exposure. Despite growing danger and rumors, Jack appears nonchalant, declaring their town immune to such disasters. The family nervously gathers for a meal as air raid warnings intensify. When an evacuation is announced, they head towards an abandoned scout camp. Traffic is chaotic, with some people escaping on foot with plastic-wrapped belongings. Exposure symptoms worsen, potentially affecting Jack’s daughters, Steffie and Denise. Jack refuels the car en route. Under the illumination of army helicopters, they reach the camp. Jack compares the sight of the dark, expansive cloud to a death ship in a Norse legend. At the camp, conspiracy theories circulate and Heinrich becomes the center of attention, detailing the toxic event to a crowd. Jack is checked for Nyodene D. exposure by a SIMUVAC worker, who explains the long-term effects in abstract terms. SIMUVAC is using the event as a practice run for disaster simulations. Jack yearns for his academic gown and glasses, feeling out of place. Jack’s wife Babette is found reading tabloids to blind people. Jack and Heinrich ponder their lack of applicable knowledge if sent back in time, while Jack shares his fears of a 'seed of death' with Murray, a friend. A prostitute lets Murray perform the Heimlich maneuver on her for a fee. Jack reflects on the power of imagination in times of crisis and takes solace in the presence of security dogs. He is touched when his daughter Steffie sleep-talks about a car. Jack is awoken by news that the toxic cloud is approaching. As they leave the camp amidst pandemonium, they pass the looming cloud. They are guided to an abandoned karate studio in Iron City. Rumors about toxin-eating microbes circulate, and Jack notes the tabloid-like nature of the idea. Babette shares her fear of technological advances. A man with a TV expresses frustration at the lack of media coverage of their predicament. After nine days, Jack and his family return home.

chapter 22

In the midst of an impending storm, Jack is at the supermarket with his toddler, Wilder. He observes heightened tension among the elderly customers. He bumps into Murray in the generic-food section, who informs him about the demise of Dimitros Costakis, their fellow scholar and competitor, who drowned off Malibu. Amid the hum of shoppers and mundane sounds, Jack contemplates the need for maintenance and repair in the town of Blacksmith. Despite this, the well-maintained supermarket brings him hope. Later, Jack takes his wife Babette to her posture class. En route, they pause to enjoy the unusually vibrant sunset, a consequence of the Nyodene D. released during the toxic event. Babette reveals her plan to teach a nutrition course named Eating and Drinking in response to life's complexities that have been overwhelming for adults. She hopes it provides reassurance to learners about the existence of reliable guidance in the world. In bed, Jack derives immense solace from his closeness with Babette. He decides to keep the SIMUVAC man’s prognosis a secret from her.

chapter 23

As the conference nears, Jack spends more time on his German lessons, although his pronunciation remains imperfect. A notable incident occurs when Dunlop adjusts Jack's tongue in his mouth, which Jack terms a "strange and terrible moment, an act of haunting intimacy." Meanwhile, Mylex-clad men and dogs continue their patrol. The family's dinner conversation revolves around the toxic event. Heinrich suggests that the authorities are withholding information and goes on to argue that the greatest threat to humans is not toxic spills but domestic radiation sources like power lines and appliances. Jack disagrees and hopes that Heinrich will grow to adopt a more measured worldview. The family debate whether schools are teaching such grim scientific facts, and they try to recall random pieces of knowledge from their own schooling. In Blacksmith, the town's residents are still experiencing frequent déjà vu. Several counseling hotlines have been established. Jack observes that without a nearby city, suburban dwellers are left in isolation with their fears and anxieties, lacking a common focus for their emotions.

chapter 24

Jack stumbles upon a bottle of unknown pills, Dylar, concealed beneath the bathroom radiator. His daughter, Denise, reveals she found Babette's clandestine medicine in December, but the drug is unknown to any pharmacist. Jack contacts Babette's physician, Dr. Hookstratten, who denies prescribing Dylar, and his own doctor is also unfamiliar with it, suggesting it sounds more like a Persian Gulf island. Jack plans to get the mystery drug analyzed by a college associate. At bedtime, Jack visits Heinrich for a quick chat. Heinrich shares about his buddy, Orest Mercator, who is preparing to set a Guinness record by staying in a snake-packed cage. Heinrich is also worried about early onset baldness. Returning to his room, Jack finds Babette absent-mindedly gazing out of the window, seemingly oblivious of his presence.

chapter 25

Jack hands over the Dylar pill to Winnie Richards, a standout neurochemist at his school. Though he finds her hard to pin down and seemingly timid, she consents to examine the pill's composition over the next two days. Later, he voices his concerns to Babette about her progressively withdrawn behavior, a claim which she deftly dodges. He also mentions the Dylar, to which Babette counters with denial of any knowledge. In the afternoon, Jack seeks out Winnie Richards. He's had difficulty locating her and when he finally spots her, he has to chase her down. Upon catching her, he questions if she's been avoiding him, to which she replies, “Isn’t this what the twentieth century is all about? . . . People [hiding] even when no one is looking for them?” Subsequently, Winnie educates Jack about Dylar. She elucidates on its efficacy in dispersing medicine in a measured and controlled manner before self-terminating. Winnie reveals to Jack that Dylar is a unique type of psychopharmaceutical she hasn't come across before.

chapter 26

Jack insists on understanding more about Dylar one evening while in bed. Babette admits she's dealing with an incurable condition but doesn't disclose any specifics. She reveals that she had come across an ad in the National Enquirer during a reading session with Mr. Treadwell. The advertisement from a drug company was looking for volunteers for undisclosed experimentation. After several rounds of testing, they concluded Dylar, the drug, was too risky for human trials. Yet, Babette managed to get a hold of it through a private agreement with the supervisor of the project, “Mr. Gray”, even sleeping with him to secure the drug. Tearfully, Babette confesses she's been using Dylar to try and alleviate her overwhelming dread of dying. Jack attempts to suggest that her fear could be of something else, but she is adamant that it is death that scares her. They both confess that the fear of death is greater than they had ever accepted before, and they comfort each other silently. Babette later elaborates on how Dylar works. It targets the specific neurotransmitters that influence the fear of dying. Despite nearly finishing all her Dylar pills, she still hasn't found any respite from her fear. She reveals to Jack that according to a tape sent to her by Mr. Gray, the drug could be more effective on someone else. Jack discloses to her what the SIMUVAC man had informed him, that his death was “tentatively scheduled”. He realizes that his fear of death is now not just a nebulous terror but an absolute reality. Babette reacts strongly, hitting Jack in silence before falling asleep. Afterward, Jack finds the Dylar bottle that was hidden under the radiator cover is missing when he goes to the bathroom to clean up.

chapter 27

During Jack's second medical appointment post the poisonous incident, he encounters a disaster simulation by SIMUVAC on his route to the grocery store. He spots his daughter, Steffie, acting as a casualty. A representative from Advanced Disaster Management, the firm orchestrating the mock evacuations, broadcasts procedures. Jack, however, chooses not to witness the event. Upon reaching his home, Jack encounters his son, Heinrich, and Heinrich's friend, Orest Mercator, who are both part of the simulation. When Jack questions Orest's intention of endangering his life by staying in a lethal snake cage for a Guinness record, Orest maintains that he won't be bitten, or if he is, his demise will be swift. Inside, Jack questions Babette about the disappeared Dylar, to which she denies having any knowledge. He then inquires about the whereabouts of Mr. Gray, but Babette maintains her promise of keeping Mr. Gray's identity confidential. Subsequently, Jack retrieves Denise from her school, suspecting she has the Dylar bottle. Denise refuses to return the remaining tablets, and Jack concedes that's likely the best decision. Nevertheless, his thoughts remain preoccupied with Dylar and its potential to negate the Nyodene D. in his body.

chapter 28

Steffie rejects her mother's invite to spend Easter in Mexico City. She has committed herself to another simulation. Jack recalls his two marriages with Dana Breedlove, Steffie's mother. Dana was both a fiction reviewer for the CIA and a secret agent. She was one of many wives Jack had, all of whom were deep in the intelligence world and intensely private. Babette, according to Jack, was the complete contrast of these women. She was open and shared everything with him, until the Dylar incident. At the university, Jack joins Murray and some New Yorker expats for lunch. Elliot Lasher and Nicholas Grappa engage in an argument, reminiscent of a previous encounter. Jack observes Alfonse Stompanato preparing for a speech, emphasizing the role of New York internists. Subsequently, Jack and Murray take a stroll across the campus while discussing Murray's ongoing seminar on car crashes. Murray argues that the grandeur of car crashes in films represents a unique American optimism. Despite his students' disagreement, he regards these scenes as celebratory and harmless, beyond the evident violence.

chapter 29

Jack's thought process is displayed as we follow snippets of his daily life. He's in a grocery store with Babette discussing his well-being. Babette expresses her fear of being alone when Jack suggests they split up. Jack mentions how déjà vu crisis facilities have shut down, possibly due to people's growing forgetfulness. During his German class, Jack sees a German version of The Egyptian Book of the Dead, which according to Howard Dunlop, was a hit in Germany. Later, Jack absentmindedly looks through Denise's room, decluttering the house along the way. The sound of Babette tuning into talk radio and the noise of the gas meter can be heard. In the evening, Jack visits Heinrich's room while the boy is watching a news broadcast. The newscast is about two corpses found in a backyard, predicting that twenty to thirty more will be found. However, no more bodies are discovered, leaving everyone with a sense of disappointment.

chapter 30

Struggling with insomnia, Jack wakes Babette, seeking information about Mr. Gray and his company to get some Dylar. Babette, fearing Jack's intentions towards Mr. Gray, declines to reveal anything. Jack maintains that he'd be an ideal test subject for Dylar given his imminent death. Babette insists that she made a mistake with Dylar and will not let him do the same. Later, Jack spots Winnie Richards on campus and chases her down. They end up on a hilltop with a view of the sunset which Jack describes as “another postmodern sunset, rich in romantic imagery.” Their conversation revolves around the sunset's beauty and its possible causes. Jack then shares with Winnie his knowledge about Dylar. She responds by expressing her desire to retain her fear of death as it gives life depth and significance. She advises him to forget about the drug. Together, they watch the sunset and descend the hill.

chapter 31

Instructions for settling a cable bill kick off the scene. Jack observes that nobody in the family feels like making food, hence everyone ends up at a fast-food joint, dining in their vehicle. Jack reflects on the severity and discipline involved in their silent, forward-facing dine-in, fully clothed. Images of Mr. Gray unclothed in a motel room flash in his mind as he watches Babette nibble on chicken bones. Steffie breaks the silence inquiring about the floating astronauts, sparking a discussion about outer space. Following a brief lull, she wonders about the temperature in space, initiating yet another conversation. Babette interjects, revealing she's heard rumors that erratic weather is the handiwork of Russian mystics. Jack discloses an uptick in recent UFO sightings. He detects a simmering discontent from his backseat-bound kids. Babette attempts to divert their attention by questioning the frequency of UFO sightings in upstate areas. Denise offers her theory linking it to the mountainous landscapes of the upstate. She explains this geographical arrangement facilitates water flow from melting snow towards urban reservoirs. Jack, despite sensing the flaw in Denise's explanation, contemplates its veracity. Once home, Jack gets a postcard from Mary Alice, his oldest offspring with Dana Breedlove. Babette shares her deepest desires with Jack – for him to outlive her and their son Wilder to remain unchanged forever.

chapter 32

Jack and Murray traverse the university grounds, conversing about Jack's advancement in learning the German language. Murray perceives a distinct oddness about Howard Dunlop. A few days later, Murray informs Jack of his suspicion that Howard is fascinated with deceased bodies. Subsequent to this revelation, Jack is unable to continue his German studies. A local mental institution catches fire. Jack and Heinrich venture out to observe. Amidst the burning grass, an inmate from the institution strolls past. Unexpectedly, Murray arrives and vanishes swiftly. A harsh, smoky scent permeates the atmosphere, prompting everyone to depart. Jack hypothesizes that the artificial aroma feels like a betrayal to people, disrupting a more authentic event. Jack spends the ensuing night awake, pondering about Babette and Mr. Gray.

chapter 33

Wilder rouses Jack in the middle of the night, directing him to an elderly man seated in the backyard. Jack recognizes him as Vernon Dickey, Babette's father, who has unexpectedly dropped by. Vernon's rugged demeanor and skills as a handyman make Jack feel insignificant and less masculine. Upon inviting Vernon inside, Jack expresses Babette's concern for him, to which Vernon responds by mentioning a potential wife. The smoothness of Vernon around women puts Babette on edge. After an initial bout of unease, Babette quickly falls into the role of looking after her father during his stay, which evokes a mixture of annoyance and delight. One evening, Jack is disturbed by the television sound from Denise's room. He tries to locate the Dylar pills Denise possesses. Denise, however, thwarts his attempt by revealing that she has disposed of them. He then encounters Vernon in the kitchen, who insists they need to have a conversation. Vernon presents Jack with a loaded gun, refusing to take it back despite Jack's reluctance. He lists various hazardous situations that would justify the need for a weapon. Jack reflects that a gun, particularly this one of German make, is the "ultimate device for determining one’s competence in the world". When morning comes, Vernon makes his decision to leave. Before departing, he delivers a heartfelt speech to Babette, assuring her not to worry about his health, love life, and finances. Strangely, he emphasizes that she should only fret about his car. Although Babette finds this amusing, Jack senses her continuous worry and defensiveness towards her father.

chapter 34

Spiders signal a change in seasons during a town walk with Murray, sparking Jack's recollections of the Law of Ruins and Albert Speer's architectural ideas. Back home, Jack frantically scours the trash for Dylar amongst the detritus of his family life. His health check-up with Dr. Chakravarty reveals abnormal potassium levels, prompting a recommendation for further tests at Autumn Harvest Farms equipped with modern devices. Back home, Jack resumes discarding items. He sees a link between his mortality and the abundance of material possessions in his life.

chapter 35

Babette is engaged with talk radio when Jack quizzes her about her feelings and how she's handling her death anxiety. She finds comfort in Wilder's company, especially when he's quiet. Denise is desperately trying to convince her mother to use sunscreen for her runs, yet Babette skillfully sidesteps the issue. Jack arranges a dinner with Heinrich and Orest Mercator, hoping to gain insights about Orest's perspective on death. However, the discussion takes confusing turns, providing no solace to Jack. Post-dinner, Jack's mind shifts back to Babette's infidelity with Mr. Gray, and he confronts her once more. Babette remains certain that Jack's intent isn't to get hold of Dylar but to seek personal retribution. As Steffie gears up for her trip to her mother's in Mexico, she questions Jack about his reaction if her mother abducts her. Jack reassures her that such a situation will not arise. A SIMUVAC drill of a harmful smell takes place, and a few days later, a genuine stinky smell engulfs the town. Instead of leaving, the townspeople try to disregard the odor. Eventually, after a couple of hours, the smell dissipates.

chapter 36

As the temperature rises, Jack gets a phone call from his former wife, Janet, who is now called Mother Devi. She wants their son Heinrich to visit her and requests a conversation based on peace and mutual understanding, but Jack simply hangs up. The long-awaited Hitler conference takes place at College-on-the-Hill. Jack begins with a brief introduction in German but spends the rest of the event secluded in his office, especially avoiding the Germans. He is consumed by thoughts of the hidden power of the gun given to him by Vernon. Jack visits Autumn Harvest Farms for his health tests. His body undergoes scrutiny with state-of-the-art machinery. A man discusses the test results with him, asking Jack a series of questions and often alluding to the results without disclosing any specific figures. He questions Jack about possible exposure to Nyodene Derivative, which Jack denies. He hands Jack an envelope to be given to his doctor.

chapter 37

During a leisurely stroll in Blacksmith, Jack confides in Murray about his struggles with death's certainty and the difficulty in finding purpose amidst mortality. Murray observes Jack's reliance on Hitler as a coping mechanism, as Hitler embodies an entity greater than death itself. He proposes an alternative, controversial approach to tackling the fear of mortality: committing murder. In contrast to Jack's belief that "every plot is a murder in effect," Murray sees narratives as life-affirming and conducive to consciousness expansion. He suggests the innate potential for rage within each individual could be converted into a killer's instinct. Returning home, Jack purges his house of unnecessary and unwanted objects, attributing them to his looming demise. Amidst his clear-out, he receives a letter announcing the arrival of his ATM card.

chapter 38

In bed, Jack tells Babette about his talk with Murray. Images of Mr. Gray haunt Jack, leading him to start carrying a gun. He hears about Orest Mercator's unsuccessful attempt to set a record in a snake cage due to bites from non-poisonous snakes. As Jack walks through his campus, he feels like he's being stalked. He's so startled, he's ready to pull out his gun. He turns to face his stalker and it turns out to be Winnie Richards. Winnie shares with Jack an article about the creator and project manager of Dylar, revealing Mr. Gray's true identity as Willie Mink. The article details Mink's strange way of coaxing people to his motel room and mentions that Mink now resides in that same room, jobless. Winnie informs Jack he can locate the motel in an unknown neighborhood called Germantown. Upon returning home, Jack informs Babette he needs to leave with the car. Her reply is dismissive and cryptic. Jack absconds with his neighbor's car, that's been conveniently left with keys in the ignition post the airborne toxic event. He heads towards Germantown, breaking traffic rules and toying with the gun in his pocket. As he drives, Jack feels an overwhelming sense of freedom and vitality.

chapter 39

Jack discovers Willie Mink at the Roadway Motel and plots to murder him, make it look like a suicide, snatch some Dylar, and then return to Blacksmith. As he surveys the motel, Jack's perception of his surroundings intensifies, and he starts observing details he never noticed before. Upon entering Mink’s room, Jack encounters a disoriented man dressed poorly, mindlessly swallowing Dylar pills while fixated on the TV. Mink, unsurprised by Jack's visit, seems to have had similar experiences before. Furthermore, Mink’s mental state has deteriorated to the point where he can no longer distinguish between words and their physical implications. Jack manipulates this by shouting “falling plane” causing Mink to react as though he was in a plummeting aircraft. Mink identifies Babette as the ski-masked woman who refused his advances. Upon hearing this, Jack decides to execute his plan. He whispers “hail of bullets”, shoots Mink twice, cleans the gun of his fingerprints and places it in Mink's hand. However, Mink shoots Jack in the wrist before losing consciousness. The unexpected pain brings Jack back to reality. Suddenly seeing Mink as a human being, Jack is overwhelmed with the urge to save him. He repositions Mink from the room to his car, revives him, and lies to him about the incident. Jack then drives them to a nearby hospital managed by German nuns. Mink is taken away for treatment while Jack converses with a sarcastic nun who admits to having no belief in heaven but pretends for the benefit of those who rely on her faith. She speaks in German, a language Jack doesn't understand, yet he finds her words appealing. The doctor later assures Jack that Mink will recover, and reassured, Jack heads home to watch his children sleep.

chapter 40

Wilder, having pedaled his trike around the vicinity, proceeds past a dead-end street and brings his small vehicle to the highway's brink. He bravely navigates across both traffic lanes, pausing only to carry his ride over the grassy divider as cars zoom past, surprised and bewildered. The frequency of Jack, Babette, and Wilder's visits to the overpass to witness the startlingly beautiful sunsets increases. Jack observes that these sunsets, though stunning, often leave spectators unsure of how to react. The Mylex-clad men continue to gather data in Blacksmith. Jack chooses to disengage from Dr. Chakravarty and refuses to accept any phone calls. Meanwhile, the supermarket causes a stir among the older populace by rearranging its stock, leading to widespread disarray and bewilderment.

Enjoying this summary?
Buy the book! (it's better)

People who recommended White Noise

Lists that recommended White Noise