Study Guide

White Noise Plot Analysis

By Don DeLillo

Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Uhh…Where's the Plot?

The exposition section of White Noise is way longer than in most novels. DeLillo takes the entire first-third of this book (called "Waves and Radiation") to sketch out the story's characters and follow them around in their everyday lives. The reason DeLillo takes so long with his exposition section before moving into any sense of rising action is because White Noise is half-story, half-rant on modern culture. And rants, as you know, aren't famous for being brief.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Toxic Gas Cloud? You've Got Our Attention

One evening, Jack finds his son Heinrich standing on the roof with a pair of binoculars. It turns out that a crash at the nearby train yard has resulted in a chemical spill. The spilled substance is called Nyodene D. The stuff is known to cause death in rats, but no one's sure what it does to humans. Things become more complicated when local officials tell people to evacuate their homes and drive out of town. During the evacuation, Jack gets out of his car and exposes himself to the toxin. A report by an evacuation officer confirms that Jack now carries the deadly poison in his body, and that the stuff will kill him eventually.

While Jack stresses about the conflict of his coming death, he also finds out that Babette is taking some sort of unknown medication called Dylar to erase her own fear of death. After a lot of prodding from Jack, Babette admits that she traded sex for pills and cheated on him with a man she'll only refer to as Mr. Gray (not the Fifty Shades dude). Jack becomes obsessed with finding this man, both out of homicidal jealousy and his need to get some Dylar for himself.

Ok, Mr. DeLillo. Your long exposition was totally worth it for this gold.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Guns, Guts, and Gaffs

After sleuthing around for a bit, Jack catches a break in his search for Mr. Gray. A colleague at Jack's university tells him that a man named Willie Mink (who fits Mr. Gray's M.O.) is staying at a crummy hotel in a neighboring city. Jack pockets a gun that his father-in-law gave him. Murray Siskind suggests that killing someone might be the only way for Jack to overcome his fear of death.

So it's time for the climax. Jack goes to Willie's hotel room and shoots him in the gut. He puts the gun in Willy's hand to make it look like a suicide, but Willy's still alive, and he shoots Jack in the arm. So it might not be the smoothest of climaxes. But people are still getting shot, so it's certainly an explosive, climactic moment.

Falling Action

Having Nun of It

After he's lived through the thrill of shooting a man, Jack decides that he can't let Willie Mink die. He loads Willie into a car and drives him to a nearby hospital run by German nuns. Jack is a religious skeptic, but he's devastated to find out that none of the nuns believe in God or an afterlife. Skeptics can only be skeptics, the nuns say, if there are still naïve and ignorant believers left in the world. Without believers to feel superior toward, skeptics would have to confront the emptiness of their lives. So the nuns pretend to believe in God and heaven to give a sense of purpose to the skeptics.

Resolution (Denouement)

Watch Out, Wilder

After Jack's insane altercation with Mink, things seem to calm down. What we're left with is a story about how Babette and Jack's three-year-old son Wilder made it onto the highway with his tricycle one day and crossed it in the middle of traffic. Everything turns out for the best, but the scene shows just how much of a gap there is between young children—who don't understand death at all—and the adults who obsess over the thought of dying.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...