Study Guide

White Noise Setting

By Don DeLillo


Quaint Little Town of Blacksmith (State Unknown)

Blacksmith is your typical American college town. You might even say it's painfully typical. Jack teaches at the liberal arts college called The-College-On-The-Hill, which could definitely be a reference to that ultimate symbol of golden age America, The City on the Hill. Even the name of the town, Blacksmith, seems super quaint. A blacksmith isn't exactly a modern-sounding word. The name of the town actually refers to an earlier time in America's history: a time when you didn't have iPhones or TVs, just the neighborhood blacksmith down the street smacking away with his hammer to make a horseshoe.

One of the defining features of Blacksmith is its beautiful sunsets. The sad thing is that people don't really know how to feel about these sunsets, since they seem to be artificial. People wonder if they're caused by some sort of pollution that's actually dangerous for the people in the town:

It is hard to know how we should feel about this. Some people are scared by the sunsets, some determined to be elated, but most of us don't know how to feel, are ready to go either way. (40.2)

Think about the feeling of taking a walk through a beautiful, lush park on a sunny afternoon. Got it? It feels great, right? Now think about how you'd feel if this lush, green park was in the middle of the desert. On the one hand, you'd still think, "I heart this idyllic park." On the other, you might think "Yipes. How much water went to make this park so green, when everything around here is all yellow and brittle? Is this bad?" For DeLillo, the modern world has made it tough for us to be 100% happy or sad about anything, because beauty often comes with a hefty pricetag.

It's also tough for us to know how real any setting is. How much do we really see our settings when the world is working so hard to shape the way we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the things around us? The town of Blacksmith is perfectly quaint and rural; but it's caught up in the same game that the rest of America is. Blacksmith is working overtime to portray itself as a perfectly quaint and rural town.

Much like the Most Photographed Barn In America, the town of Blacksmith presents itself so insistently as charming that it's almost impossible to tell whether or not it really is charming. Would people think Blacksmith was quaint if it didn't aggressively state, "Blacksmith is quaint"?

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