Study Guide

Babette in White Noise

By Don DeLillo



Babette is a careful mother who fawns over her children. But in a humorous way, her children tend to parent her just as much as she parents them. As Jack Gladney tells us, "Denise was eleven, a hard-nosed kid. She led a more or less daily protest against those of her mother's habits that struck her as wasteful or dangerous" (2.29).

Denise watches a lot of TV and reads medical journals. She knows all of the most recent studies on what is good for your health and what isn't, and she doesn't pull any punches when it comes to telling her mother what to do. In this way, Babette's relationship with her daughter Denise humorously reverses  the traditional authority of parent-over-child in the modern age.

Babette tends to like being around her son Wilder more than any of her other children. She feels this way partially because Wilder doesn't order her around like Steffie or Denise. Every time Babette chews gum, her daughter Denise jumps all over her, saying "That stuff causes cancer in laboratory rats in case you didn't know" (10.3). But the main reason Babette likes to be around Wilder is because Wilder "doesn't know he's going to die. He doesn't know death at all" (37.129). This lack of fear comforts Babette, who like her husband Jack lives every minute of her life in terror of dying. The constant distractions of TV, radio, and supermarkets aren't enough. She needs something more powerful to take her fear away.

Pill-Popper; Can't Stop Her

In many ways, Babette might seem like the total opposite of her husband Jack. While Jack puts endless amounts of attention into his public image, Babette's happy to wear her jogging suit day in day out. While Jack hates exercise, Babette commits herself to running up and down the stadium bleachers at a high school football field. Jack has a great memory for details (like we see in his Hitler Studies class), but Babette has a terrible memory. But as we find out in the final stages of the book, the two of them are united by their petrifying fear of death.

As it turns out, the reason Babette is so forgetful is because she has gotten hold of an experimental drug that is destroying the memory center in her brain. The drug is called Dylar, and it's designed to remove a person's fear of death. Throughout the first stages of the book, Babette keeps telling her husband Jack she hopes she dies before him, which is sweet. But when it comes time for Babette to tell the truth, she admits:

Sometimes [Death] hits me like a blow […] I almost physically want to reel. (26.119)

Both Babette and Jack have always thought that they were the one who was most terrified of death, but it turns they're pretty equally matched.

As Murray tells us, Jack's fear of death underlies all of the distractions of modern American culture. But if that's the case, we might also suggest that Babette's fear of death underlies all of the so-called "honest" conversations that she has with Jack. In this sense, the fear of death not only drives a wedge between people and their surrounding world. It creates dishonesty between people and those they love, which isn't cool. Babette lies to her husband and has sex with another man for the sake of numbing her fear of death. Death infects the world, the family. According to DeLillo, it's deeper than everything, and we learn this mostly through Babette.

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