Study Guide

Heinrich in White Noise

By Don DeLillo


Seriously, What is Rain?

Like Jack, you might find Heinrich a bit annoying. Heinrich is Mr. Anti-Common Sense in this book. He always challenges any statement of fact, no matter how simple it might seem. We learn this right away in his first conversation with Jack. Jack tells Heinrich that it's raining outside, but Heinrich argues the point, answering, "You want an answer here and now. Can you prove, here and now, that this stuff is actually rain? How do I know that what you call rain is really rain. What is rain anyway?" (6.34).

Now you might think that Heinrich's a little too intelligent for a fourteen-year-old, and you're probably right. The fact that Heinrich also has a receding hairline at such a young age suggests that his mind might be older than his body. Like Murray Siskind, Heinrich shows us just how difficult it is to talk about the objective world when you stop buying into commonsense and start questioning everything. To this extent, he helps DeLillo make his thematic point about the modern world completely separating the real world from whatever statements we try to make about it.

All Hail Orest the Snake Boy!

Heinrich idolizes a muscular boy from his school named Orest Mercator. Orest wants to set a new world record for sitting in a room full of poisonous snakes. Jack Gladney thinks the plan is ridiculous and that Orest will surely die. But when he tries to say this to Heinrich, it's like the two of them have stopped speaking the same language. Unlike Jack, Heinrich doesn't think all that much about death. It doesn't really enter his world of concerns. This fact totally floors Jack, who gets angry that Heinrich isn't as obsessed with death as he is.

When Heinrich talks about the brilliance of Orest's plan, Jack says to both Heinrich and Orest, "[The snakes] don't know you're young and strong and you think death applies to everyone but you. They will bite and you will die" (27.58). When Orest and Heinrich stare blankly back at him, Jack feels "shamed by the passion of [his] argument (27.59). He realizes that as a modern adult, he thinks it's his main job to fill his child with fear, especially fear of dying.

In this sense, Heinrich is a well-informed kid who doesn't fear death. So he's a foil of sorts who helps make Jack's see his own obsession with death in a new light. Heinrich makes Jack think that worrying about death is weird. Similarly, Heinrich allows DeLillo to make a larger point about how modern culture fills us with a fear of death so that we'll then watch TV and buy stuff to distract ourselves from this fear.

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