Study Guide

Murray Siskind in White Noise

By Don DeLillo

Murray Siskind

Weirdo? Or The Only Guy Who Knows What's Going On?

No getting around it. Murray's a odd duck, but he's also probably the smartest character in this book. He's sort of a spiritual guide for Jack Gladney, and his role is to help Jack see the truth behind his (and all of America's) everyday behavior. As Murray claims at a late stage in the book, "I only want to elicit truths you already possess, truths you've always known at some basic level" (37.175). Murray is dedicated to understanding how the modern world tries to hide reality from us. He touches, smells, tastes, watches, and listens to figure out how American culture is trying to shape his view of the world.

Murray's first task is to show Jack how modern consumer culture has completely driven a wedge between the world within people's brains and the world outside of those brains. For example, Murray takes Jack to a tourist trap called "The Most Photographed Barn in America." What's the lesson of this visit? To show Jack that the only reason the barn is so photographed is because its claim to be "the most photographed" is what makes people come to photograph it in the first place.

For Murray, it's physically impossible for anyone to see the barn for what it is. Everyone's awareness of the barn is already warped by the knowledge that it's the most photographed barn in America. So he tells Jack, "We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one" (3.21). The overall lesson is that in the modern world, people aren't actually able to "see" reality because modern advertising techniques make people believe just about anything. If you get enough people to believe that something is a certain way, then that becomes the new reality.

According to Murray, modern Americans are more than happy to let commercials and traffic noise clog their senses, because few people have any interest in facing reality. The reason for this constant distraction, says Murray, is because

That's what it all comes down to in the end […] a person spends his life saying good-bye to other people. How does he say good-bye to himself? (37.198)

At the end of the day, no one can face the fact that they're going to die, so we create distractions to keep our minds off of this grim, grim fact.

Brutal Honesty (Emphasis on Brutal)

Murray's perceptiveness, however, has its downside. The guy has absolutely no sense of compassion for other people. He believes in brutal honesty and dishes it out whether Jack can take it or not. When he finds out that Jack is dying, he feels compelled to tell him, "Better you than me" (37.190). According to Siskind, everyone wishes that someone else could die instead of them. It's a dark truth, but according to Murray, it's still the truth.

It's unclear whether DeLillo agrees with Murray's final point entirely. At the end of the book, it's still possible that Babette truly hopes she'll die before Jack, even though she fears dying. Nonetheless, Murray says some pretty insightful things about death, fear, and the lengths that modern culture will go to in order to avoid thinking about these unpleasant things. We don't have to like the guy. But we do have to listen to him.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...