Don DeLillo's main character, Professor Jack Gladney, candidly remarks to his class all plots move deathward, and the plot of White Noise proves no exception. In the novel, Don DeLillo establishes a contemporary society where two kinds of people existkillers and diersor more concretely, the active and the passive. All of the characters sit around discussing intelligent topics, all educated, highly analytical, and painfully self-aware. However, they also share the common bond of permitting life to happen around them, subduing themselves with mere conversation and contemplation; in essence, no one seems to be a killer. Jack, aware and increasingly upset by this passivity, devotes his life to superior expertise in Hitler Studies as a means to alleviate his general compliance. However, he sees his inability to speak German as an ultimate inadequacy, the one barrier that prevents him from completing his powerful persona as his biggest fear is dying without leaving behind a magnificent legacy. Unfortunately, taking German lessons to escape his dier status proves a temporary distraction, failing to garner any lasting fulfillment. In fact, he even goes to lengths to sabotage his image, whether intentionally or not. He may endeavor to be a killer, active in seeking a more dominant image, but to be a killer means he would have to abandon who he actually is to assume the character of someone he is not. As a result, in Jack's desperate trials to control his fate, he becomes the killer of his own identity.
[...] Jack has spent so much time altering his identity to appear a powerful, productive member of society that he failed for so long to recognize that there are other people doing the same. This is the reality in which he lives, devoid of spiritually, filled only with diers. So what will become of Jack Gladney, the eternal cynic? Perhaps more importantly, what does his struggle say about the contemporary society he represents? Like Jack, his colleagues, and family, we live in a society with access to endless information leaking through oceans of complicated wiring and tubes to reach us at our fingertips. [...]
[...] Constantly surrounded by the scholars, he has grown accustomed to the daily reverence of Hitler, but lacks the spiritual conviction that would actually permit the “passage between levels of being” (p. 32) he desires. In the company of the religious, Jack understands his identity has encompassed worshipping a false idol in Adolf Hitler. Even Howard Dunlop, a man that intrigues Jack, and more importantly, teaches him everything about the German language, has no real concept of God. At one point he directly tells Jack, collapsed totally, lost my faith in (p. 55). [...]
[...] called my tendency to make a feeble presentation of self so Hitler gave me something to grow into I am the false character that follows the name around” (p. 16-17). Here, Jack submits to the chancellor's assertion that his own “self,' or persona is too pathetic to portray in class. Instead, he must develop into the man whose appearance exudes a deserved sense of supreme authority and accomplishment. These changes are merely surface, however, when he pursues the German language he actively seeks a deeper form of power. [...]
[...] Jack adds, rest of the time I tried to avoid the Germans in the group. I felt feeble in their presence, death-prone All I could do was mutter a random monosyllable, rock with empty laugher. I spent a lot of time in my office, hiding” (p. 274). The word references the first time Jack's “presentation of self” (p. 16-17) was described by the chancellor. Inadequate in his German-speaking abilities, his powerful Hitler-like image gradually deflates, resigning him to face his true “feeble, death-prone” identity. [...]
[...] Meanwhile, the dull face in addition to the sense that he has no past or future allows for no expanse of imagination—Howard Dunlop has no concrete identity and therefore he is precisely the man Jack needs. When watching Dunlop speak German, Jack observes was only demonstrating certain basic pronunciation patterns but the transformation in his face and voice made me think he was making a passage between levels of being” (p. 32). Jack remains convinced that mastering the language will propel him into a different dimension of living—again, he wishes to escape his current In later lessons, Dunlop tells him that “German has fallen off. [...]
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