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The Family as a Victim of Ubiquitous Information
Reverend to the Youngsters in Don Delillo’s White Noise
Massive information present in all spheres of life without proper control is dangerous. When this information particularly is under the custodianship of children who are worldly and more knowledgeable, it can be catastrophic. If institutions are to be affected, the family becomes the first priority in the list of victims. Jack Gladney’s family is not an exception as portrayed in Don Dellilo’s White Noise.
Jack Gladney and his fifth wife Babette both suffer psychologically regarding the reality of imminent and inevitable death. The effects of their fear percolate down to the siblings who take it as their role to assist their parents overcome the fear of death by candidly disseminating the available information without fear or favor. If parents, as the metaphors of hope, become hopeless, then what does this imply to the family institution if not yet being at risk of unceremonial challenges like the toxic emissions of Neodene derivative (a derivative which marks a significant turning point in fuelling the terrifying attitude of death harbored by Jack)?
Heinrich and Denise as the key representatives of youngsters endowed with validating information sharply contrast with adults represented by their parents, Jack and Babette, who possess little or no information at all, and when they claim to have the information, it is one that is misguided, ill-formed, and insufficient. Since they do not want to convince anyone that their lives are at the peril mercy of children’s intellect, then they have to suffer silently for the better parts of their lives.
Although the relationship between Jack and Babette is much better, according to Jack, and upon comparing his four former broken marriages, this marriage is not ideal. Jack claims that Babette is a simple lady who does not pay much attention to the physical appearance. She is frank as well, but the nature and the content of what preoccupies the lives of Babette and Jack leave a lot to question about. If being frank and good is constantly dealing with the question of “who will die first?”, should this not be an indicator of adults who just pick a topic to keep themselves busy for lack of constructive engagements to intellectual discourses with moral zeal and courage?
Jack Gladney is stubborn to accept the comforting scientific explanations given by his son Heinrich. Despite Heinrich becoming a reverend figure among the young and the elderly in the evacuation center, the reality of death striking him does not free from him. Heinrich tells his dad that they were at a safe distance to bear direct effects of the emissions. Jack approaches an expert to unravel the mystery of the emissions but just as another elderly person, he can only be given a convincing answer after fifteen years have passed. He is not rid of the fear of death.
Babette, according to Jack, is a unique woman, but he has lived with her without knowing that she has been experiencing the same type of problems; the fear of death until the fateful revelation of the Dylar, a strange psycho pharmaceutical drug according to Winnie Richard, a researcher in The-College–on–the–Hill. Why does Babette refuse to rely on Denise who has read something on the same from physician’s desk reference? Babette uses this drug in the hope that it will erase her constant fear of death. Denise is later to be found being responsible for the absence of the strange drug; she knew it was fake, and the motive behind its manufacturing is ill-advised.
Babette has to offer her body for sexual pleasure in exchange of the drug from Mr. Gray, the manager of the national enquirer to Mr. Treadwell. Jack will later on come to learn that Mr. Gray is in fact Willie Mink himself. Babette’s actions portray marital infidelity at the altar of consumerism. In a dramatic turn of events, Jack too is to become implicated in this drugs scandal. He is also sick to receive the magical medications of this drug particularly to eliminate the fear of death. But the question still begs: why do parents seem to accept cheap deals? Why can’t they see the hypocrisy behind the whole project of Dylar? Why can’t they trust the information provided by their informed children? Do they fear that their authoritarian status in the family will be compromised if they give in to the advice offered by the children?
Attempting to respond to the above rhetorical, reveals the threat that children knowledge poses to the parents and to the whole family in general. Denise throws the bottle containing the drug without an apology. In fact, when Jack learns the circumstance leading to the disappearance of the drug, he does not handle the matter authoritatively as a male parent in a manner that may be expected in the majority of the families today.
In order to remain relevant in an environment surrounded by worldly, knowledgeable children, parents seem to act contrary to the will and advise of their children. They act in a self- centered manner. Is this not a threat to the family? What they know but will not admit in Babette’s own words is “the world has gotten complicated for adults” (White Noise chapter 22). Jack engages Henrich and his friend Orest Mercator in a discussion to help him understand death but all in vain. If he had known better he could have listened to them, and this could have saved him the agony of approaching Murray, his college colleague, who ill-advises him. Murray makes Jack believe that the fear of death can only be eliminated by killing a person. He sees the opportunity to use the gun given by Vernom Dickey, his father in-law, as being ripe. To Jack this is a “must do” thing since it attracts benefits in three folds if the target enemy is Mr. Gray, also known as Willie Mink: the act itself is going to free him from the chains of fearing death; it is also going to facilitate his quick and efficient access to the Dylar drugs, and this act is going to be a revenge to Willie Mink, the compromised researcher, for poking into his matrimonial space.
Jack, in possession of a gun, feels awesome as it gives him a sense of liberty, but this is short-lived. When his mission is halfway, Jack comes to the realization of the need to take good care of other people’s lives and to avoid denying other people a chance to live. Jack takes Willie into a hospital run by atheistic German nuns for treatment after he shoots him in the hand. Why did not he listen and heed to the children’s advice and dismiss Murray as half chatter who deserved no attention by any sane human being?
Jack Gladney feels insecure and threatened when Bee engages him in a comparing and contrasting discussion of Tweedy (her maternal mother) and Babette (Jack Gladney’s wife). According to Bee, her mother Tweedy cannot be spoken of in terms of being a well-settled woman, she is anxious, and no matter how much she may claim to know herself, the fact is contrary; she doesn’t know herself. However, why does Jack feel uncomfortable to converse with this twelve-year-old girl? The answer is simple: the elderly feel lethargic to compare their competence with that of the children. The elders are so incompetent, and they can’t risk exposing it to youngsters.
The availability of information when required and when not required particularly will not be forgiven at any given time. The use of radio and television seem to be venerated by children who make proper use of them as one source of information apart from discussions, interviews, and observations. When government evacuated the citizens from the environs surrounding area of Neodene emissions, Heinrich is very critical of the media reporting and coverage. The incredibility of some media reports forms the foundation over which Heinrich presents his case, and this leads him to not only better understanding but creating a great awareness to the people.
When Babette’s class feature on the television, all the children present at the viewing room get excited and go out to meet Babette. Wilder, the three-year-old son starts to cry. Could his cry have any meaning beyond the act of crying itself? Well, may be, or may be not, but what is certain is that Babette prefers Wilder for his inability to speak, inability to express oneself since the language acquisition has not yet developed in him yet. In a state of near muteness, people are not able to air their views randomly, and in an environment freed from spontaneous information, some portion of the population will feel secure. Babette is going to be found in this section of people.
Throughout White Noise, children have been portrayed as the pivotal point through which the world revolves particularly when they are such informed, whether in good will or in bad will. In fact, Phillips believes, “children are not merely guardians of the heart; they are the targeted audience, the frequency to which the advertising industry and the vast construct of the media are tuned.” (Times)
De Lillo has succeeded greatly by using the Gladney’s family as a microcosm to convey his message of how adversely the family unit becomes in an air saturated by information which is under the safety of children’s docket more so when lethargic parents exhibit apathy in addressing the unceremonial changes.