Family Values in Don DeLillo's White Noise
Patched together from different marriages, various mothers and fathers, the nuclear family in Don DeLillo's White Noise is nothing if not impacted and constructed by modernity. This explication of a typical American lifestyle does not examine the simplicity of daily life but rather the influence of outside sensory impact that impinges itself upon the nuclear family. The "noise" that surrounds and engulfs the modern family separates it from larger, universal issues that become muddled with the continuing barrage of information and confusion. Life and death become nothing but commodities, pieces of information, tossed into the slew of images, sounds and movements involved in modern living. TV, radio, food products, toxic waste?they enshroud the family, separating it from universal understanding to protect it, and, paradoxically, destroy it. For Jack and his wife, fear of death is all that remains of survival.
Modern life, the implications of technology, capitalism and progress, all separate the typical nuclear family from such philosophical, spiritual understandings as the meanings of life and death. The toxic cloud, spreading its poison over Iron City and vicinity, immediately affects the community and the nuclear family in such a way that technology overwhelms humanity. Heinrich realizes his fifteen minutes of fame in the Red Cross camp where he discusses the dire fate of Nyodene D. victims. His father asks, "Was he finding himself, learning how to determine his worth from the reactions of others? Was it possible that out of the turmoil and surge of this dreadful event he would learn to make his own way in the world?" (131). The cloud of noxious, deadly chemicals was a construct of mankind; the nuclear family is pushed and prodded by this cloud. Their very interactions, personal pursuits and attitudes are drastically altered by a modern, manmade mistake. Technology, as a modern institution, places a literal wall between members of the family by the arrival of this gaseous, daunting smog. Jack watches Heinrich in wonderment; his own son has completely transformed himself into the tour guide, the omnipotent master of Nyodene D. knowledge. The cloud has affected him to such a point that his own family cannot recognize him from the young boy who maintains a chess match with a convicted killer. Jack recognizes this change when he comments, "I didn't want him to see me there. It would make him self-conscious, remind him of his former life as a gloomy and fugitive boy" (131).
The gloomy and fugitive boy, if unimpressed by the overwhelming socio-technological event around him, would remain just as his father had initially perceived him to be?a rather introverted, literal, argumentative and highly intelligent creature. With the volatile substance, however, the family was altered. The outside forces, created by man, are implicated in the destruction...