Prewriting/White Noise by De Lillo (answer one question)/ Choose passage in the book and answer
(The end of White Noise can be unnerving, with things falling apart and Jack becoming a killer in his attempt to avoid possible death from exposure to the toxic chemical. One of the patterns I noticed is that DeLillo brings together the sacred and the secular, suggesting religious overtones to everyday, secular activities such as shopping. DeLillo seems to suggest that people have an innate desire to search for meaning, particularly with respect to death, which becomes such a central source of anxiety and fear for the modern couple, Jack and Babette. Jack and Murray find spiritual overtones in such things as the car model, “Toyota Celica,” going to the supermarket as a form of spiritual renewal or reincarnation, and the baby Wilder as a type of “idol.” Characters like Winnie the scientist acknowledge death and find life more invigorating when lived in fear, while Murray and the American cultures teachers suggests defying death through killing or driving on the highway with eyes closed.)
Question: Think of examples of how people today search for meaning in expected or unexpected places. How is this helpful for people? How might it lead people astray?
2. Answer ONE of the questions below. So, just pick up one of the questions and answer it.
Question 1: On page 155, why does Jack find Steffie’s saying “Toyota Celica” in her sleep to be like a ritual or sacred thing?
“Tibetans believe there is a transitional state between death and rebirth. Death is a
waiting period, basically. Soon a fresh womb will receive the soul. In the meantime
the soul restores to itself some of the divinity lost at birth. . .That’s what I think of
whenever I come here [to the supermarket]. This place recharges us spiritually. it
prepares us, its a gateway. . . Look how bright. Full of psychic data.” (37)
Sacred books, such as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, contained magical spells to give us a narrative about death, whether through closure, afterlife, reincarnation, etc. Why does Murray connect such a narrative about death with the supermarket? To what extent can the supermarket provide us a spiritual direction? To what extent does it fail as a sacred place?
Question 3: What is the role of Babette’s father, who is falling apart like an old car but
says not to worry? (255) How is he different than Jack, in his interest in people who fix
Question 4. What is the point of the kinds of conversations the American environments
professors have over lunch, such as about driving on the highway with their eyes closed? (215)
Question 5: What symbolic purpose does Wilder serve? Why does Jack the narrator
compare him to an “idol” (242)? Why does Babette want baby Wilder to stay the same
(236)? What is the significance of his ride across the highway (322)? Why is his crying
marathon described almost like a sacred quest?The watched him with something like awe. Nearly seven straight hours of serious crying. It was as though he’s just returned from a period of wandering in some remote and holy place, in sand barrens or snowy ranges—a place where things are said, sights are seen, distances reached which we in our ordinary toil can only regard with the mingled reverence and wonder we hold in reserve for feats of the most sublime and difficult dimension. (79)
Question 6: Look at Winnie and Jack’s response to the sunset. What are their feelings and reactions about the sunset? How does this relate to the relation between nature and culture? (227)
Question 7: Winnie, living in fear, says we need to acknowledge death to truly live, while Murray says we should repress the fear of death (288). Who do you agree with more and why?
Question 8: “Warning. . . enter the system “ (295). What does this mean? How does it
differ from Jack’s earlier sense of confidence when using the bank teller?
Question 9: Babette states that “either I chew gum or I smoke” (42) Does this make
sense? Why or why not?
Question 10: On page 63, Jack says of Hitler that it’s not question of good and evil, but of feeling “bigger, stronger, and safer.” How is this relevant to the way people act in the book? Murray states that “helpless and fearful people are drawn to magical figures” (287).
Question 11: What are the effects of Dylar upon Mink? Does this reflect our society? (307)
Question 12: What does Jack gain by being a killer? Is it only the fact that he is shot that brings him back to feeling bad for others?
READ: “I continued to advance in consciousness. . I believed everything” (310)
“The world collapsed inwards, all those vivid textures and connections buried in mounds of ordinary stuff” (313) Murray says to kill rather than die, that a way to avoid fear of death is by killing (292). What other options are available?
Question 13: Even the nun does not believe in angels (317) Is this true today? Why has the country become more religious?
Question 14: “It is hard to know how we should feel. . .wonder or dread” (324) How has viewing the sunset changed by the end of the novel? (324)
Question 15. “There is a sense of wandering now. . . the famous and the dead” (326)
What is the significance of the ending of the novel? How has the significance of the
supermarket changed? What does the check-out line represent? What do the stories in the tabloids represent?
Question 16: After completing the novel, what are we supposed to come away with?
“To plot is to live. . . As we surge up into the world, we try to devise a shape, a plan. .
.To plot is to affirm life, to seek shape and control” (292)
Do you think that death is really such a huge obsession for our culture?
In the face of misinformation, passivity, the search for salvation and conformity, how
could people, like depicted in White Noise, be healthier and more responsible citizens?
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