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Writer's Reviews - White Noise: Don DeLillo

Updated: 4 hours ago

The critical-literary analyses offered by WriTribe are a thousand words long. Each has been compiled with the intention of providing writers not only with a general introduction to the works presented, but also to reveal the added value inherent in each of them.

1,000 words go far beyond mere criticism or superficial praise; they are intended to point you to one or more secret elements, showing you what narrative techniques are masterfully employed by the author of the work in question.

Written with the unique perspective of an author for authors, reviews aim to point out to you what added value you can glean from twenty literary classics. With this in mind, choosing the reading best suited to your need will prove much easier.


Cover of White Noise (1985) by  Don DeLillo


White Noise (1985)

Don DeLillo

The work at a glance

White Noise, by the Italian-born American writer Donald “Don” DeLillo, tells the story of the life of Jack Gladney, a university professor who is particularly concerned with studying the figure of Adolf Hitler. The story is set in the Midwestern United States, in the small town of Blacksmith, where Jack Gladney lives with his wife Babette and their children from previous marriages.

They spend their days like any American family, between conversations at the dinner table or in front of the television, or shopping for groceries. Their quiet, ordinary life, however, is disrupted at some point by the spread of a toxic cloud that threatens the small town of Blacksmith. Jack and Babette then try hard to cope with the anxiety generated by this exceptionally large event that appears to be an environmental catastrophe.

Jack begins to develop an obsessive fear of death and begins to search for a solution to combat this constant existential fear that grips him and becomes real anguish. He thus learns about Dylar, an experimental drug that promises to erase, precisely, the fear of death, and from here begins his obsessive search for the drug that will enable him to alleviate this fear that oppresses him more and more. The plot of the novel unfolds through a series of different episodes and situations that follow one another and is strongly characterized by an atmosphere of alienation, estrangement and disillusionment typical of modern society of which White Noise represents a sharp and at times provocative critique.


What you can learn from reading this work:

  1. Peculiarities of prose and narrative style

  2. Analysis of contemporary society

  3. Use of satire and irony

  4. The art of dialogue


Don DeLillo is celebrated for his unique narrative style and his highly engaging and fascinating prose. Reading White Noise gives a writer a chance to catch a glimpse of DeLillo's narrative skills especially in creating vivid dialogues that give room for deep reflection, thus providing a stimulating example of how to use language to create an engaging narrative and make one's writing style more original. The characters in White Noise are also very well characterized: they appear complex and multifaceted, each with their own desires, obsessions, fears and inner conflicts that reflect the difficulties of every human experience.

Moreover, the novel's protagonists are perfectly cast in contemporary society and its contradictions, which mirror those of the protagonists. White Noise is a work that chronicles the modern world, particularly that represented by the deep American province, and this exploration, this sharp gaze of DeLillo's, also becomes the narrative of a bitter and pointed critique of modern society, particularly that dominant culture brought by mass communication with its consequent human alienation, unbridled consumerism and the environmental effects that threaten to overtake it (the toxic cloud becomes, therefore, the narrative device). From the analysis DeLillo puts into prose of contemporary society, it is possible to take cues to explore complex social issues and dynamics.

White Noise offers a unique perspective on how to deal with such themes in a meaningful way: the fear of death that becomes true existential angst (as happens to the protagonist Jack Gladney), the power of the media, and the obsession with technology (white noise in fact identifies those constant frequencies that come from various types of household appliances such as television, hair dryers, and washing machines).

It is precisely in this depiction of contemporary society that the American writer is characterized in his prose by a skillful and judicious use of irony and satire, precisely to lay bare the social contradictions of our age and of those in power, especially by the mass media that now condition individuals in an almost totalizing way.

It is not always easy to use these expressive forms of subtle and shrewd criticism, but it can be important to know them in order to give a different and original direction to one's text, thus experimenting with new writing techniques in a creative way. Not only that, as with other great novels knowing how to place one's work in a specific era and tell its story becomes a vehicle for knowledge of social, political and historical dynamics, not only for the writer but also for readers.



Don DeLillo is considered one of the greatest living authors and White Noise one of his most significant and representative works. Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 1985, the novel made a decisive contribution to contemporary literature, especially in the postmodern genre, and also influenced many writers in the years following its publication.

Among the best known and most established are authors of the caliber of David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, Jennifer Egan, and Colson Whitehead who have taken their cues from Don DeLillo by addressing similar social issues, but also in the structure and narrative framework of their works.

A novel of such impact and importance could not fail to be represented on the big screen as well. Indeed, it is from 2022 that Noah Baumbach's acclaimed film received a Golden Globe nomination, starring Adam Driver as Professor Jack Gladney: a film that is at times visionary but still managed to render visually the unique and particular atmospheres that transpire from the pages of the novel.

White Noise, in many respects, is also a precursor of many of the issues that characterize modern society especially in its reflections regarding new models of communication, having been published at a time when the Internet had not yet exploded in all its potential; but also in its account of the environmental apocalypse into which modern man risks pouring in pursuing an excessive model and lifestyle, devoted to extreme consumerism and little attention to the impacts it might have on the world in which he lives.

It is these dynamics that pervade the entire novel that lead the characters to constantly fall prey to anxiety, making them fragile and vulnerable and ultimately succubus. DeLillo has managed to anticipate, by putting them into prose, many of the dynamics that we find ourselves experiencing even today. And this is one of the characteristics that makes a literary work something truly powerful.



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