In Don DeLillo’s satirical novel White Noise, we become acquainted with what we might call a “postmodern family” – a group of people loosely bound together by birth, marriage, and common residence. But as we observe this family, we notice that the bonds between them are strained at best, and that their lives have been taken over by some insidious new force. This force is popular culture. For better or worse, pop culture has infiltrated the lives of our fictional family just as it has the lives of real human beings. DeLillo’s purpose in the book is best illuminated by Heinrich’s comment after the airborne toxic event: “The real issue is the kind of radiation that surrounds us every day.” In other words, DeLillo states that popular culture is ruining – or, perhaps, has ruined – us all.
We must first unpack what DeLillo, speaking through Heinrich, means by this statement. First, we notice that culture of some sort is important to a society’s well-being – in fact, some would argue that a group of people does not form a civilized society unless they have culture. Now, “high” culture – the culture espoused by the ruling classes, such as theater, classical music, and the like – is usually delivered live. No radiation is required. In contrast, “low” or “popular” culture is generally transmitted by radiation – the television or the radio. Steffie’s “Toyota Celica” episode (154-155) is an example of this, as are the symptoms of the airborne toxic event that continually change in accordance with the radio. Furthermore, the fear of death figures prominently in the novel, and this is parallel to the obsession with youth. Many have blamed the American obsession with youth (e…
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…ized by an obsession with the messages delivered by the radio. All the characters change the name that they use to refer to the event when the radio announcer does – a “feathery plume” (111), a “billowing cloud” (114), and finally an “airborne toxic event” (117). But this is only nomenclature. More telling is the fact that the girls’ symptoms – actual objects with physical manifestations – constantly change with the radio reports. We learn that “Heinrich told her [Denise] she was showing outdated symptoms” (117). How can symptoms be outdated? The only solution is that we really have become media lemmings, ruled by the suggestion of beings who exist only in radiation rather than by our own selves. We have become slaves of the media, as DeLillo so vividly illustrates – and we should be terrified.
DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Penguin, 1985.
traglear King Lear Essays: Tragic and Pitiful King
The Tragic and Pitiful King Lear
The general plot of King Lear revolves mainly around the conflict between the King and his daughters, although there is a definite and distinct sub-plot dealing with the plight and tragedy of Gloucester as well. One of the main themes that Shakespeare chooses to focus on in King Lear is the dysfunctional nature of not only the royal family and Gloucester, but the heartache and emotional strain that goes along with being a parent and having to make a decision that will divide your children. This play focuses on not only the after effects of this decision, but the way in which it affects the King, his children and his subjects as well.
A strong case can be made for King Lear as Shakespeare’s most tragic effort of his career. The fact that nearly the entire cast of this play either is murdered or dies with little to no redemption makes the strongest case for this. In nearly every other Shakespearian work, save perhaps Othello, at least some of the characters enjoy a bit of redemption or salvation with the resolution of the conflict. King Lear’s characters are privy to neither of these. The bitterness, sadness, and reality of the human psyche that is contained throughout this work demonstrate its tragic nature best, however.
The tie emotionally and physically between a father and a daughter (or son, in relation to the Gloucester/Edmund/Edgar plot) is something entirely different than husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend in many of Shakespeares other plays. In the very beginning of the play, when Lear is foolishly dividing up his kingdom between his three daughters, and after he has asked Cordelia’s two older sisters what they “think” of him, he turns to her and asks the same question. Her reply shows the true nature of her character, as she says, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth. I love Your Majesty according to my bond, no more, nor less.” (1.1, ll. 91-93) His words could almost be considered threatening by declaring that her unwillingness to express her love in words might, “mar her fortunes.” We are privy to definitive foreshadowing with Cordelia’s reply of, “Good my lord, you have begot me, bred me, loved me. I return those duties back to you as are right fit, obey you, love you, and most honor you.