The theory behind the white noise
In this essay I will discuss the meaning of violence in Don DeLillos White Noise, with particular attention to the quote, In theory, violence is a form of rebirth. I will also analyse how Flannery O Connor s A Good Man Is Hard to Find and William Faulkners A Rose for Emily use the theme of violence both physically and symbolically. In doing so, I aim to illustrate that all three of these texts use violence as a method of subversively criticising modern society.
In DeLillo's 1985 postmodern novel White Noise, the theme of violence is present throughout, appearing in a variety of forms. Firstly, the violence associated with Hitler and the Nazis is continually featured on the background of the story, even though Jack Gladney, the novel's protagonist, completely ignores it. Jack's son Heinrich plays chess through the mail with an imprisoned mass-murderer Tommy Roy Foster and was little belief in human self-determination. The threat of gun violence is suggested when Vernon Dickey, Jack's father-in-law, gives him an illegal, undetectable handgun and Jacks immediately notices a change in himself: A loaded weapon, how quickly it worked a change in me'Did Vernon mean to provoke thought, provide my life with a fresh design, a scheme, a shapeliness?' (DeLillo 241). Another subversive mention of violence is when Babette reveals to Jack that she had been visiting a motel to have sex with Mr. Gray in exchange for a fictional drug called Dylar and she anticipates Jack's reaction to be one of violent revenge.
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It is near the end of the novel, when Murray, Jack's colleague, discusses with Jack the theoretical relationship between "killers and diers," that Murray makes the point, "violence'is a form of rebirth" for the killer (DeLillo 290). This statement can be interpreted as a rewrite of Richard Slotkin's explanation of masculine self-construction as 'regeneration through violence' (Moore). Murray explains that by killing another, a person can overcome their fear of death and gain strength in their dominance over 'the dier' who they have killed (DeLillo 290). Murray judges Jack as weak and frightened and criticises his attempts to gain strength by surrounding himself with his knowledge of Hitler and therefore 'grow in significance' through association (DeLillo 287)
In place of gruesome violent battle depictions, DeLillo's use of violence is in the form of a threat of a disaster. The characters of the story live their lives in utter of fear of losing them in a violent disaster of some kind. The narrative consistently features an impending sense of doom, with even something like chewing gum being seen as a threat to their lives. The characters fear of death is relished by the media as their suspicions are blown up into news stories and therefore seen as the truth.
The need for violence by human beings is seen as Jack and his family sit and watch their television in the hope of seeing a disaster and proving their fears right. This can be interpreted as technology being the source of the violence we are exposed to in the 21st century and our willingness to watch it further shows that violence, in its various forms, is a part of human nature.
Next, I have chosen to discuss Faulkner's best known short story, 'A'Rose'for'Emily' (1931), which thematically evokes both Southern gothic and grotesque fiction; genres that include a central element of understated violence.
'A Rose for Emily' tells the story of Emily Grierson, an unusual unmarried woman. An unidentified narrator recounts the odd happenings of Emily's life, which include her relationships with her controlling father, with her lover, Homer Barron, and the town of Jefferson, and the horrific secret she kept hidden. During her life, the townspeople gossiped and spread rumours about Emily because she was different from them, which led her to isolate herself from society.
In the second section of 'A Rose for Emily,' the unusual relationship between Emily and her father is the primary focus. The narrator describes the 'tableau' the people of Jefferson depicted of their father-daughter relationship:
'Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung door' (Faulkner ).
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The 'tableau' can be seen as a symbol of the father's dominance and Emily's childlike femininity. The townspeople's view of their relationship is one of emotional distance and her father's horsewhip may suggest a bridled violence.
It was not until after Emily's death, at her wake, that the women, town elders, and two cousins violently entered a sealed upstairs room, that they discovered Emily's secret ' the corpse of her lover, with whom she stayed with even after death. The narrator describes 'the violence of breaking down the door seemed to fill this room with pervading dust' (Faulkner ). This violent action towards the door and Emily's privacy foreshadows the murderous act which took place within it.
The murder of Homer Barron by Emily is generally considered the main act of violence in the story; however it is an understated violence that is never actually described. We are told by the narrator that Emily purchased rat poison, which we can assume she used to kill Homer. Emily's reason for killing her lover is not given and this provides to reader with the freedom to speculate. She was probably afraid of Homer leaving her so by killing him; she guaranteed his presence with her. It is suggested that she lay beside his corpse as the townspeople noticed an indentation of a head in the pillow next to him with a strand of Emily's long grey hair.
The narrator relays various occurrences in Emily's life in a fragmented style. It is not until the very end of the short story that we are provided with enough information to piece together the entire image of Emily and the townspeople's reaction to her that is being depicted. The realisation that she resorted to murder in order to keep her Homer close to her can be easier understood when put against the previous knowledge given of her detached, unloving relationship with her father.
'A'Rose'for'Emily' highlights the socially constructed barriers to understanding and sympathising and how they lead to individuals being excluded and resorting to violence and suffering. The narrator seems to tell the story in favour of Emily, requesting our sympathy and compassion towards her as a fellow human being, advice they feel society could learn from. Only after the violence and victimisation do the people of the town realise their wrongdoings.
'A Good Man Is Hard to Find' (1953) is perhaps O'Connor's most famous story, the most violent, the most psychologically disturbing to read. The story demonstrates the potential outcome of disorderly violence in the world, where people are killed for no particular purpose. The narrative of the short story contains two forms of violence which are the physical violence of the massacre of the Bailey family and the verbal violence that makes up the linguistic framework and provides the story with surmounting tension.
The plot introduces six members of a typical Southern family who decide to drive to Florida for a holiday. However, they experience a car accident and the first to come across them is an escaped convict called the Misfit and his two accomplices. The family, consisting of the grandmother, her son Bailey, his wife and their three children (John Wesley, June Stars, and the baby), find themselves in a tremendously traumatic and dangerous predicament as they are faced with their impending death.
Although the massacre in the story is the most obvious display of violence, the narrative deals with another type of violence ' a verbal violence. The narrative style and the conversation between the characters are important elements to the overall significance of the text. The language used between the characters of the story predominantly fails to serve as a tool to communicate; it instead indicates their discontentment with the world. This is shown in the dialogue between the Misfit and the grandmother, where the Misfit only talks to the grandmother to voice his own doubts and scepticism but he does not pay attention to her counsel. He makes it clear that he only heeds his own thoughts. The grandmother talks, demands, and advises, but neither the family nor the Misfit listen to her. This poor communication represents a problem that not only the characters have, but modern society itself.
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There is a powerful use of physical violence in 'A Good Man is Hard to Find,' as the six family members are massacred by the Misfit and his henchmen. Both the verbal and the physical violence of the story are overshadowed by the true psychological meaning of the violence. In scene between the Misfit and the grandmother contains the essential moments of the storyline. Firstly, the grandmother misjudges the Misfit's politeness towards her as an indication of his identification with social and cultural customs. She seizes the opportunity and informs the Misfit that he is a 'good man,' but in doing this she is wrongfully drawing a parallel with manners and morals (O'Connor ). Instead, the Misfit sees the injustice in the rules of society, especially for a convict, so he lives by his own set of rules.
In the final moments of her life and after various attempts to talk the Misfit out of killing her, the grandmother renounces her shallow social norms and definition of a 'good man' and finally recognises the Misfit as a fellow human being, as 'one of her children,' and she reaches out to touch him on the shoulder in a gesture of harmony (O'Connor ). However, the Misfit rejects the grandmother's attempt to connect and shoots her in the chest three times. This final realisation of the grandmother, her understanding of her social responsibility, signifies a transformation, which only occurred due the violence of the Misfit and his henchmen and the imminence of her death. The Misfit identifies this by saying that through killing her, he transformed her into a 'good' woman (O'Connor ).
Therefore, O'Connor's work functions as a representation of an unruly reality where criminals are both assailants and victims, products of social oppression, and segregation. It is these forms of violence that transform people into terrifying beings who react rashly against the least threat.