Aug 14, 2020 in Informative

Social Environment and Its Influence on the Main Characters of White Noise and Ceremony

The human perception and expectations concerning the conditions and the environments they live in are subjects that frequently appear in their minds steering their behavior and reaction to the surroundings. In fact, previous and present experiences heavily influence one’s habitual activities.

White Noise is a novel by Don DeLillo written in 1985. It is basically a description of a postmodern society as the author imagined it. Ceremony, on the other hand, is a work by Leslie Marmon Silko created in 1977. It is based on the narrations about the life of a Native American young man who struggles with posttraumatic stress disorder. With intent to explore various societies and their lives, the above mentioned pieces of writing include the ideas on a pre-modern society and the postmodern one separately. The communities described in the two works demonstrate both similarities and differences in their reactions to diverse conditions. As a result, the writers consider various themes in their writings. Consequently, the following paper delineates on the surroundings that the authors create in their novels and the mode of reaction to them adopted by the characters.



Fear that has an impact on the behavior of the characters is one of the topics that can be distinguished in both novels. However, the expression of the theme by the writers is  different.

In White Noise, fear of death is at the center of the novel. The dread is everywhere: in the description of the studies of Hitler, in the aircraft disaster, in the incident with the release of the toxic substance and the story with the supermarket. Jack, the main character, approaches it with terror constantly questioning who between him and his wife will die first. Winnie states that for her, death is an additional texture to life but Babette would give anything to get it out of her options. Unlike many authors, DeLillo allows her characters to be extensively obsessed with death. Jack and his wife Babette consider death as possibly being nothing more than a hum of white noise. Advancing the obsession, Jack ventures into studies on Hitler which serves as a reliever of the fear. Learning more about Hitler is a way to get rid of his dread of passing away. DeLillo chooses to leave the subject open without the characters drawing any conclusions though the close relationship between life and death in the White Noise shows that the thoughts about the demise are present in human minds stressing that death is an inseparable part of life.

Ceremony equally focuses on fear, though not the one of decease. Silko expresses an apprehension of drought, a situation that she depicts her characters to be in. The setting places the heroes in an area where agriculture is the main occupation. Interestingly, Laguna area has neither plumbing nor irrigation system, and the society members depend on natural rain for watering. As a result, they are always afraid of drought, which happens from time to time. Consequently, the threat influences their perceptions and thinking. For example, the traditional stories of the people of Laguna revolve around the topic of their priests ensuring adequate rainfall. Their beliefs are also shaped under the impact of the dread of drought. The dwellers of the area are sure that the spirits cause the natural disaster once they are displeased by actions done by them. Tayo curses the rain when there are floods in Philistine. On returning home, he believes that it is his act that leads to the absence of rain in the area he lives in. As illuminated above, the authors demonstrate how people are governed by fear and threat that determine the kind of behavior and responses they give. 


In addition to the topic of dread, both DeLillo and Silko develop the subject of antagonism. Cultural contact which advances to destruction is the line Silko chooses. Evidently, her main character happens to embody the contact between the Native American and the whites’ cultures since he bears a mixed racial heritage. The writer demonstrates how Tayo tries to utilize his white origin to his advantage and, at the same time, not abandon his allegiance to the Native American culture. What the author depicts is a destructive contact of the two cultures. Teachers in the schools are depicted telling pupils from of the Native American heritage that their stories are not true. According to them, the native’s understanding of the world is invalid. As a consequence, the young generations of the Native Americans are presented with the transformed views of both science and nature ultimately choosing to abandon their traditional farming practices. Additionally, the result of the mix up of cultures is high pollution derived from the mines of the whites on the reservation lands. The Native Americans, on the other hand, experience an agricultural crisis. Thus, they are attracted to the whites’ town with the intent of getting white collar jobs. Silko, however, finalizes her novel with a twist that whites are a result of the witchcraft of the native people, and that they are a part of their culture. Evidently, the surroundings in which Silko characters live is a result of the various reactions to the environment that they are in.

In White Noise, DeLillo expresses an antagonism between reality and artifice. As stated earlier, the novel is set in a postmodern kind of a setting, and, consequently, artificial and authentic materials often blur together seeming interchangeable. For instance, Jack creates an illusion of professionalism for himself though he is aware that it is a fabrication. The fiction lies in the fact that Jack manages to cover the fact that he does not speak German and pioneer the studies on Hitler. It is not until an academic conference places him in a hot spot that he decides to learn the language. Jack is also depicted following Hitler’s role model so that he can build his own. The more powerful persona of Hitler is what Jack uses to improve his weak and unworthy character. Therefore, DeLillo shows a character whose mind views artifice to be inferior to reality. Advancing the theme, the writer satirizes the inability of the postmodern human beings to discern the real and genuine from the artificial. In an environment where the level of technology allows for fabrication of any item, it reaches a point where it is extremely difficult to discern the demarcation between the reality and replications. 


Finally, both writers consider technology in their works. DeLillo's novel evidently endorses the advancement with humming machines and media streaming images and sounds mentioned throughout the work. It is seen as a part of the characters’ daily livelihood. The two are shown to be inseparable. To illustrate, Jack is relieved as the ATM confirms his financial status. However, the aircraft incident portrays a case where technology has malfunctioned. The destructive nature of technology paradoxically creates a beautiful sunset that the region has not seen before. Although technology has various disadvantages, DeLillo manages to describe it in a positive way so as to retain its good image to the reader.

Silko, on the other hand, seems to be for the view that maintaining a tradition is a core of any community. Forgetting tradition and adopting contemporary ways leading to modern illnesses bring massive drought and disaster to the people of Laguna. The presence of a healer seems essential to Auntie though he is not able to cure Tayo. In such a way, Silko shows that preserving a tradition blindly is dangerous and, thus, the healer would not cure Tayo since he knows how to cure traditional illnesses but not the modern one. Supporting her point, the author shows how Josiah follows the tradition but moves together with changing times. He is able to find a way to interbreed a Hereford cow and a Mexican one creating a hardier and more productive animal.


Human behavior is evidently significantly determined by the conditions one finds him/herself in. DeLillo and Silko manage to depict how the environment can influence the human actions in both positive and negative ways. Fear and threat drive one's actions into a direction designed to prevent the possibility of the action causing fear from happening. A Native American, therefore, organizes a ritual so as to cleanse Tayo in belief that it will appease the ancestor and bring rain. Babette tells Winnie that she would give anything to avoid death. The existence of contact and conflict leads to one's original ideals being changed or influenced by the new antagonism. Native Americans are, therefore, lured to whites’ town abandoning agriculture. Technology brings various transformations in the lives of characters  who decide to react differently to the change. DeLillo’s heroes adopt it wholeheartedly, while Silko’s ones are a bit conservative. It is evident that humans’ reactions to various happenings are highly influenced by their expectations and perceptions.


Related essays