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An Ecocritic Interpretation of White Noise by Don DeLillo

Author LiuHong
Tutor SunHuaXiang
School Qufu Normal University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords ecocriticism white noise crisis of natural ecology crisis of spiritual ecology
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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Don DeLillo is another famous postmodern writer after Thomas Pynchon and William Gaddis. He has hitherto published more than ten long novels and three plays and a great number of short stories and essays. His masterpiece long novel White Noise is acclaimed as the classical masterpiece of American postmodern literature. The novel, based on the setting of a small town in the Midwestern America and the-College-on-the-Hill located in the town, depicts the family life of a professor named Jack Gladney and his campus life in the-College-on-the-Hill as long as the daily life of the town people and people’s various behaviors in a disastrous event. The novel not only demonstrates the effects of American society and its mass media, consumer culture, social ideology upon the ideology, emotion and psychology of the American people, but also fully shows the worsening conflicts between human civilization and the natural ecology in a postmodern society. White Noise is an "ecocide novel" in which environmental crisis and spiritual ecology are presented and the ecological consciousness is the key element that deserves our serious attention.Based on the theory of ecocriticism with criticism on anthropocentrism, criticism on science and technology, criticism on consumer culture and spiritual ecology as its points of penetration, his thesis aims at doing a close reading of White Noise and analyzing the natural crisis and spiritual crisis reflected in the novel by means of documentation.This thesis consists of five parts.The first part provides a brief introduction of the background of the study, questions and purposes of the study, and the structure of the thesis. Since 1960s, global ecological crisis has aggravated, followed by environmental pollution, resource exhaustion, ozone hole, global warming, greenhouse effect, population explosion and even the ecological disaster which happen within some local areas of the world. Ecological literature originating in 1970s emerged under this social background and quickly distinguished itself from literary research of 1990s. The novel White Noise reveals the author’s ecological consciousness by depicting vividly that human being tries to wantonly trample nature but can’t escape from the punishment of nature in the end.The second part mainly reviews the previous achievements of academia both home and abroad on White Noise and its author Don DeLillo. It also reviews the definition of ecocriticism and its relevant propositions. DeLillo’s novel reflects historical events of the mid-20th century including Hitler’s fascism, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Cold War and American event of 911. The themes of his novels include the influence of mass media on Americans, the postmodernity of American society, the hypermasculine character of protagonists and the religious mystery in the novel. It is difficult for readers to find the centrality of the language theme in his novels. His language is obscure full of parodies and conceits which allow readers to obtain more space of imagination.The third part entitled crisis of natural ecology can mainly be divided into three aspects:the first aspect, arrogance of anthropocentrism, criticizes the hazards of the ingrained viewpoint of anthropocentrism to ecological wholism from such two points as nature’s subordination of man and man’s conqueror of nature. The second aspect, bewilderment in postmodern civilization, elaborates that human being in postmodern civilization unscrupulously extorts from nature and eventually reaps as he has sown. The third aspect, indulgence in consumerism, criticizes the consumer culture from the following points:the extension of goods, the excessive consumption and the misguidance of mass media.The fourth part, crisis of human spiritual ecology, mainly expounds the spiritual state of human being in postmodern society. Human spirit suffers from all sorts of wounds beyond repair. First of all, people’s fear of death is inherent. The denial of death is everyone’s instinct. Characters in the novel deny death in various ways. The reasons for fear of death lie in the personal aspect that as people’s ages increasing death approaches. Another reason refers to the social aspect. Mass media in consumer society overstates the subject of death. What’s more, loss of identity can be divided into loss of personal identity and historical identity. The former is marked by the protagonist’s search for personal identity among consumer goods and his fear of loss of personal identity. The latter is characterized by people’s ignorance of history outlook. Finally, loss of belief elaborates the social tragedy of religious believers’pretending to pious and devout.The fifth part conclusion summarizes the general viewpoints of this study. It claims that crises of natural ecology consist of human’s conquest and control of nature, ecological disaster of nature caused by industry and science and technology, overproduction and inflated-consumption as well as the harmful effects of mass media and so on. Anthropocentrism, postmodern civilization and consumerism are the major causes of crisis of natural ecology. Natural ecology will further results in such crises of human spiritual ecology as fear of death, loss of identity and loss of belief. The roots of all these crises lie in that human beings have violated the outlook of ecological holism on ideology and have broken the ecological justice on behavior.

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