what is the meaning or symbolism of the toxic cloud in the story? does it represent death?
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Death is a pervasive theme in White Noise, and in fact the title is frequently linked to death, particlularly in chapter 26 where death is described as "nothing but sound...white." However, in White Noise the toxic cloud is more symbolically linked to artificiality more than to physical death. The cloud itself is caused by an artificial, man-made accident. The flight scene and evacuation are all represented as "practice" for future practice evacuations, and everyone has a sense that they are not so much participating in the evacuation as watching it unfold. Thus the entire scene becomes artificial like a movie. The clound only becomes linked to death when Jack is told he may die from his exposure to it - however, this is really just a continuation of the death theme, and Jack's fear of and fascnination with death throughout the novel, rather than the cloud directly representing death in and of itself.