Jack is the narrator and protagonist of the novel. He is the inventor and chairman of Hitler studies at College-on-the-Hill. His obsessive fear of death drives the novel, and generally influence most of his reflections on identity, consumerism, science, and more. His fifth wife is Babette, and they live with their four children (from different marriages) in the town of Blacksmith.
Babette, Jack's wife, teaches adult education classes and volunteers to read tabloids to the blind. She reveals to Jack halfway through the novel that she, too, fears death, and has betrayed him to test an experimental drug that promises to reduce her fear. She wants to die before Jack, however, as she fears loneliness even more. Her other major desire is for her toddler son Wilder to stay the same.
Murray Jay Siskind
Murray is a visiting lecturer at Jack's college on "living icons" in the popular culture department. A New York émigré who finds some of popular culture studies absurd, he wants to study Elvis in the way Jack has studied Hitler. He brims with ideas on American culture, which he shares with Jack as their friendship grows.
Heinrich, Jack's 14-year-old sullen son, is an encyclopedia of scientific facts and philosophical ideas. He questions the status quo incessantly and constantly suspects conspiracy. Though usually reserved with his family, he reveals himself as a leader during the evacuation.
Willie Mink/Mr. Gray
Mink is the antagonist, the supplier of Dylar who has illegally given Babette tablets in return for sexual favors in a motel. Whenever Jack imagines him, he has a hard time picturing Mink (or, as Jack knows him, Mr. Gray).
Although he never speaks in the novel and has a limited vocabulary, Wilder is nonetheless an important figure, as he represents many things to Jack and Babette -- ignorance of death, rabid consumerism, contentment. His crying and highway episodes influence Jack's ideas on death in profound ways.
Babette's daughter, Denise discovers and investigates Babette's use of Dylar. She worries about her mother's health and refuses to let her or Jack have the medication back, and eventually throws it out to protect them from themselves.
Steffie, Jack's daughter, has the most limited role of the family members, but she sheds light about the fear of death in odd ways. She refuses to take off her mask during the evacuation, for instance, and she expresses anxiety about being kidnapped by her mother.
Dunlop, who lives in Murray's boarding house, tutors Jack in German. He also teaches meteorology among other subjects. Jack stops his lessons when Murray plants the idea in his head that Dunlop finds dead bodies erotic.
Mr. Treadwell is a blind elderly man Babette reads supermarket tabloids to through her volunteer program. He disappears one day, and is later found with his sister in a mall (she later dies from residual shock).
Heinrich's friend from school, Orest's goal is to break the world record for sitting in a cage full of poisonous snakes. He also is of uncertain ethnic descent, which causes anxiety for Jack.
Winnie is a neurochemist at the college to whom Jack brings the tablet of Dylar for examination. She's tall, awkward, and blushes uncontrollably, especially when people refer to her as brilliant. She believes death is necessary for our appreciation of life.
Vernon is Babette's father, and Jack mistakes him for Death out in his backyard. He's a handyman and has a chronic cough. He gives Jack a gun for protection.
Sister Hermann Marie
She is the main German-speaking nun who tends to Jack when he's shot by Mink. She shocks him with her explanation that nuns don't have religious faith; they merely keep up appearances to help the rest of the world.
The head of the popular culture department who frequently leads lunchtime discussions that revolve around personal trivia and popular culture.
One of Jack's former wives, Tweedy is Bee's mother. She's unhappily married to her government agent-husband, Malcolm.
Jack's daughter with Tweedy Browner, Bee visits at Christmas and makes the family feel self-conscious in the face of her sophistication.
Denise's father, Bob is a businessman who works for the government. He represents an All-American father who likes to play golf and eat steak, though his life appears in decline.
Heinrich's mother, Janet has moved to an ashram (a secluded Hindu community) and wants Heinrich to visit her.
White Noise Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for White Noise is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.