Ethan’s actions emulate those of a computer. As we spoke about in class, he seems to strive to live in digital time, rather than analog time. Once I became more familiar with Ethan’s life, I began to pay attention to the small, but frequent, instances of sound in the text. Ullman uses onomatopoeias throughout the book, like bing! or tick or buzz. At first, I thought that Ullman was using these sounds to mimic the sounds produced from a computer, like the humming of the fan or the chime of a message. I thought they would be a source of comfort to Ethan since he is constantly surrounded by computers and lives in a digital state; however, most instances of onomatopoeias actually distract Ethan and draw him back to reality. For example, on page 45, Ethan is drawn out of his digital trance and brought back to reality when Joanna’s postcard hits the floor with a “tiny tick”. He hadn’t thought of her in three weeks, yet the instance of that tick indicates a switching of gears in his head. He immediately switches from digital time back to analog time.
Ullman mentions Ethan’s sensitivity to sounds on page 46 and says, “He found that music bothered him, interfered with his thinking somehow, broke the chains of logic he had to work so hard to keep straight in his head.” This made me wonder if all sounds bothered him or just specifically music. Also, on page 42 it states, “The humming of bees, the tinny radio, the shushing rustle of the willow in the corner of the yard distracted him. His head felt full of buzzing.” It seems like all noises distract him and draw out negative feelings.
Typically when a computer is making a lot of noise, it means that something is wrong. It may indicate a failing hard drive or something of that nature. I Googled “computer making loud noises”, and there were 558,000 hits about users complaining about noises from a computer. I took a screenshot to show that these noises generally indicate something is wrong with the computer and users want to know how to fix it.
This may explain Ethan’s sensitivity to noise and why noises act as a trigger to Ethan. He may associate the noises with negative experiences, like a failing computer. I am still trying to determine why Ullman ultimately uses these instances of sound throughout the text, but it is evident that they play an important role.