House of Leaves is complicated, partly because of the multitude of references Danielewski uses throughout. A degree in literature alone barely scratches the surface of some of the footnotes. He goes off into physics, foreign languages, and at least once he even speaks about organic chemistry. Understanding the reference to TNT at the bottom of page 144 helps give a better knowledge of the House and its nature.
The first things to be considered about this footnote are the obvious, at least for a science major: “nitration of toluene or C7H5N3O2- not to be confused with C16H10N2O2- in other words one word: trinitrotoluene. TNT…”. The addition of a nitro group to a toluene through nitration takes forever…the reaction is highly endothermic, requiring a large amount of energy to attach just one nitro group, and each additional substitution takes longer then the one before it. The whole process is reminiscent of sifting through the footnotes of the book, putting in all the time and energy to hopefully recover something explosive. This is Danielewski’s way of hinting that there will have to be a lot of work put in to get something out of this.
Deconstructing the footnote further reveals something even more interesting: “-not to be confused with C16H10N2O2-” seems innocuous enough, but when a little googling is done something explosive is discovered. That’s the chemical formula for indigo dye. It shares the same starting material as TNT, a nitrated toluene, but requires different reagents. It is interesting that from the same starting material a person can either create a valued blue dye or an earth-shattering explosion its almost like the chemical has the very human characteristic of duplicity but it can’t act like a person, it certainly can’t feel, well no more then a house can. Danielewski used this footnote to explain the two faced nature of the house and even give an insight into how it acts. Why is it important that specifically indigo is mentioned here? Indigo dye is the same color that the word house keeps appearing as throughout the text.
The rest of the footnote reveals more “TNT telegraphing a weird coalition of sense. On one hand transcendent and lasting and on the other violent and extremely flammable.” Being that this entire footnote comes from Johnny playing with names like “Truth and Truth”, and “Tits and Tail” it is like Johnny is playing with the very nature of the house and maybe even himself. The footnote itself originates in a group of red struck out words. Red words are linked to an angry feeling lurking in the house paralleled to the minotaur of ancient Greece, as the word minotaur only appears in red. So the house is filled with two different emotions on the one hand red with anger and on the other hand there is this sublime feeling to the house’s massive sorrowful dark oppression.
The colors red and blue, without their connotations are separated on the visible spectrum by about 550 wavelengths. There could not be two more different colors for Danielewski to use. He’s separated the house into two distinct feelings, melancholy awe and terror, simply by using color and a brief description of TNT. Scarier still when red and blue are combined the color purple is created. Johnny’s mom’s nails were purple and she is linked to the color. Many things can be drawn from this, far to confusing to even think about let alone write about: she’s got severe mental problems with many sides to her personality, like the house, but if keeping mind that she might just be made up by Johnny what that say about him? Really this passage just brings up more questions then it actually solves, as so much of this addicting book tends to do.