Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
30 April — Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Rémy Marathe sits alone in his wheelchair watching the sun set in a suburb of Tucson, Arizona. He hears Hugh Steeply, a field operative from Unspecified Services, yell and curse as he accidentally collides with a cactus. Marathe and Steeply usually speak English together, even though Fortier would prefer them to speak Quebecois French. (An endnote explains that Fortier is the leader of the USA cell of A.F.R., which a further note explains stands for Les Assassins des Fauteils Rollents (Wheelchair Assassins), which is “pretty much Québec’s most dreaded and rapacious anti-O.N.A.N. terrorist cell.”) 
Although the A.F.R. are described as widely-feared terrorists, there is a lot of comedy in this opening scene. Steeply’s collision with the cactus has a slapstick effect, and there is also humor within the fact that the A.F.R. are separatists are from Quebec, defying the stereotype that Canadians are nice, conciliatory, and apologetic.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Steeply wears women’s clothing and prosthetic breasts. Marathe was originally supposed to pretend to betray A.F.R. to Steeply in order to secure medical care for his sick wife, but in actual fact he is sharing real information with Steeply. (As an endnote explains, this means he is “pretending to pretend”. Rather than being a triple agent as A.F.R. assume, he is in fact more like a quadruple agent.) Steeply discusses an unmarked cartridge distributed through the mail, which he calls “the Entertainment.” He notes that the cartridge was received by a Saudi medical attaché in Boston, and that the package was sent from the Southwest.
In this chapter, more information about the political crisis in Quebec and its relation to the dangerous entertainment cartridge starts to emerge. However, this information is deliberately obscured by confusing detail, such as the fact that Rémy Marathe is a quadruple agent. The result is an absurd, comic twist on a conventional thriller narrative.
Themes
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Steeply accuses A.F.R. of having something to do with the Entertainment, suggesting that the cell wanted to “make an example” out of the attaché. He adds that the attaché may have had a connection to the Québécoise wife of the man who made the Entertainment, which he also calls the samizdat, and that the wife is rumored to have been sexually promiscuous. Marathe responds that A.F.R. are not interested in “making an example” of ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, a “major herd” of feral hamsters is traversing across the Great Concavity, a northeastern territory of North America that now belongs to Canada. The narrator gives advice on how to stay safe around the hamsters.
Although she is not mentioned by name, the detail about the filmmaker’s wife being from Quebec tells us that they are probably talking about Avril. This begins to link multiple narrative threads of the novel together, although again, it is still highly unclear why these different threads have anything to do with each other. The final image of feral hamsters adds more absurdist humor, once again through implying that something generally thought to be tame should actually be greatly feared.
Themes
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Steeply tells Marathe that the Office of Unspecified Services knows Marathe is acting as a “quadruple” agent, and asks if A.F.R. knows this too. Marathe mentions DuPlessis, who recently died during a burglary, “under circumstances of almost ridiculous suspicion.” Steeply mentions that DuPlessis suspected that another A.F.R. member “tried to hold back” on the information he passed on to someone else named Luria. Marathe said that if this were true, A.F.R. would know about it. The two of them stand in contemplative silence.
The phrase “circumstances of almost ridiculous suspicion” has a double meaning. Marathe is primarily claiming that the way in which DuPlessis died was extremely suspicious; yet at the same time, “almost ridiculous” describes pretty much everything we have witnessed about Marathe, A.F.R., Steeply, and the Entertainment thus far.
Themes
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
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