Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
3 November Y.D.A.U. Hal and a group of other students discuss the struggle they endure at E.T.A. and wonder if it is all worth it. Kent Blott admits that he’s started to think that even if he succeeds in achieving a career as a pro tennis player, that will only lead to “more suffering.” They discuss the student rankings and the fact that tennis, as an individual sport, makes them “deeply alone here.” These days Hal gets high so regularly that if he hasn’t smoked weed by dinnertime his mouth fills with saliva. LaMont Chu discusses the different “Types” of E.T.A. student, some of which he considers worse than others.
Hal is clearly not the only E.T.A. student with a precociously mature understanding of life. At the same time, it’s clear that although the E.T.A. students understand why life there takes a heavy emotional toll, this does not necessarily make it any easier. They may discuss their feelings with each other, but the individually competitive nature of tennis ultimately keeps them in isolation.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Troeltsch reflects on the repetition of tennis playing and suggests that becoming a good tennis player involves training yourself to act in an automatic, machine-like fashion. He observes: “The point of repetition is that there is no point.” The boys then discuss what to do if you feel the need to fart during a match, but then realize you actually need to poop. It’s almost time for dinner. Sometimes, Mario is allowed to ring the triangle that signals mealtimes. Hal tries to calculate if there’s enough time for him to smoke weed before getting to the dining hall.
E.T.A. students may be unusually mature and reflective, but they are also still adolescent boys (hence the discussion of farting and pooping). Life under such tight institutional control clearly exacerbates the pressure they already face as competitive junior tennis players, as shown by Hal’s desperate calculations to see if he has time to smoke before dinner.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
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