Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Ken Erdedy is waiting for a woman who promised to sell him 200g of marijuana for $1250. He has tried to quit the drug before and has told all the dealers he knows not to sell to him anymore, so each time he relapses he has to find someone new. Erdedy calls the woman and it goes to voicemail; he doesn’t leave a message because he doesn’t want to seem desperate.
Erdedy is stuck in the cycle of desperation and shame that affects many people with addictions. He clearly wants to stop smoking marijuana, as evidenced by the fact that he has asked all the dealers he knows to stop selling to him—yet he can’t bring himself to do it.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Erdedy has made many preparations for this purchase: asked a colleague to cover him at work; left a message on his voicemail saying he is away from the office; cleaned his room; thrown out his alcohol to avoid the sickness that comes from combining drinking and weed. He’s also purchased junk food and antacids, rented film cartridges, and bought a new bong, because every time he gives up marijuana, he throws out all his drug paraphernalia, too. The woman who is selling him weed is a set designer he met through work. They’ve slept together twice, though Erdedy is not sure if he finds her attractive.
Erdedy’s elaborate ritual of preparation certainly shows how much time he has spent smoking weed; however, it does not necessarily indicate that he is excited or happy about the prospect of smoking again. Similarly, he has slept with the set designer but doesn’t know if he is actually attracted to her. In both cases he is going through the motions rather than having any real experience.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Erdedy feels depressed at all the preparation for something he no longer even finds fun. Weed does terrible things to him, making him feel “afraid of everything.” He plans to smoke the whole 200g in four days, which will require 200-300 bong hits per day, “an insane and deliberately unpleasant amount.” He guesses that the woman dropping off the weed might want to smoke with him and have sex, and the thought disgusts him. He decides to be rude to her in order to make her not want to stay.
This passage confirms that Erdedy does not even enjoy smoking weed anymore, partly because he chooses to smoke too much for it to be enjoyable. This illustrates the painful paradox of addiction: the stronger the compulsion to consume a particular substance, the less likely that the person will actually enjoy taking the substance.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Four hours have now passed since the woman promised she would come, and Erdedy sobs briefly, before composing himself again. He looks at the film cartridges he bought, but each one makes him feel anxious. Finally the phone rings, but he is crushed to hear that it is only a colleague calling. For a while, he is unsure what to do. Then both the phone and buzzer to his apartment go off at the same time. He can’t decide which to answer first and ends up frozen in a comic position, reaching out in two directions at once.
The image of Erdedy paralyzed by indecision over whether to answer the phone or buzzer first is a metaphor for the way that addiction robs people of agency. Addicts ostensibly face choices like anyone else, but the grip of addiction is so powerful that this choice is only an illusion. Erdedy’s frozen posture illustrates this trap.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
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