Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
30 April — Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. A guru sits in the lotus position on top of the towel dispenser of the E.T.A. weight room. No one knows where he came from, but he can always be found there and is now “an E.T.A. institution.” He gives useful advice on avoiding injury and licks the sweat off of students with his tongue, although this isn’t thought to be a sexual thing. Some of the newer kids think he is creepy and object to his presence. He is “supposedly” named Lyle.
The bizarre character Lyle is somewhat akin to a stylite, a Christian ascetic who lives on top of a pillar, praying, preaching, and abstaining from worldly sustenance. His ongoing presence confirms that E.T.A. is a highly unconventional institution with a potentially questionable approach to student wellbeing (and also potentially supernatural or at least surreal elements).
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
The narrative switches to first person again. In misspelled English and a Boston dialect, the narrator describes a mission to get high with Poor Tony and someone called C. The three buy heroin from Roy Tony at the Brighton Projects, then steal NyQuil from CVS in Central Square. They plan to rob a foreign student, but instead end up robbing a drunk man who is not a student, even taking his shoes. The men now have $400 in cash and take the Orange line to Chinatown to buy more heroin from Dr. Wo.
Recall that Roy Tony was mentioned in the chapter narrated by a young black woman named Clenette. In that chapter Roy Tony was presented as a physical and sexual abuser who was on parole from prison; in this one we see that he is a drug dealer. The overlapping map of the different narrative threads steadily builds a fuller picture.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
When the narrator, C, and Poor Tony cook up and inject the heroin they purchased from Dr. Wo, they realize it is laced with something—likely Drano. C screams while blood flows from his eyes and mouth. He dies, and the narrator and Poor Tony leave his body in a dumpster. Poor Tony vows to get clean, and on Christmas Day he “depart[s] for green pastures.” Meanwhile, after spending time at his mom’s apartment, the narrator decides to go into detox.
Again, we are confronted with what can be the truly horrifying reality of substance abuse. The narrator and Poor Tony’s decision to abandon C’s body is an act of cruelty and negligence; yet at the same time, if caught they could be held responsible for his death, which was not really their fault.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon