Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
1 April — Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad. A young Hal has been sent to speak with an unnamed man by his father, James, who told the man that Hal is 11. The man insists that Hal drink some soda because of the unbearable dry-mouth sounds he is making when he speaks. Hal can recite the full Oxford English Dictionary definition of words on command, and gets beaten up for this at E.T.A. Hal asks the man if he has been sent to speak with him because his parents think he is gifted. The man explains that he is a “professional conversationalist,” and Hal asks about his credentials.
Because Hal is both a child prodigy and someone who struggles with communication, it is unclear whether the man he has been sent to speak with is a psychologist, therapist, special tutor, or perhaps someone else entirely. Despite Hal’s maturity and intelligence, the man does not feel the need to properly explain who he is, instead relying on the euphemistic phrase “professional conversationalist.” Note also the marked difference between Hal’s character at this point and how he acts and appears to others in the first chapter (which takes place several years after this scene)
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Hal explains that he calls James “Himself,” a nickname his brother invented. He adds that James experiences hallucinations. The man suggests they discuss Byzantine erotica, and Hal is surprised that the man knows he has an interest in this. The man explains that he employs a full team of researchers and that he also knows about Hal’s involvement with the crisis in Quebec. Hal doesn’t know what he is talking about. The two talk across each other. The man mentions that Avril has had sexual relations with over 30 “Near Eastern medical attachés,” while Hal gets increasingly uncomfortable and tries to leave.
Again, this passage contains several important clues that will only become meaningful later in the book. Avril’s promiscuity is a central part of the narrative, and her affairs with the Near Eastern medical attachés give Orin a motivation for killing the Saudi attaché by sending him a copy of the deadly film known as “the Entertainment.” Wallace introduce an overwhelming amount of details from the start—many of these details connect to each other, but they also create the overall impression that the novel is something complex and “infinite.”
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Hal suddenly realizes that the man sitting opposite him is actually his own father, James, in disguise. Hal points out that while James has “rented a whole office” and even donned a fake face, he neglected to take off his trademark sweater vest, which is how Hal recognized him. James explains that he wanted to have a conversation with Hal which for once didn’t “end in terror,” with Hal staring silently at his father and swallowing. However, the conversation ends this way anyway.
Hal’s realization that James has put on a fake face is one of the first truly surreal moments in Infinite Jest. Throughout the novel, characters use technology to strange ends—often, as is the case here, to transform their physical appearance. James’s cluelessness is revealed by the fact that he thought this bizarre stunt would make Hal less scared to talk to him. The impossibility of communication between James and Hal (and the difficulty of communication in general) is an important motif throughout the book.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon