30 April / 1 May Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Marathe and Steeply remain on the mountainside. They both refuse to discuss how they are going to get down; Steeply is puzzled how Marathe managed to get his wheelchair up there in the first place. Marathe’s eyes are closed in half-sleep, but Steeply remains standing. They discuss the ideologies of different terrorist cells, and Steeply accuses Fortier of not having a real set of principles or even opinions about political matters. Marathe comments that Americans want to “maximize pleasure, minimize displeasure,” and that they think of this as the ultimate good. Each person’s “right to pursue his own vision of the best ratio of pleasure to pain” is considered sacred.
Although Marathe and Steeply seem invested in their political debates, there is a sense in which these debates are doomed to remain circular because they are beginning from two very different sets of principles. Steeply ardently believes in freedom, and Marathe thinks that the version of freedom Steeply espouses is false; they thus remain in a kind of argumentative stalemate, all while being literally stuck on a mountain.
Marathe and Steeply have a philosophical debate involving a hypothetical single serving of soup that two people both desire. Both of Marathe’s older brothers committed suicide by throwing themselves in front of trains in their youths, and he stresses the importance of communal happiness rather than individual agency. He praises the “delayed gratification” that comes from momentarily sacrificing one’s personal happiness in service of a longer-term goal. Marathe’s wife, Gertraude, was born without a skull (a common side-effect of proximity to the Great Concavity).
Steeply likes to frame Marathe’s political commitments as the result of a blind allegiance to his nation. Yet as this passage shows, Marathe’s actions are in fact rooted in a deeply personal tragedy: the physical deformities endured by his wife and others as a result of living near the Great Concavity. (Although being born without a skull may sound scientifically unrealistic, there are actually a few cases of babies born with much of their skulls missing.)
Again, Marathe asks how A.F.R. could be blamed for harming the U.S. simply by making the Entertainment available. If Americans believe that freedom is so important, then why ban the Entertainment at all and go to such great lengths to track it down? Surely this shows that they do not actually trust citizens to make their own free choices. Steeply insists that there is a huge difference between the “enslaving” nature of the Entertainment and other things like alcohol or candy.
Marathe’s point here is rather incisive, and illuminates some of the main philosophical questions the Entertainment raises, including: Do viewers have any “choice” at all when it comes to watching the Entertainment after they’ve glimpsed the screen? And should it be counted as a weapon if it only kills people by making them lose interest in living?
The narrative returns to the tennis player Eric Clipperton. Clipperton ended up amassing a giant collection of trophies, he did not receive an official rank as none of his victories were deemed legitimate. However, after the founding of O.N.A.N. and the establishment of an O.N.A.N. ranking system, a systems analyst who was converting the U.S. rankings into the O.N.A.N. system and did not know the background of Clipperton’s success input his data such that he was placed #1 in the Under-18s Continental rankings. People wondered if Clipperton would simply disappear after this accidental success, but instead he turned up at E.T.A. shortly after, in an obviously bad state.
A junior tennis player who won games through threatening suicide accidentally achieving a legitimate rank through a bureaucratic error is a classic Wallace plot detail. For all the drama of Clipperton’s games, any glory he achieved as a player was the result of a totally banal and unintentional slip. This is one of the many cruel ironies of life presented in the novel.
Clipperton wanted to speak with James. At some point during the conversation Clipperton shot himself in the head, killing himself for real in front of James, Mario, and Lyle. At Clipperton’s funeral in Indiana Mario still did not stop smiling, even as he was also sobbing. Mario was the one to clean up the mess that Clipperton’s body made. The room where he shot himself is still used to threaten disobedient E.T.A. students, who are told they will be sent to the “Clipperton Suite” if they do not behave.
Of the many suicides in the novel, Clipperton’s is significant in its similarity to James’s. Just as Hal found his father’s body, Mario (inexplicably, considering he is still a child at the time) is made to clean up the mess of Clipperton’s suicide. The brothers are thus united by both having endured such a traumatic experience.
As well as being a residential staffer at Ennet House, Gately works as a janitor at the Shattuck Shelter for Homeless Males on the side. He knows some of the men who stay there, either from sobriety or from his days as a petty criminal. Gately’s janitorial partner has been clean for eight years, and dreams of opening a fancy women’s shoe store in a nice part of Boston.
Earlier in the novel the minimum-wage jobs that Ennet House residents are made to take on were called “humility jobs.” Yet this arguably undersells the importance of working with one’s hands, engaging in productive work, and giving back to the community.
Along with Clipperton, there is another case of a junior tennis player from Fresno, CA who killed himself by drinking cyanide after winning the Pacific Coast Hardcourt Boys’ Tournament. On finding him, the boy’s father tried to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which resulted in the father dying too. The boy’s mother then tried to give the father mouth-to-mouth, and before long not only her but all the boys’ six siblings were dead too. E.T.A.’s staff counselor, Dr. Dolores Rusk, is notoriously “worse than useless.”
As has been made startlingly clear by now, E.T.A. students are in desperate need of good counseling. The extraordinary pressures of junior tennis alongside the everyday challenges that face adolescents are evidently too difficult for most E.T.A. students to cope with alone. Yet rather than seeking help from counseling, most turn to recreational drugs instead.
Mario’s film is still playing, and the E.T.A. audience members are getting increasingly fidgety. Headlines announce that President Gentle is “more or less at large.” The U.S. is experiencing an economic downturn, and Luria P—— is now attending cabinet meetings, where Gentle speaks nonsensically.
Recall that Luria P—— has already been mentioned at the beginning of the novel, when James speaks with Hal in disguise and questions him about Luria in relation to Quebecois separatism.