Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 51 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Winter, B.S. 1963, Sepulveda CA. This chapter is also narrated in the first person. (An endnote mentions that it is taken from Chapter 16 of The Chill of Inspiration: Spontaneous Reminiscences by Seventeen Pioneers of DT-Cycle Lithiumized Annular Fusion, an edited collection published in Karlsruhe, Germany. The author of this chapter is not listed.) The narrator’s father is drinking a tomato juice and asks for help while he presses down on a bed in their house. After much pressing, the father finally shouts “Eureka,” because he has located the one part of the mattress that squeaks. At this point it is revealed that the narrator is Jim (and his father is thus James Sr).
The endnote contextualizes this chapter, showing that it is taken from an edited collection of memoirs written by the scientists who discovered “DT-Cycle Lithiumized Annular Fusion.” This fact, along with the phrase “Chill of Inspiration,” suggests that the childhood memory Jim is recounting will somehow provide context to his work as a scientist.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
At this point James Sr. is working as “the Man from Glad” and is made to wear a white outfit and wig. He believes that the bedframe is making the squeaking sound, likely because of a loose bolt. Jim and his mother, who is also in the room, chain-smoking, both believe the mattress is responsible for the sound. With much difficulty, they take the mattress out of Jim’s parents’ bedroom and into the hallway. Back in the bedroom, the space underneath the bed is dirty and even smells, and James Sr. angrily asks when the room was last “deep-cleaned.” Jim mentions that his bed squeaks, too.
Like many of the female characters in the novel, Jim’s mother does not play a central role but rather lingers in the background. Of course, in the time period this essay is recalling, women were often treated as secondary figures whose significance was confined to domestic work. This is shown through James Sr.’s angry comment about the room not being properly cleaned.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Suddenly, James Sr. throws up, which happens quite often after he comes home from work. Jim tries to give his father some privacy and keep working at the bedframe himself, but then James Sr. faints on top of the bedframe, breaking it. While James Sr. remains unconscious, Jim can hear his mother vacuuming. He goes into his own bedroom and tries to make his own bed squeak by diving onto it. As he does so, he accidentally topples a lamp, which in turn knocks off the doorknob of Jim’s closet door. The doorknob rolls in a particular way that Jim represents with a diagram. He explains: “This was how I first became interested in the possibilities of annulation.”
The beginning of this passage reminds us that James Sr. is an alcoholic and indicates that, contrary to Jim’s beliefs, he is probably not drinking a “tomato juice.” As is common of children who have parents with addiction issues, Jim has learned to be somewhat self-sufficient and to find ways not to let his father’s alcoholism interfere with his life. Rather than fretting over James’s unconscious body, Jim is able to find escape through thinking about science.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Johnette Foltz takes Ken Erdedy and Kate Gompert to an NA meeting, where the members always end up discussing their problems with marijuana. People at the meeting describe the stages of marijuana use, addiction, and withdrawal in intense detail. They also complain that doctors and hard-drug addicts don’t tend to feel sympathy for marijuana addicts because the drug is supposedly so gentle and harmless. Erdedy notices that no one mentions depression, at least not explicitly. Gompert pretends to shoot herself with her fingers.
While most of the characters in attempting sobriety eventually lose their cynicism and embrace the need to submit to recovery programs, Kate Gompert stubbornly refuses to engage with the NA meeting. Perhaps this is because, as we saw in the chapter in which she was introduced, she feels that the common clichés about addiction, self harm, and suicide do not describe her experience. This kind of struggle with cliché in the face of depression and addiction is a major preoccupation of the novel.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
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Like AA, NA meetings end with the members holding hands in a circle, reciting a mantra, followed by the Our Father prayer. However, unlike AA, NA attendees then hug one another without saying much. Gompert is reluctant to join in but eventually does; Erdedy, on the other hand, is horrified and goes to stand by himself near the coffee. A man tries to hug him and Erdedy refuses, instead introducing himself. The man says his name is Roy Tony. Erdedy explains that he is simply “not a hugger,” and Roy Tony seems offended, as this implies that he is one.
Roy Tony’s offence at Erdedy’s refusal to hug and statement that he is “not a hugger” is actually quite significant. By exempting himself from the practice of hugging at the end of the meeting, Erdedy implies that he is unique and, in a sense, deserving of special treatment, which in turn implies that the others in the meeting aren’t. This blatantly violates the ideology of recovery.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Roy Tony lifts Erdedy by the lapel and asks: “You think any of us like this shit?” before insisting on the importance of surrender and calling Erdedy a “faggot.” He curses Erdedy for disrespecting him, then asks again if he is going to give him a hug. Johnette tries to tear Roy Tony away, but by this point Erdedy is already desperately clinging to him.
There is obvious comedy in the fact that Roy Tony violently forces Erdedy to hug him. But again, Roy Tony’s reasoning for forcing Erdedy to do so is actually rather well-founded.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Steeply admits that the Office of Unspecified Services have already lost a couple of people to the Entertainment, people whose curiosity got the better of them and chose to watch it. One of the victims was the Head of Data Analysis, who is now in “four-point restraints” being fed through a tube. Steeply claims that this man was once the picture of reason and self-discipline, but now resembles a “drug-addicted newborn.” Marathe admits that the A.F.R. have lost people, too. Steeply asks again if Marathe ever fantasizes about what the Entertainment is like, but Marathe replies that he only fantasizes about its possible uses.
Steeply seems desperate to believe that Marathe harbors a secret desire to watch the Entertainment, but perhaps it is true that not everyone has the same compulsion to seek out pleasure. Indeed, in a sense it is bizarre that anyone would want to see what the Entertainment is like after witnessing its horrifying effect on people. That Steeply still has this curiosity reveals the often self-destructive nature of people’s desire for entertainment and pleasure.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
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