Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Infinite Jest: Chapter 74 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Partial Transcript of Weather-Delayed Meeting Between: (1) Mr. Rodney Tine Sr., Chief of Unspecified Services & White House Adviser on Interdependent Relations; (2) Ms. Maureen Hooley, Vice-President for Children’s Entertainment, Interlace Telentertainment, Inc.; (3) Mr. Carl E. (“Buster”) Yee, Director of Marketing and Product-Perception, Glad Flaccid Receptacle Corporation; (4) Mr. R. Tine Jr., Deputy Regional Coordinator, U.S. Office of Unspecified Services; and (5) Mr. P. Tom Veals, Viney and Veals Advertising, Unltd. 8th Floor State House Annex Boston MA, U.S.A. 20 November — Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. The meeting participants listed in the chapter title discuss a target demographic of white, English-speaking children aged 4-12 who come from middle-to-upper income families. They note that their attention span for advertisements is 13-16 seconds and review their existing efforts to convey a message to these children. The message warns them not to open “unlabeled or suspicious cartridges.” Various methods of presenting the warning have been tested, with many dismissed for being “uncool” or ineffective. They consider showing an evil cartridge-character and then warning viewers that the cartridge is “wicked” and “lying.”
Although it is not at first clear what is happening, over the course of this passage it becomes obvious that the meeting participants are constructing a plan to avoid children getting killed by the Entertainment. This involves a kind of reverse advertising, wherein children are persuaded not to watch the Entertainment if they come across it. Unsurprisingly, it is shown to be difficult to find an effective way to get this message across, especially considering the nature of advertising itself.
Themes
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
The group also discusses the distribution of a message telling children what to do if they find their parents “sitting in one position in front of the home’s viewer for an unusually long period of time” or otherwise acting strangely “with respect to an entertainment.”
These warnings recall public service announcements related to nuclear bombs during the Cold War, and thus have a distinctly apocalyptic air.
Themes
Entertainment Theme Icon
Gately is half asleep again. Joelle is gone, and a nurse comes in and gives Gately a notebook and pen he requested. Gately’s sponsor “Ferocious” Francis is there, and Gately tries to write the word “YO!” on the notebook. However, it comes out as a largely indecipherable scribble. Francis observes that Lenz had been “going around cutting up people’s pets,” and that this is how the fight with the Canadians all began. Gately wants to tell Francis about how he has learned to endure unimaginable pain without narcotics, but he still can’t speak. Francis has misunderstood some of the details about the fight, and believes that the other men involved were Hawaiian, not Canadian.
Different pieces of the story are coming together in this moment, but inevitably certain parts are getting lost in translation, which could end up causing serious problems. Indeed, Francis’s misunderstanding of details of the fight compounds Gately’s frustrations about being unable to communicate. If a doctor experiences a corresponding misunderstanding and gives Gately Demerol, his life could be ruined.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Gately desperately tries to write a question asking if any of the Canadians were killed, but at this moment his doctor enters the room. The doctor says he’s gone ahead and given Gately a narcotic called Dilaudid, and Gately panics. The doctor says he wants to respect Gately’s preferences but that he himself is Muslim, and if he was in great pain, he knows that God would not mind him taking addictive substances in order to ease his own suffering. Gately tries to draw AA on his notebook and is now desperately gesturing at it. He wants Francis to intervene, but Francis does nothing.
Gately is trapped in a nightmare. The issue is not only that he is unable to speak or write coherently, but that even the message he is managing to convey gets misinterpreted by the seemingly well-meaning but clueless doctor. Meanwhile, Francis is strangely, painfully inept at acting on Gately’s behalf just when he needs it the most.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
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The doctor says that Gately’s pain will get worse and that he wants to give him many further narcotics. The doctor advises Gately to “surrender your courageous fear of dependence and let us do our profession.” Gately knows that if the doctor offers Demerol, he won’t say no—he won’t be able to. He convinces himself that it doesn’t count as a relapse. If it did, Francis would say something. At this point, Francis says he’s going to leave until this “bullshit” is sorted out and return later. The doctor addresses Francis as Mr. Gately Sr. and asks for his input, and Francis says that it’s not his business, and Gately must decide for himself.
In this passage the level of misunderstanding gets even worse. The doctor’s demand that Gately “surrender [his] courageous fear of dependence” doesn’t make sense, particularly in light of AA’s own demands of surrender, which are seen as vital to recovery. Francis, meanwhile, fails to comprehend that Gately is actually incapable of communication, misinterpreting Gately as being indecisive.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
In desperation, Gately yanks the doctor’s testicles. The doctor screams. The pain of this gesture is so intense that it knocks Gately out, and when he wakes up a nurse is tending to him. Gately first took Demerol when he was 23 in Salem, MA. Ennet House residents McDade and Diehl come to visit and tell Gately that the gun used to shoot him still hasn’t shown up, and that it is now believed that Lenz ran off with it. However, Lenz may have been spotted blind drunk somewhere near Kenmore Square. They tell Gately general news about Ennet House and then give him a shoplifted and unsigned Get Well Soon card.
As time goes on, it becomes more and more disturbing that people are happy to talk at Gately but oblivious and unconcerned about the fact that Gately is incapable of replying. While it is kind of McDade and Diehl to give Gately the card and update him on the latest developments regarding the fight, they (and everyone else) seem uninterested in how Gately himself is actually doing.
Themes
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Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Gately suddenly feels hugely sorry for himself and resentful at the AA concept of a loving God. The nurse comes back in and McDade and Diehl leave to give Gately privacy. The nurse tells Gately to turn over, and he feels a wave of humiliation.
Gately finds himself more isolated than he has been since quitting drugs. It is precisely this kind of loneliness and despair that puts people at risk of relapse.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Back at E.T.A., Hal suddenly experiences a surge of “unexplained panic.” There is something he enjoys about this feeling because it brings a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings. Yet there is also something horrible about it. He is suddenly overwhelmed by how many mundane, repeated actions he has already completed in life and how many more are to come. He lies down in the Viewing Room (V.R.) and thinks about his family, about E.T.A., and about random facts, such as that no one knows the etymology of the word “blizzard.”
Up until this point, Hal has managed to turn the intensely pressurized and challenging environment in which he has grown up into something that spurs on his success; this is demonstrated by his affection for the feeling of panic and the lucidity it brings. Yet Hal also seems to be at some kind of breaking point, overwhelmed by emotion now that he does not have the option of numbing himself with marijuana.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Hal has realized that if forced to choose between tennis and weed, he really doesn’t know which one he would pick. He and James used to have an odd issue around communication; whenever they would speak to each other, James would think that Hal was not speaking, whereas Hal would think that he was. Charles is Avril’s stepbrother. Avril’s father was a binge drinker who would disappear for weeks at a time, and once returned with a new wife—Charles’ mother, who had already given birth to Charles. Charles and Avril’s lack of blood relation has never been discussed, and they have always seemed incredibly close.
Again, the juxtaposition between Gately in his hospital bed and Hal reflecting on his communication issues with James makes the parallel between these two situations inescapably obvious. Both Gately and Hal are the children of alcoholics who subsequently developed addiction issues themselves. The allusion to Charles and Avril’s incestuous relationship is also important, as we already know that Charles is probably Mario’s father.
Themes
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Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
As a child, Gately was nicknamed Bim, which stood for Big Indestructible Moron. He had a “jolly ferocity” that tended to frighten away women, but he was never a bully. He was a dedicated football player who first smoked weed at nine and got properly drunk for the first time a few months later. Before getting hooked on narcotics, Gately favored Quaaludes and beer. His alcohol and drug habits did not have a particularly adverse effect on his football playing, partly because he strictly limited his intake during football season. Drugs did have a seriously bad impact on his academic work, however, and this ultimately lost him his place on the football team. Around this time his mother died, and Gately left school forever.
This passage illustrates a well-known fact about substance abuse: even when the abuse itself is not having a directly harmful impact on a person (i.e. by ruining their health or safety), it can indirectly make their life fall apart. For Gately, the negative effect drugs had on his academic performance triggered a chain of events that led to him dropping out of school and stopping football, thereby destroying the structure and purpose within his life.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Hal falls asleep in the V.R., and when he wakes up, Pemulis is there, saying they really need to talk. Pemulis asks why there is a strip of human flesh on the window upstairs, and Hal explains about Stice being stuck to the window. Kieran McKenna pops in and mentions that Stice now resembles a piece of pizza with the cheese taken off. Pemulis keeps bringing up the conversation they need to have, but Hal is reluctant to engage. Hal asks Pemulis to retrieve one of James’s cartridges from the shelf and cue it up to the last five minutes. Pemulis does so, and Hal sees exactly what he wanted: the protagonist giving his final, dramatic lecture about death as the meaning of life.
Hal has recently started opening up to people such as Mario and (presumably) the members of the NA meeting. Yet he is unable to communicate with Pemulis, likely because of the guilt he feels over Pemulis becoming the scapegoat for their substance use and getting kicked out of E.T.A. Pemulis is behaving maturely and doesn’t seem angry with Hal, but Hal is still too ashamed to talk to him.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Gately didn’t start burgling straight away; at first he worked in the underworld gambling world with a Dilaudid addict named Facklemann, taking bets, delivering winnings, and collecting debts. He had to warn customers with outstanding debt but rarely used any kind of severe violence. Many of these gamblers were men who bet in a reckless, “suicidal” manner and would tell Gately wretched stories about their own lives in an attempt to elicit sympathy from him. This was Gately’s first exposure to the serious dangers of addiction.
Because he was a drug user who didn’t finish school, Gately’s employment options were limited. This pushed him into a dangerous, violent, and likely illegal line of work where he encountered many other addicts. While gambling addiction has not featured into the book until now, it is one of the other most common forms of addiction.
Themes
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One New Year’s Eve, Gately was making fake IDs for boarding school students when he watched a B.U. football game and unexpectedly began to sob like a child. Eventually, he fell in with two lesbian cocaine addicts who ran a “housecleaning,” key-copying, and burglary business. A new doctor is now in the room, as well as a nurse who Gately finds attractive. The nurse introduced herself as Cathy, but Gately prefers to think of her as “the R.N.” She tells him she will give him a sponge bath later: news that fills him with horror.
Readers are definitely encouraged to sympathize with Gately, who is portrayed as a kind, caring, and brave character doing his best to overcome his troubled past. Yet it is undeniable that he has racist and sexist thoughts. While there is nothing egregiously wrong with thinking of Cathy as “the R.N.,” refusing to use her name dehumanizes her.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Gately suddenly realizes that he hallucinated Joelle’s whole visit and the conversation about her family. Years ago, a severely alcoholic young woman named Pamela Hoffman-Jeep fell in love with Gately simply because he refrained from raping her when he had the chance. The two of them began dating. She was the “single passivest person Gately ever met” and spent almost all of her time lying down and/or unconscious. While they were dating, a man nicknamed Eighties Bill bet $125,000 on a Brown vs. Yale football game. After a series of complex and confused attempts to fix the game as well as an unexpected protest by a “Feminazi” student group from Brown, Bill won $137,000.
Again, Gately’s sexism is not separate from, but rather an integral part of the novel’s generally degrading attitude toward women. The portrayal of Pamela completely robs her of agency, rendering her a two-dimensional, pathetic figure. Meanwhile, the use of the term “Feminazi” to describe the feminist student is a rather cheap capitulation to misogynist stereotypes.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Facklemann attempted to scam Eighties Bill and Sorkin, the bookmaker who arranged the bet. Gately and Facklemann would take Dilaudid together, and Gately told himself that he was doing it to help Facklemann out and “keep [him] company.” In the present, Gately feels a tongue licking his forehead, and realizes it is the wraith. Suddenly the wraith disappears. Gately’s fever has intensified, and he dreams that he and a “very sad kid” (presumably Hal) are digging up a head in a graveyard. The head has something extremely important contained inside it. However, once Hal is able to pick it up he nonverbally expresses that it is “Too Late.”
In between Gately’s recollections of his own past, he also has a vision of the future. We know from the beginning of the novel that he and Hal are digging up James’s head; the important thing contained inside it is the cartridge James mentions having implanted inside his skull. Assumedly Hal wants to use this to create an antidote to the Entertainment. However, Hal’s indication that it is “Too Late” suggests that the implant isn't actually there, perhaps because someone else got to it first (presumably Orin). The image of digging up a head is also another Hamlet reference—the phrase “infinite jest” itself comes from Hamlet’s monologue to a skull that he finds in a graveyard.
Themes
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Meanwhile, outside the hospital a “grotesquely huge woman” (Steeply) tells Joelle that she is in terrible danger, but Joelle is not surprised by this information.
While Hugh/Helen Steeply is not actually a trans woman but simply an undercover agent in disguise, the gleeful disgust in descriptions of her/him, such as the phrase “grotesquely huge” here, betrays a distinct transmisogynistic orientation. Steeply’s warning to Joelle suggests that the A.F.R are after her now as well.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Back in Gately’s past, he and Facklemann were binging Dilaudid to the point that they were “flirting with an O.D.” In his extremely high state, the only thing Facklemann could say was “That’s a goddamn lie.” He and Gately laughed until he pissed his pants. The phone rang, followed by the building’s buzzer, but they both ignored it. They eventually ran out of purified water to use for shooting up, so they started to use their own urine. Eventually they heard Pamela’s voice on the intercom, drunkenly asking to be let in. Gately passed out.  
The description of Gately and Facklemann’s Dilaudid binge is a searing reminder of the ugly horrors of addiction. It is crucial that this reminder comes at this moment in the novel, as Gately is on the brink of relapsing and thus returning to the horrifying trap of addiction. Indeed, his fear of this prospect is likely why he is recalling these memories now.
Themes
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Joelle responds to questions (presumably posed by Hugh/Helen Steeply) about the Entertainment. She describes the only two scenes in which she appears, both of which are very simple. She also explains some of the visual techniques James used in making the film, including techniques to recreate the effect of a baby’s vision. She explains that James stayed true to his vow of sobriety, but that he couldn’t handle it and that this is what killed him. Joelle thinks it’s likely that James never actually finished a Master copy of the Entertainment; she adds that if a finished copy does exist, it’s probably buried with him.
We know with some degree of certainty that Joelle is wrong in asserting that the master copy of the Entertainment is nonexistent or buried with James, as Orin is in possession of it. On the other hand, we also know that James mentioned having a cartridge installed inside his skull, and that Hal and Gately unsuccessfully attempt to retrieve the cartridge as a possible tool for combating the Entertainment.
Themes
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
The narrative switches back to Hal’s first-person perspective. Kyle Coyle and Mario are watching an early film by James called Accomplice!. They discuss the incident of Ortho Stice’s face getting stuck to the window and having to be ripped off. Mario then says that Stice’s bed was found bolted to the ceiling in the middle of the night. Coyle explains that Stice thinks he is being haunted by a ghost who wants to teach him about “ordinary objects” and “raise his game to like a supernatural level.” Stice has come to believe that he can move objects with his mind, while the other students are disturbed by his apparent mental breakdown.
The ghost that is haunting Stice is likely James in wraith form. On the other hand, there also appear to be connections between Lyle and the wraith: after all, the wraith licks Gately, and in this passage appears to be trying to teach Stice the same lessons about “underestimating objects” that Lyle tells him in person.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Cosgrove Watt was one of the only professional actors James cast in his films. He appears in Accomplice!, a film about a sadomasochistic sexual encounter between a “sad and beautiful” young male sex worker and a creepy older man. While they have sex, the older man positions a blade such that it cuts into his penis. This eventually kills him, leading the younger man to repeat over and over: “Murderer!” Outside, a snowstorm rages, triggered by the combination of wind from Mexico and the Arctic mingling above the Great Concavity.
It is rather shocking that this film—which resembles a pornographic snuff film, or a film that supposedly depicts an actual murder—is available to view at E.T.A. It is hard to imagine why Mario would want to see such a film and think about the fact that it was made by his own father (or who he thinks is his father).
Themes
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Hal recalls when James’s obsession with making films began, shortly after E.T.A. was founded. Avril assumed it was just a phase, and Hal wonders if part of the reason why this “phase” lasted until James’s death was because James never really achieved success in filmmaking. Like his father, Hal “had moved serially between obsessions” when he was a child. He remembers walking past a church in their old neighborhood in Weston that displayed a sign reading: “Life is like tennis / those who serve / best usually win.”
Here the intergenerational similarities between Hal and James emerge most clearly. Both father and son are precocious, talented, and determined to succeed, yet both drift between passions. In addition, both struggle with addiction, which seems related to the obsessive way in which they approach their respective fields.
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
After James’s funeral, Avril spent more and more time locked up inside the Headmaster’s House. This has accelerated the rate at which she has visually aged. Hal suddenly realizes that he doesn’t want to play tennis that afternoon. He considers purposefully hurting himself by falling from a height onto his bad ankle, which would mean that people would treat him with “compassionate sorrow rather than disappointed sorrow.” Hal remembers a time when Orin and a group of other E.T.A. students organized a clandestine viewing of some porn cartridges, only to be ratted out by a female student. When James confronted Orin about the plan, Orin immediately “confessed everything.”
Even when Hal experiences the sudden and decisive realization that he doesn’t want to play tennis, he still struggles with the idea of letting down people in his institution (and especially those in positions of authority). Rather than quitting with dignity, Hal considers deliberately injuring himself just to avoid disappointing others. This shows that while in some ways Hal has progressed and matured, many of his old issues continue to have a hold on him.
Themes
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
James told Orin that he wouldn’t ban him from watching hardcore porn, but that he would rather he didn’t because he was afraid it would give Orin “the wrong idea about having sex.” James would prefer for Orin to discover sex with someone he loved. Orin was shocked and moved that his father falsely assumed he was still a virgin. Hal thinks that this conversation is the most “open” James ever was with someone, and he is annoyed that it was “wasted” on Orin. Of all the brothers, Mario had spent the most time around James when he was still alive, and Orin doesn’t know how open their conversations were.
Hal certainly loves Orin, but over the course of the novel it has become more and more obvious that he also resents him. Orin is less intelligent than Hal, and seems to have less of a moral compass than either of his brothers. He is also arguably less like James and Avril than Hal is. This creates a bitterness in Hal in spite of himself.
Themes
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Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Orin thinks that James was still a virgin in his late 30s, when he and Avril met, and also that James’s fixation with Joelle was totally non-sexual. Hal suddenly has a “lucid vision” of Avril having sex with John Wayne. He is aware of their ongoing sexual relationship, which began shortly after Wayne arrived at E.T.A., and doesn’t know how he feels about it.
It may come as something of a surprise that Hal knows about Avril and Wayne’s affair (and that this is only being mentioned now). Yet as an intensely passive, private, and emotionless person, perhaps it is unsurprising that Hal has seemingly accepted this disturbing situation.
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Joelle plans to ask Pat to put her in quarantine with Clenette and Yolanda in order to protect herself from the A.F.R. A man named Mikey speaks to an AA meeting, telling a story about when he behaved rudely to his sister, prayed about it, and then returned to apologize. Meanwhile, the Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk County’s 4th Circuit is talking with Pat Montesian. The A.D.A. attends Phob-Comp-Anon, a program for people who attach themselves to those suffering from severe phobias, compulsions, or both. As part of his Phob-Comp-Anon program, the A.D.A. needs to make amends with Gately, but he has been having a very difficult time bringing himself to do so.
Phob-Comp-Anon is not a real organization and might seem rather silly (partly because of its name). Yet while it may not be real, it is very similar to actually-existing groups, such as Al-Alon and Obsessive Compulsive Anonymous. Perhaps the fact that Phob-Comp-Anon doesn’t exist when there is evidently a kind of need for it is more ridiculous than the idea of the organization in the first place.
Themes
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Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon