Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Hal Incandenza Character Analysis

Hal Incandenza is the closest the book comes to having a protagonist. The youngest son of the Incandenza family, he is close to both of his older brothers, Orin and Mario. A tennis prodigy, he is ranked #2 at E.T.A. throughout most of the period in which the novel is set. He is also incredibly intelligent and highly gifted academically. Hal struggles with an addiction to marijuana, and enjoys the secrecy of getting high alone. However, under the threat of a urine test by O.N.A.N.T.A., Hal quits all recreational substances at the end of the novel and seeks treatment for his addiction. As well as being intelligent and talented, Hal is empathetic and kind. However, he has spent most of his life in a completely emotionless state, possibly as the result of ingesting a piece of mold/DMZ as a child. He is particularly concerned about pleasing authority figures and sees his whole life as a test that he’s terrified of failing. After consuming DMZ (or accidentally synthesizing the DMZ that was already in his system) at the end of the Y.D.A.U., Hal is able to feel emotions again but becomes completely unable to express himself: when he tries to talk, the sounds that come out are terrifying and inhuman. He is possibly asexual, as he has no interest in sex and wants to stay a virgin forever. Before his father James’s suicide, Hal was seemingly unable to communicate with him, and it’s possible that James made the Entertainment as an attempt to reach his son.

Hal Incandenza Quotes in Infinite Jest

The Infinite Jest quotes below are all either spoken by Hal Incandenza or refer to Hal Incandenza. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay Books edition of Infinite Jest published in 1996.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I believe I appear neutral, maybe even pleasant, though I've been coached to err on the side of neutrality and not attempt what would feel to me like a pleasant expression or smile.

Related Characters: Hal Incandenza (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

“I'm not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you'd let me, talk and talk. Let's talk about anything. I believe the influence of Kierkegaard on Camus is underestimated. I believe Dennis Gabor may very well have been the Antichrist. I believe Hobbes is just Rousseau in a dark mirror. I believe, with Hegel, that transcendence is absorption. I could interface you guys right under the table,” I say.

Related Characters: Hal Incandenza (speaker)
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

“I'm ten for Pete's sake. I think maybe your appointment calendar's squares got juggled. I'm the potentially gifted ten-year-old tennis and lexical prodigy whose mom's a continental mover and shaker in the prescriptive grammar academic world and whose dad's a towering figure in optical and avant-garde film circles and single-handedly founded the Enfield Tennis Academy but drinks Wild Turkey at like 5:00 a.m. and pitches over sideways during dawn drills, on the courts, some days, and some days presents with delusions about people's mouths moving but nothing coming out. I'm not even up to J yet, in the condensed O.E.D., much less Québec or malevolent Lurias.

Related Symbols: Substances
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

Hal likes to get high in secret, but a bigger secret is that he's as attached to the secrecy as he is to getting high.

Related Characters: Hal Incandenza
Related Symbols: Substances
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Recreational drugs are more or less traditional at any U.S. secondary school, maybe because of the unprecedented tensions: post-latency and puberty and angst and impending adulthood, etc. To help manage the intrapsychic storms, etc… But so some E.T.A.s - not just Hal Incandenza by any means - are involved with recreational substances, is the point. Like who isn't, at some life-stage, in the U.S.A. and Interdependent regions, in these troubled times, for the most part.

Related Characters: Hal Incandenza
Related Symbols: Substances
Page Number: 52-53
Explanation and Analysis:
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Infinite Jest PDF

Hal Incandenza Character Timeline in Infinite Jest

The timeline below shows where the character Hal Incandenza appears in Infinite Jest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Year of Glad. Hal Incandenza, who is narrating, is in the admissions office of the University of Arizona along... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
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Various men in the room chime in to discuss Hal’s talent and achievements. Hal says nothing, and the Dean of Athletic Affairs asks Charles if... (full context)
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The deans are concerned that Hal may not have written the admissions essays himself. Hal starts to panic, feeling that he... (full context)
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Hal’s first home was in a suburb called Weston. He recounts a story his older brother... (full context)
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Back at the Admissions Office, Hal repeats that he is not just a tennis player, but a complex person and an... (full context)
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Hal is dragged out of the Admissions Office by the Director of Composition, who seems to... (full context)
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Hal is taken to the hospital in an ambulance. He observes details about the emergency room,... (full context)
Chapter 3
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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... (full context)
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Hal explains that he calls James “Himself,” a nickname his brother invented. He adds that James... (full context)
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Hal suddenly realizes that the man sitting opposite him is actually his own father, James, in... (full context)
Chapter 4
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9 May — Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Hal usually leaves his dormitory before 6 am and doesn’t get back until after dinner. He... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Mid-conversation, Mario asks Hal if he is asleep, and Hal reminds him that he can’t talk if he is... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Hal is secretly getting high in the Pump Room of Enfield Tennis Academy. He uses a... (full context)
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...particularly because the prorectors of the school—who are E.T.A. alumni—tend to get high themselves, too. Hal is nonetheless completely fixated with erasing all traces of his marijuana use. He doesn’t know... (full context)
Chapter 13
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The narrative switches to first person again. The narrator, Hal, explains that he did not start smoking Bob Hope (an endnote explains that this is... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. On November 3, Hal and other E.T.A. students are discussing an exam in the locker room. They then quiz... (full context)
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Hal and the other E.T.A. students complain about how tired they are. They have class and... (full context)
Chapter 18
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3 November Y.D.A.U. Hal and a group of other students discuss the struggle they endure at E.T.A. and wonder... (full context)
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...almost time for dinner. Sometimes, Mario is allowed to ring the triangle that signals mealtimes. Hal tries to calculate if there’s enough time for him to smoke weed before getting to... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...Only Even Remotely Romantic Experience, Thus Far .Around 7 pm one day in October Y.D.A.U., Hal and Mario walk together through the E.T.A. grounds. Mario can tell that Hal wants time... (full context)
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...off Mario’s pants and Mario tries to tell her that he is very ticklish, while Hal calls Mario’s name in the background. Millicent thrusts her hand into Mario’s pants, which makes... (full context)
Chapter 22
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3 November Y.D.A.U.Orin calls Hal and asks why Hal always sounds so out of breath when he answers the phone.... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Hal Incandenza’s First Extant Written Comment on Anything Even Remotely Filmic, Submitted in Mr. Ogilvie’s Seventh-Grade... (full context)
Chapter 27
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...Optics Scholarship, and is more talented at math and science than at tennis. He gives Hal clean urine for free in exchange for Hal’s help with the verbal side of academics.... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...Mario is a devout listener. Pemulis gets home to his E.T.A. dorm and immediately calls Hal, who gives the code indicating that he would like to buy something from Pemulis. (full context)
Chapter 30
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Tennis and the Feral Prodigy, Narrated by Hal Incandenza, an 11.5-Minute Digital Entertainment Cartridge Directed, Recorded, Edited, and—According to the Entry Form—Written by... (full context)
Chapter 32
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...the Canadian habit of eating supper very late, just before bed, and twice a week Hal is allowed to eat with her (as well as Uncle Charles and Mario). For dessert,... (full context)
Chapter 33
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Michael Pemulis, Trevor Axford, and Hal Incandenza are in Pemulis’s dorm room with the DMZ tablets Pemulis has acquired. Pemulis explains... (full context)
Chapter 37
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5 November — Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Orin calls Hal and Hal tells him that he’s picked an “interesting” time to call, as Hal is... (full context)
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...to discuss family matters with the journalist, and reviews the details of James’s suicide with Hal. Hal notes that no one except Mario really talks about James or his suicide these... (full context)
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Hal explains that James had sawed a head-shaped hole in the microwave door, and that there... (full context)
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At the time, Hal voraciously consumed books and other material about grief in order to give a convincing account... (full context)
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Orin is incredulous about this twist in the story, but Hal insists that from then on, everything changed for the better. He misbehaved in exactly the... (full context)
Chapter 38
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Hal, meanwhile, who was ranked #43 in the U.S.T.A., has undergone a “quantumish competitive plateau-hop” and... (full context)
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...(they are not permitted to receive money). Wayne is sponsored by Dunlop and Adidas, and Hal by Dunlop, Nike, and Air Stirrup (a brace company). Teddy Schacht has stopped caring about... (full context)
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...a great deal about it and also not care about it at all.” Wayne and Hal’s games are both at the point of “carnage.” All the adults in the audience wear... (full context)
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Orin left the world of competitive tennis when Hal was 9 and Mario 10. As a tennis player, Orin peaked at 13. Still, he... (full context)
Chapter 40
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Troeltsch reports E.T.A.’s victory over P.W.T.A. in creative language. Hal is currently enrolled in a proector class called “Separatism and Return: Québecois History from Frontenac... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
(A long endnote here describes Hal on the same day, 11/7/Y.D.A.U., looking through a box of Mario’s old letters and snapshots.... (full context)
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(The same endnote then recounts a phone conversation between Hal and Orin in which Hal mentions an Emily Dickinson poem. He explains to Orin that... (full context)
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(Still in the same endnote, Hal says he thinks that Quebecois separatists hate Anglophone Canada far more than they hate O.N.A.N.... (full context)
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(The same endnote details that Pemulis is now wildly gesturing to Hal, who gestures for Pemulis to throw him a pair of underwear. Hal tells Orin that... (full context)
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
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...Orin tries to continue the conversation while Pemulis threatens to break off the antenna of Hal’s phone. Hal insists that what the separatists really want is for Québec to secede, and... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
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...projects. Many E.T.A. students see Mario as a mild annoyance, although Lyle loves him and Hal, who calls him “Booboo,” secretly “idealizes” him. Hal thinks Avril might believe that Mario is... (full context)
Chapter 42
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Shortly after, however, when Axford absent-mindedly passes the blunt to Hal, Hal accepts it and finds himself “smoking dope in public without even thinking about it.”... (full context)
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...should be counted as affecting the world of the game, with Pemulis insisting it shouldn’t. Hal, who knows he has been struck by “marijuana thinking,” finds the debate over whether the... (full context)
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...he “told them so.” Chu is throwing up; Lord trips over him and goes flying. Hal checks his own face to see if he is wincing. Lord crashes directly into a... (full context)
Chapter 44
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(In the same endnote, Orin says that he and Hal always called James “Himself” or “the Mad Stork,” although when he first mentions this, he... (full context)
Chapter 45
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...Almost no E.T.A. students smoke cigarettes because it makes training so much more painful, but Hal is addicted to nicotine and thus chews and spits tobacco instead. He also has a... (full context)
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Hal has smoked weed four times this I-Day, and while watching the film has eaten four... (full context)
Chapter 48
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Very Late October Y.D.A.U. Hal has a recurring dream in which his teeth crumble and splinter inside his mouth. Mario... (full context)
Chapter 49
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...up during the final conditioning drills (which, an endnote explains, are nicknamed “Pukers”). At 15, Hal injured his ankle while moving in a similar way to the Side-to-Side drill, so he... (full context)
Chapter 52
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...Dr. Rusk usually runs this check, but this month Avril is doing it. This leads Hal to suspect that Rusk might be involved in the post-Eschaton disciplinary procedure. Although Ingersoll is... (full context)
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
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...are often hardly different from normal athletic conditioning, only more harrowing and extreme. Considering that Hal lives in an institution founded and run by his family, he doesn’t spend much time... (full context)
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...of sight. Now she comes into Charles’s office and smokes a cigarette. It emerges that Hal has been waiting outside Charles’s office for an hour and hasn’t yet eaten dinner, and... (full context)
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Finally, Hal is ushered into Charles’s office, where Dr. Rusk is already waiting. Otis P. Lord is... (full context)
Chapter 57
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...once met a deformed infant who was a refugee from the Great Concavity. At E.T.A., Hal and John Wayne have a brief, silent encounter. (full context)
Chapter 58
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...a “secular martyr.” However, he then starts refusing to answer Helen’s questions, pointing out that Hal will read the article and then show it to Mario. He suggests that Hal and... (full context)
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...birth was diagnosed as Familial Dysautonomia, a condition that means he doesn’t properly feel pain. Hal has always been slightly jealous of Mario for this. Mario is still distressed about the... (full context)
Chapter 59
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...tumultuous relationship, and they’ve divorced and remarried four or five times. There are rumors that Hal and Axford have been subjected to a urine test by Charles and the O.N.A.N.T.A. urologist. (full context)
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...The boys begin debating the correlation between one-handed backhands and breast size in female players. Hal thinks about the girl Orin was once “wildly in love with” who starred in James’s... (full context)
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Hal has a urine test coming up in 29 days and has stopped smoking weed or... (full context)
Chapter 62
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...of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Helen Steeply has arrived at E.T.A. and watches a match Hal plays against Stice. Both players are left-handed. Steeply has (ostensibly) come to speak to Hal... (full context)
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Steeply asks when she will be able to talk to Hal; deLint initially ignores her, and then says he doesn’t think she will be able to... (full context)
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...them up to the tunnel’s entrance. In the distance they can hear the applause from Hal’s match. LaMont Chu takes an inventory of everything they find in the tunnel. The boys... (full context)
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...flee the tunnel as fast as possible. Meanwhile, above ground there is a tie between Hal and Stice. DeLint has left, and Thierry Poutrincourt has come to sit next to Steeply... (full context)
Chapter 64
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11 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment. Something went very wrong in Hal’s game against Stice, and now Stice’s name is 2nd on the rankings, where Hal’s used... (full context)
Chapter 65
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...way to live, because it creates a clear and constant desire for a particular goal. Hal knows that anhedonia wasn’t the cause of James’s suicide (although he does not know the... (full context)
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Hal doesn’t know it yet, but anhedonia isn’t the worst kind of depression. The worst is... (full context)
Chapter 66
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Hal is watching a cartridge called Blood Sister: One Tough Nun when two girls, Bridge Boone... (full context)
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...turn saved by a tough nun—as are all the other nuns in her order. Although Hal and the girls do not realize this, this order of nuns could easily be an... (full context)
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...the nighttime streets. It is unclear whether she is going to relapse or remain “saved.” Hal finds the whole last part of the film cringe-inducingly heavy-handed. (full context)
Chapter 69
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...close, James confessed to Joelle that he didn’t know how to talk to Orin or Hal. Orin used to cry about his nonfunctional relationship with James. Avril always creeped out Joelle,... (full context)
Chapter 70
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...then asks that Mario put the camera aside so they can discuss the mysterious meeting Hal and Pemulis had in Charles’s office, which Hal left totally white-faced. LaMont wants Mario to... (full context)
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Mario says that he’s heard about the journalist who’s looking for Hal. He tries to question Avril about Charles and Hal and the Eschaton punishment, but she... (full context)
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...as she was when she was young. Mario was incontinent into his early teens, and Hal and James would always happily change his diapers without a hint of sadness or disgust.... (full context)
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It is early morning, before dawn, and Hal tells Mario that he just had a terrible dream. Mario says that Hal kept repeating... (full context)
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Hal tells Mario that the man from O.N.A.N.T.A. didn’t actually take urine samples from him and... (full context)
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...sex twice. Eventually she stops responding to him at all. Back at E.T.A., Mario tells Hal that he seems sad, and Hal confesses to his secret marijuana use in the pump... (full context)
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Hal seems petrified of the prospect of “flunk[ing] a urine” and wonders what the consequences will... (full context)
Chapter 71
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...“upscale kid” requesting a private conversation with anyone in a position of authority. The kid—presumably Hal—speaks with the “oversalivated quality” of someone who has just stopped smoking weed. He explains that... (full context)
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After class, Hal travels to an NA meeting all the way out in Natick. He feels silly for... (full context)
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...infant is experiencing abandonment. He gives details of his life story, and at this point Hal suddenly realizes that he is Kevin Bain, Marlon Bain’s older brother. Hal had heard that... (full context)
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...The wraith explains that it had always wanted to get through to its youngest son (Hal), and that it had been traumatized by Hal’s muteness. It had also begun to worry... (full context)
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The wraith/James hoped that the Entertainment would be so compelling that it would force Hal out of his anhedonia, like a “magically entertaining toy.” The wraith hoped that the Entertainment... (full context)
Chapter 73
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20 November Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment Gaudeamus Igitur. Hal dreams that he is in a zoo. When he wakes up, Mario is still asleep... (full context)
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The next passage is narrated in the first person. The narrator, Hal, describes walking through E.T.A. and running into Ortho Stice in the boys’ bathroom. Stice remarks... (full context)
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Hal tells Stice to prepare himself, because Hal’s going to attempt to un-stick him. Stice admits... (full context)
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It emerges that Troeltsch has spent the night in Axford’s room, which astonishes and horrifies Hal, but he says nothing about it. Hal fetches the janitors, Kenkle and Brandt. Kenkle is... (full context)
Chapter 74
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Back at E.T.A., Hal suddenly experiences a surge of “unexplained panic.” There is something he enjoys about this feeling... (full context)
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Hal has realized that if forced to choose between tennis and weed, he really doesn’t know... (full context)
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Hal falls asleep in the V.R., and when he wakes up, Pemulis is there, saying they... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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The narrative switches back to Hal’s first-person perspective. Kyle Coyle and Mario are watching an early film by James called Accomplice!.... (full context)
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Hal recalls when James’s obsession with making films began, shortly after E.T.A. was founded. Avril assumed... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 75
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...chapter is being narrated in the first person by an E.T.A. student who is not Hal. The narrator describes a kind of curse that afflicts the family members of Barry Loach,... (full context)