Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest

by

David Foster Wallace

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Subjects Symbol Icon

“Subjects” is the term Hal and Orin use to describe the women that Orin seduces, and the word reflects the reduction of women to tempting, druglike objects at the cost of their full humanity. It is strongly implied that Orin is a sex addict, with particular sexual neuroses that include a fetish for married mothers. (Again, it is strongly implied that this is the result of his own strained relationship with his overbearing mother, Avril.) The similarity between the words “Subject” and “Substance,” and the fact that they are both capitalized in the novel, indicates that Orin is addicted to sex rather than just promiscuous. It also suggests that women can have the same overpowering, harmful effect as addictive substances like drugs and alcohol. Orin treats his “Subjects” in a callous, transactional way, usually losing interest in them as soon as they have sex. (One notable exception is Hugh/Helen Steeply, an American agent who seduces Orin as part of the government’s effort to obtain the master copy of the Entertainment, and to whom Orin becomes devotedly attached.) Orin’s dismissive treatment of his Subjects arguably reflects a larger misogynistic attitude toward women within the novel as a whole. Of the dozens of main characters, hardly any are women. Women are often discussed in a sexually objectifying manner (or, in the opposite extreme, called “Feminazis”). Although it might appear that the novel condemns Orin’s behavior toward women, this behavior actually aligns with the treatment of women in Infinite Jest as a whole.

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Subjects Symbol Timeline in Infinite Jest

The timeline below shows where the symbol Subjects appears in Infinite Jest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 40
Entertainment Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...overtly political. Orin admits that he is interested in all this because of his latest Subject, Helen, who he claims is different to all his previous Subjects. He questions Hal about... (full context)
Chapter 58
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Reality as Corporate Dystopia Theme Icon
Orin can only give and not receive pleasure, to the delight of many of his Subjects but not Orin himself. While he is still with the Swiss model, someone knocks on... (full context)
Chapter 59
Talent, Precociousness, and Fame Theme Icon
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
...ended up becoming disfigured. Orin has always kept a kind of diary listing all his “Subjects.” Many of the boys at the table have already had sex, but Hal actively wants... (full context)
Chapter 69
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Entertainment Theme Icon
...to tell them everything he knew about Joelle’s whereabouts. They have exposed their first “test Subject” to the Entertainment, telling the Subject that he could repeat the film if he agreed... (full context)
Chapter 75
Addiction, Mental Illness, and Suicide Theme Icon
Orin has been imprisoned inside a glass cage by his latest Subject, the Swiss hand-model (Luria P——). He has attempted to kick down the glass to escape,... (full context)