The protagonist of the novel and a student at Enfield Tennis Academy. Hal is the youngest of Avril Incandenza's three boys. Hal's relationship to the suicide of his father has led many to conclude that Hal is a type for Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hal eats a mysterious mold as a child that leads him to be a completely meta-cognitive person with little or no passion for much of anything at all. The novel's main plot revolves around Hal's relationship to thought and language.
Married to Avril Incandenza and father to Hal, Oren and Mario, James Incandenza is a physicist who leaves the world of science to found Enfield Tennis Academy and to pursue après-garde filmmaking where he makes a name for himself. The novel centers around a film he made titled Infinite Jest which stars the PGOAT (Prettiest Girl of All Time), Joelle Van Dyne. He is also known by his initials, J.O.I.
Joelle Van Dyne
Joelle Van Dyne is a horrifically beautiful woman, so beautiful that her image is too lovely to allow anyone to think of her empathically, leading her to a long life with literally no meaningful human connection. Because of the pain, she turns to narcotics. The novel finds her at the halfway house, Ennet House. She is also the radio personality Madame Psychosis (a play on words for metempsychosis, the transmigration of the soul after death into another body of the same species).
Donald Gately is a former burglar and organized-crime enforcer of enormous stature who helps as a live-in staff member of Ennet House. Don is the man who ends up cleaning up messy situations when other housemates find themselves in trouble with the law or in the street. Don is a man of serious emotional severity who finds a tenderness in his relationship with Joelle.
John "No Relation" Wayne
John Wayne is a Quebecois student at Enfield Academy. His father is an asbestos miner. James Incandenza discovers John while filming a piece about all the John Waynes in O.N.A.N. who are not the John Wayne of Hollywood fame. John becomes the top-ranked player at Enfield and a contender for the #1 rank in junior tennis for all of O.N.A.N. He has an ongoing sexual relationship with Avril Incandenza.
Mario is the middle Incandenza son and his host of developmental and congenital disabilities make it seem likely that Mario is actually the son of Charles Tavis, not James (because Tavis's mother had similar issues to Mario). Mario helps James Incandenza with his films since he cannot play tennis and therefore has a lot of free time at the Academy. Mario has a passion for making films himself, and in his will, J.O.I. leaves Mario a special helmet-mounted camera so he can continue to make films without him.
Avril is a grammarian, an esteemed academic, and an administrator at Enfield Tennis Academy. She is also Hal, Mario, and Orin's mother and the widow of James Incandenza. Avril was raised on a Quebecois potato farm, and her loose ties to Quebec make the U.S.O.U.S. suspect she may be a Quebecois separatist. The novel emphasizes Avril's tense relationships with her sons and her passive, smothering approach to raising them.
Pemulis is a student at E.T.A. and the best friend of Hal Incandenza. Pemulis is a scholarship student at E.T.A. from the neighboring Allston neighborhood in Boston, and he lives in a constant, private fear of being expelled from E.T.A. and having to return to his blue-collar origins. Pemulis is a major purveyor of drugs and clean urine for the students of E.T.A.
Ortho "The Darkness" Stice
Ortho is a show-bound junior at E.T.A., one of the top players in the school and definitely the top player of his class. He's from Kentucky, like Joelle, and has what Hal describes as a loose, old man face on a lean, athletic physique. Throughout the novel, Ortho experiences strange instances of his dorm furniture moving around in his sleep, and he eventually resigns himself to the idea that his room is inhabited by some kind of wraith.
The eldest Incandenza son, a decent tennis player during his time at E.T.A. but not good enough to go pro, ends up switching to football in college when he discovers his talent for punting. Orin now plays professional football and lives, for the majority of the novel, in Arizona. Orin dates Joelle van Dyne in college, but they split up after she becomes entangled in James's film productions. Orin is the first interview subject of Hugh Steeply and is suspected of having the master copy of James's final film, Infinite Jest, and distributing read-only copies to men with whom his mother cheated on his father.
Triple agent for the A.F.R. and deadly wheelchair assassin, Remy Marathe is a key character for his half of the conversation with Hugh Steeply on the Arizona mountainside. Remy's wife is in a vegetative state, and his love for her motivates him to keep working for both the A.F.R. and the U.S.O.U.S. in the hopes that one of the factions will make sure his wife receives adequate medical attention. Remy is a Quebecois separatist at heart, but he is willing to betray the A.F.R. for the sake of his wife.
Agent of the U.S.O.U.S., Hugh Steeply in assigned the task of locating the master copy of Infinite Jest. In order to find out more about the Incandenza family, Hugh Steeply disguises himself as a reporter for Moment magazine under the guise of writing a "soft profile" on Orin Incandenza, which seems plausible given that Orin is a professional athlete. Hugh Steeply has experience with the addictive qualities of television; his own father was addicted to M*A*S*H.
Avril Incandenza's half-brother (but in all likelihood, not even a half-brother, though they are raised in the same household). Tavis takes over as Headmaster after James Incandenza dies. He is known to be extremely open and forthcoming about his private emotions, with a tendency to "overshare." He is a master bureaucrat.
Pat Montesian is the director of Ennet House. She is married into the South Shore socialite scene in Boston and has been rabidly active in AA since her own commitment to a halfway house. Her alcoholism led her to suffer a massive stroke and her recovery included many months of physical rehabilitation. She had to relearn to walk and speak and half of her body is permanently affected by the stroke.
Don Gately's sponsor and one of the veteran AAs or "crocodiles" that head up the White Flag AA group. Ferocious Francis is described as having "geologic amounts" of sober time, and Don considers his own modest sober time to be due to Francis and the crocodiles' tough-love brand of sponsorship.
Student at E.T.A., friend of Hal. Troeltsche knows he is not talented enough to play professional tennis, and his primary ambition is to become a sportscaster and tennis commentator.
One of Hal's "Little Buddies" who he mentors at E.T.A. Ingersoll is considered by the older boys to be precocious and easily hateable. His actions are at the center of the Eschaton fiasco when he flouts convention and launches a tennis ball at the back of Ann Kittenplan's head.
Resident of Ennet House, former romantic partner of Mildred Bonk. When Green becomes a resident at Ennet House, Gately takes him under his wing. Green plays a key role in defending Lenz and other Ennet House residents from the Quebecois separatists that show up to the house after Lenz kills their dog.
Resident of Ennet House who suffers from severe clinical depression and attempts suicide several times before she is ultimately referred to an in-patient rehabilitation program. Gompert's primary addiction is, like Ken Erdedy, to marijuana.
Ken Erdedy is a young advertising executive who is addicted to marijuana. One of the earliest sections of the book describes Erdedy's binge process and subsequent attempt to quit marijuana "cold turkey." Erdedy, along with a few other residents of Ennet house like Tiny Ewell and Geoff Day, represent a minority of white-collar, "schoolboy" types that land themselves, nonetheless, in an addiction halfway house.
Lyle is a guru figure that dwells in the E.T.A. weight room and offers students his attention and counsel in exchange for their sweat. Lyle licks perspiration off of the students' bodies as if the sweat fuels him. Many of the younger students are creeped out by Lyle, but he's an E.T.A. institution, an old friend and confidante of J.O.I., and the older students depend on his counsel to get through the psychologically taxing later years at the academy.
E.T.A. athletic director and head coach. Schtitt was also a close friend to J.O.I. Schtitt believes in total devotion to the game, the concept of giving oneself away to the game, and believes that the strongest tennis players play the game within the confines of their own minds.
Student at E.T.A. and friend of Hal. Schacht suffers from Crohn's disease and since his diagnosis, his tennis game has plateaued. Schacht knows he is not Show-bound and his true passion lies in dentistry. He interns at a local dentist's office in his spare time.
Resident of Ennet House and cocaine addict, Randy Lenz also has a number of phobias and compulsions. For example, he is afraid of clocks, but he also has to know the precise time at all times. He has a major issue with control, and even while living at the Ennet House, he sneaks small amounts of cocaine to get him through the day. Struggling with the feeling of lacking control, Lenz starts to kill small animals on his way home from N.A. He starts by killing rodents, then moves to cats, and then finally starts killing dogs. He gets himself into trouble when he kills the dog of some violent Quebecois separatists.
President Johnny Gentle
Former Las Vegas crooner turned politician. Gentle is the head of a new party called the Clean U.S. Party or C.U.S.P. Gentle becomes President of the United States and forms O.N.A.N., the Organization of North American Nations. He runs on a platform of literally cleaning the United States, launching trash into outer space. When that method fails, Gentle's party creates the Great Concavity, a designated space in New England to dump waste. Gentle's party also creates Subsidized Time to pay for state reconfiguration and the U.S. Office of Unspecified Services.
Infinite Jest Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Infinite Jest is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.