Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest Irony

DuPlessis's Death (Dramatic Irony)

At several points in the novel, Gately's accidental killing of DuPlessis is referenced by members of Quebecois separatist groups; the separatists think that the given cause of his death—a breaking and entering, being bound to a chair and gagged, and ultimately choked out by a severe cold—is a ridiculous cover up of what they are certain was a government conspiracy. Wallace writes, "Marathe shrugged hard. ‘And abruptly M. DuPlessis has now passed away from life. Under circumstances of almost ridiculous suspicion.’ Again with the false-sounding laugh. ‘An inept burglary and grippe indeed'" (94). Later on, Wallace writes, "But M. DuPlessis had been martyred, an assassination only O.N.A.N. would be stupid enough to believe Command would be stupid enough to believe was merely an unfortunate burglary-and-mucus mishap" (481). The dramatic irony is that the reader, having seen the whole scene first-hand from Don Gately's perspective, knows that DuPlessis did, in fact, die under these outlandish circumstances.

Marathe's Loyalty (Situational Irony)

Marathe takes issue with Steeply's suggestion that individualism and love are as worthy causes as a separatist movement; Steeply, representing the "American" ethos, condemns fanatics. Marathe responds:

Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. only pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What you wish to sing of as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen. Die for one person? This is a craziness. Persons change, leave, die, become ill. They leave, lie, go mad, have sickness, betray you, die. Your nation outlives you. A cause outlives you. (107)

The situational irony of Marathe extolling the virtues of devoting oneself to a cause over, for example, romantic love, is that everything Marathe does is for his wife, who is in a likely permanent vegetative state and has been since he met her. So all of his objections, that "people change, leave, die, become ill," apply to his experience, and yet he's still willing to abandon his cause for his wife's health.

Smashing the Illusion (Situational Irony)

Wallace briefly describes a Quebecois separatist stunt that involved standing a large mirror on a freeway at night so that it would appear to oncoming cars that someone is driving on the wrong side of the road. Preying on the American way of refusing to yield their right of way, the drivers would continue straight ahead in defiance only to jerk off the road and into the water at the last minute, dying. The government ran a series of P.S.A.s about making sure to stay awake and alert while driving at night, and this continued until a woman drowsy from pills failed to swerve away from the mirror, thus "spraying glass and micronized silver over all four lanes, this unwitting civilian who ‘SMASHED THE ILLUSION,’ ‘MADE THE BREAKTHROUGH’ (media headlines), ... brought to light the first tangible evidence of an anti-O.N.A.N. ill will way worse than anything aroused by plain old historical Separatism, up in Québec" (312). The irony of the revelation is that it's the woman's drowsiness that allows her to "smash the illusion."

Cultural Appropriation (Situational Irony)

In an endnote, Wallace describes another seperatist group called Le Front de la Libération de la Québec which he describes as "younger and rowdier and less implacably businesslike cell than the A.F.R." The Front "symbolically adopt[s] certain cultural customs, musics and motifs associated with Hawaii, supposedly an ironic nod to the idea that Québec is now, too, a kind of annex or territory of the U.S., a Canadian province only on paper, and separated from its real captor-nation by distances of space and culture that are unbridgeable" (995). The further irony here is that by "ironically" co-opting Hawaiian culture, the Front is also participating in shallow cultural appropriation.

Knowledge of Avril and John's Relationship (Dramatic Irony)

There is a double dramatic irony to the knowledge of John Wayne and Avril's sexual relationship. After Pemulis walks in on them in Avril's office, he and John start acting strange around Hal, and there is a dramatic irony to the fact that the reader knows why they're acting strange towards Hal and Hal supposedly has no idea. Then later on in the book, Hal reveals in first-person narration that he's known about John Wayne and Avril since a few weeks after Wayne started at E.T.A., extending the dramatic irony in the sense that Pemulis and John don't know that Hal already knows.

Political Satire (Verbal Irony)

Wallace writes in "E Unibus Pluram" about how using irony as a main tool to diagnose and critique society's ills is a uniquely American instinct. Wallace bolsters his point in his description of the Interdependence Day feast; he writes, "There is much cracking wise and baritone mimicry of a President roundly disliked for over two terms now. Only John Wayne and a handful of other Canadian students sit unhatted, chewing stolidly, faces blurred and distant. This American penchant for absolution via irony is foreign to them" (385).

Anti-Irony AA (Verbal Irony)

Wallace describes how sarcasm and ironic language is condemned at AA meetings. He writes, "So but also know that causal attribution, like irony, is death, speaking-on-Commitments-wise. Crocodiles’ temple-veins will actually stand out and pulse with irritation if you start trying to blame your Disease on some cause or other, and everybody with any kind of sober time will pale and writhe in their chair" (370). AA's "irony is death" position mirrors to a more extreme extent Wallace's own assessment of irony's place in contemporary lit—that it is not a useful tool of constructive criticism.

Helen/Hugh Steeply, the Object of Orin's Affections (Dramatic Irony)

Wallace manages to keep the reader in the dark about the true identity of the Moment magazine writer until about midway through the novel; Hugh Steeply's disguise, regarded by Marathe as ridiculous and grotesque, goes unexplained for the first half. Orin, meanwhile, describes his budding infatuation with the journalist who's writing about him. Once Wallace connects the dots between Helen and Hugh Steeply on the Arizona mountainside, the reader is privy to the alias while Orin and everyone at E.T.A. is not, making this a case of dramatic irony.