Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest Metaphors and Similes

Hal's heart like a lopsided dryer (Simile)

While Hal is scrutinized by University of Arizona faculty and staff, he describes his heartbeat: "My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it" (5). His description of the physical manifestation of his anxiety as the unpleasant, highly conspicuous way a pair of shoes clang around a dryer emphasizes the way Hal feels, himself, like a massive disruption in the room, both the center of attention and unable to communicate or justify the attention he receives.

Like a Don (Simile)

Also during Hal's admissions interview, he remarks, "I have been coached for this like a Don before a RICO hearing" (9), referring to the questions about his doctored transcripts and the sudden decline in his grades. A RICO hearing refers to the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act which targets organized crime and often leads to the seizure of wealth and assets of major organized crime bosses. Hal's metaphor emphasizes the fact that there has been corruption in the doctoring of his transcripts, and also preparation for responding to this line of questioning.

Rod Stewart Hair (Simile)

Wallace describes the trees behind Orin's apartment building in Arizona as "The tops of the palms like Rod Stewart’s hair, from days gone by" (44). This simile relies on a knowledge of celebrity and pop culture and emphasizes the novel's theme of celebrity and the notion that celebrities occupy a constant space in the consciousness of consumers, and by extentions, readers.

Hal's Game as a Bird (Metaphor)

In describing the way Hal's game has improved since his mid-teens (the opposite trajectory of his older brother Orin's game, which improved in his early teens and plateaued at fifteen) Wallace writes that "Hal’s delicate and spinny, rather cerebral game hasn’t altered, but this year it seems to have grown a beak" (260). The metaphor turns Hal's game into a living thing, a bird, that hovers over the court and calculates every point.

The Colosseum (Simile)

When E.T.A. competes as a school against P.W.T.A. in Long Island, Wayne and Hal play as a doubles team, and Wallace writes, "The gallery is barely even applauding Wayne and Incandenza anymore; at a certain point it becomes like Romans applauding lions" (270). The comparison draws attention to the extent to which Hal and John are destroying their opponents. It would almost be inhumane to applaud them, Wallace suggests, because their opponents stand so small of a chance of winning.

Slogan like the Depths of an Ocean (Simile)

During his first year of recovery, Don Gately goes from a total cynic about the Program to a sworn devotee. One of the changes that occurs in this first year of sobriety is that Gately starts to respect and live by the mottos and slogans of AA. Wallace writes, "Gately reminds himself that he too is probably mostly still clueless, still, even after all these hundreds of days. ‘I Didn’t Know That I Didn’t Know’ is another of the slogans that looks so shallow for a while and then all of a sudden drops off and deepens like the lobster-waters off the North Shore" (271). The simile takes this concept of depth vs. shallowness and applies local (Boston area) references to the idea.

Dems and GOP as Doubles Partners (Simile)

Wallace describes the election of Johnny Gentle, a third-party candidate, to the office of U.S. president: "the C.U.S.P. suddenly swept to quadrennial victory in an angry reactionary voter-spasm that made the U.W.S.A. and LaRouchers and Libertarians chew their hands in envy as the Dems and G.O.P.s stood on either side watching dumbly, like doubles partners who each think the other’s surely got it" (382). The comparison of Democrats and Republicans to doubles partners in a game of tennis demonstrates how both parties stand to gain from maintaining the status quo in a prevailing two-party system.

Consciousness as Popcorn (Simile)

Wallace describes the way Marathe is able to sleeplessly rest in a sort of out-of-body experience: "It was not a state of fugue or neural relaxation, but a type of detachment. He had learned this in the months after losing his legs to a U.S.A. train. Part of Marathe floated off and hovered somewhere just above him, crossing its legs, nibbling at his consciousness as does a spectator at popcorn" (418). This analogy conveys that Marathe feels somewhat entertained by his and Steeply's game of chicken, neither yielding, both willing to spend the night on the mountainside rather than make the first move to descend.