Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest Summary and Analysis of Chapters 25 - 26


Marathe and Steeply spend all night on the mountainside, speaking until sunrise. In the exhaustion of a sleepless dawn, their conversation seems to lighten up, and they share some laughs over their common knowledge of James O. Incandenza's body of work. They talk about Eastern myths of the West, briefly again about lethal pleasure, though this time unaccompanied by Steeply's accusations that Marathe knows more than he's letting on about the illicit Infinite Jest cartridge floating around, rendering its poor viewers totally slack-jawed and irretrievably hypnotized. In a moment of close-third narration on Marathe, Wallace reveals to the reader that Marathe's true loyalty, in his double- or triple-agent arrangement between the U.S. Office of Unspecified Services and his Quebecois separatist faction, the Wheelchair Assassins, lies with his wife's wellbeing, and that if her life could be saved by truly betraying the Assassins, then he would do so.

Back at the E.T.A, two days after the I-Day festivities, Hal, Pemulis, Ann Kittenplan, and Axford are called up to C.T.'s office, presumably to answer for the Eschaton fiasco two days prior which has apparently left Otis Lord with his head still stuck inside the Eschaton computer monitor. However, instead of calling the students directly into his office, C.T. makes them wait in the anteroom while he does an intake interview with a very young prospect around seven years old. In Avril's office, over a dozen young female students sit in on what basically amounts to a sexual harassment seminar. Hal's mouth is engorged with saliva and he feels a strong need to go and secretly smoke pot under the school. When they're finally called into Tavis's office, the environment is icy. Otis Lord is already in the office, sniffling, head still stuck inside of a computer monitor, and in the corner of the office, a urinalysis specialist awaits them.

On the Ennet House side of things, a staffer takes Erdedy and Gompert to an NA meeting that focuses on marijuana addiction. Erdedy and Gompert feel vulnerable and slightly embarrassed about the fact that marijuana is their primary drug of choice and the drug with which they struggle the most (if not the only drug they struggle with at all) because marijuana has a reputation for being the most benign substance out there. They sit through the meeting and hear the stories of their fellow NAers, and towards the end of the meeting, everyone exchanges hugs. Erdedy, seeing the hug-fest unfold, retreats to the back of the room by the coffee and NA literature, because hugs make him extremely uncomfortable. At this moment, Roy Tony re-enters the narrative. Roy Tony is an NA member. He walks over to Erdedy and opens his arms for a hug. Erdedy attempts to politely decline the hug, explaining that he's not a hugger, and that hugs make him uncomfortable. Roy Tony starts berating him and lifts him by the lapels of his jacket, assuring Erdedy that neither is he a hugger, but that he hugs in these meetings like everyone else. Ken Erdedy frantically hugs him back.

The next morning, Don Gately walks down to the Ennet House common room to find Joelle van Dyne sitting by the window, watching snow fall on the lawn. They discuss their respect insecurities. Gately tells Joelle a story about when he was in a bar and one of his acquaintances was shot in the head for moving in on another guy's girlfriend, and he and his friends were so drunk that instead of loading him into a car and driving him to the hospital, they walked him around the bar, treating him like an O.D. He died in the bar. Gately then asks about Joelle's veil, and she continually avoids the question. She does however talk about the Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed and their philosophy, which is both similar and in important ways different from AA's. Joelle suggests that Don is ashamed of his shame of feeling intellectually inferior to other people, because he keeps making jokes about not being able to follow Joelle's explanations of the Union. Don presses her for information about her disfigurement, or else tells her just to admit that she doesn't want to talk about it, but asks her to stop avoiding the question. Joelle finally tells him that she's so stunningly beautiful that it's a disfigurement because of the effect it has on other people, and that's why she chooses to hide under the veil. Gately doesn't believe her.

Randy Lenz still occasionally uses cocaine, which as a resident of Ennet House is a blatant violation of his contract. He does so very covertly, so he thinks, and Lenz is one of the many residents that pass through the House that have no sincere faith in the Anonymous program, so he doesn't feel like he's violating any personal code by continuing to use. Lenz does feel an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and rage that, Wallace suggests, is common among newly sober residents of Ennet House (even though Lenz is technically not sober), and Lenz finds a rather disturbing outlet for his feelings of powerlessness and rage. After his nightly meetings, he takes a long walk home alone to the Ennet House and stomps on rats and mice, and in killing the rodents, Lenz feels a strong sense of regaining control and power of his situation.

As time goes by, Lenz escalates his animal-killings. He graduates from rodents to cats, which he finds have to be lured with cans of tuna. He traps the cats in Hefty bags and ties the bag, entranced by the various shapes and forms the bags take as the cats struggle to free themselves. Some of the more persistent cats do eventually claw their way out of the bags, so Lenz starts to buy extra-strength, reinforced Hefty bags and double-bags the cats he feels will put up the biggest fight. Once he gets bored with cats, Lenz moves to dogs. This involves preserving some of Gately's famous meatloaf and carrying it around in a bag in his coat, and then on his walk home, offering up the meatloaf to a dog he sees tied up, or roaming around a fenced-in yard. Once the dog is preoccupied with the meatloaf and trusts Lenz, as the person who provided the meatloaf, Lenz takes out his large, Browning hunting knife and cuts the dog's throat.

At some point during Lenz's nightly animal killing spree, Bruce Green asks to join him on his walks home. Lenz figures it's fine for Bruce to join him, because he likes Bruce well enough, and he can go one night without killing an innocent animal. But then Bruce starts walking with him every night. Lenz wants to tell Bruce that he needs some nights to himself, but the problem is, Lenz likes Bruce. He's overwhelmed with anxiety at the prospect of having to tell Green to find a different route home, and so Lenz just keeps walking home with Bruce Green for a while. He finds in Green his ideal conversational partner, someone who lets Lenz talk nonstop, but interjects just enough to assure that Lenz has his, Green's, full and undivided attention.

Lenz finally decides, one night, at an AA meeting with Green, that in order to build up the courage to tell Green he needs to walk home alone sometimes, he needs to do a little cocaine in the bathroom. So Lenz excuses himself from the meeting and does a couple of lines of synthetic cocaine in the bathroom, returns to the meeting, and delusionally feels like he's acting and appearing perfectly normal and sober. But when it comes time to leave the meeting and walk home, Lenz finds in his high state that he wants nothing more than to keep the company of Bruce Green, who is the perfect receptacle for his nonstop, drug-induced storytelling. But somewhere along the walk home, Lenz and Green are seperated, and the narrative focus shifts to Green.

The reason Bruce and Lenz are seperated is that Bruce hears Hawaiian music that reminds him of a string of dreadful memories from his early childhood. In Bruce's toddler years, his father is a highly-sought-after, minorly famous aerobics instructor who sometimes guest-stars on buns-of-steel tapes. Then, one day, one of Mr. Green's legs starts to shorten and none of the specialists he sees can do anything about it other than prescribe him a huge platform boot. So, Mr. Green's career as an aerobics instructor ends, and he's forced to work at a gag-gift shop as a product developer. One Christmas, little Bruce Green gifts his mother what he believes is a can of her favorite candied nuts, but when she opens it, she finds that it is a gag-gift that shoots a pre-coiled felt snake out of the jar. The surprise sends her into medical shock and she dies right there in their living room on Christmas morning in front of Bruce and Mr. Green. Bruce doesn't speak for years after this incident and is sent to live with his aunt. Bruce's father is later arrested and sentenced to death after filling gag cigars with highly powerful explosives that end up decapitating upwards of thirty people.

At some point in his wanderings, Green stumbles upon a residential street where he spots Lenz, bent down outside of someone's fenced-in yard, seemingly luring their pet dog over to him with a piece of Gately's meatloaf. Green takes cover behind a tree, not making himself known to Lenz. He can see a group of people rustling about in the house that belongs to the yard where Lenz is feeding meatloaf to the dog. It all happens faster than Green can react: Lenz stabs the dog, the men in the Hawaiian shirts in the house witness it and start running downstairs. They spot Lenz, but he's too fast for them and he seems to get away on foot. They pursue in a sports car while Green, shocked at what he just witnessed, stays put behind the tree.

Back at Ennet House, curfew has come and gone. Green misses curfew by six minutes, which results in Gately having to put him on full House lockdown, meaning he can only leave the house for meetings and work, and he has to provide an immediate urine sample. Gately feels lousy about it, though, because he really likes Green and feels like he's taken him under his wing. The night wears on. One of Don's jobs as live-in staff is that at midnight every night, he has to shepherd all the car-owning residents out of their rooms and into the street so they can move their cars to a place where they won't be towed by the city. The task is rather tedious and involves the same headaches every night, but Don commits himself to rounding up all of the residents because he can't stand the idea of one of them being towed. Due to some unforseen hiccups in the course of the evening, Gately cuts it closer than usual to midnight before gathering all of the car-owners, which adds extra stress to the process of moving the cars, because at 12:05 a.m., the tow-trucks start prowling down the street. All the residents are assembled downstairs except for Lenz, who Gately finds in his room, listening to music with headphones. Don can immediately tell that Lenz is high, but the commotion of car-moving is so anxiety-inducing that he decides to wait until after the cars are moved to make Lenz give a urine sample.

Lenz goes down to move his car and Don goes back into the house because one of the residents has severe diverticulitis and can barely leave his bed let alone move his car. Gately goes in to check on the sick resident and finds him in a rather severe, E.R.-worthy state. In the middle of Gately trying to assess the state of this sick resident, Green bursts into the room and tells Gately he needs to come outside. There's commotion and screaming, and when Gately reaches the front of the Ennet House, he sees that three Hawaiian-shirt-wearing heavies are chasing Lenz around their car. One of the guys has a .44 magnum trained on the residents outside in a way that Gately can tell he really knows how to use it. Seeing this clearly dangerous situation sends Gately into an instinctual predator mode. A smile spreads over his face as he prepares to take control of the situation and, if he has to (and he clearly wants to) fight with these guys who are after Lenz. Gately brutally takes down the two men chasing Lenz, who it seems are French-Canadian, and then with the help of Green neutralizes the armed one. In the midst of the chaos, Gately is shot in the shoulder. The wound is pretty severe, and the scene ends as Joelle and Green are dragging Gately into Ennet House to wait for an ambulance.

Meanwhile at Enfield, Pemulis makes a shocking discovery one afternoon while walking through the administrative offices of the Academy. He stops by Avril Incandenza's office to find her dressed as a cheerleader, and E.T.A.'s own John Wayne naked except for a football helmet and a jockstrap, bent over as if about to snap a football to a quarterback. Pemulis walks into the room, which causes Avril to freeze and Wayne to silently gather his clothes. Pemulis clearly has a list of demands, but the scene ends before he can relate them.

In Arizona, Orin finds himself driving "Helen" Steeply to the airport, answering some last-minute interview questions. Steeply travels to Boston, MA to continue investigating the Incandenza family, trying to locate the Infinite Jest tape or find out who has been distributing it with malicious intent. After Steeply is gone, Orin meets a hand model, and they go back to his place and sleep together. As soon as Steeply leaves, Orin notices that he's once again being followed by men in wheelchairs. After having sex with the hand model, there's a knock at the door. Orin opens it to find a man in a wheelchair holding a clipboard, claiming to need his assistance in filling out a survey. Orin humors him, believing that these Wheelchair Assassins are actually just massive fans of his. The omniscient elements of the narration tell the reader that the hand model, in bed hiding under the covers, has one hand on a machine-pistol. The man in the wheelchair is also clearly part of a hit-squad. The scene ends as Orin is still standing by the door, filling out the man's fake survey.


Geography and place play an important role in Infinite Jest both metaphorically and literally, in the sense that Wallace uses real places and neighborhoods in Boston to include a true-to-life socioeconomic dimension in his characters. When Don Gately takes Pat Montesian's Ford Aventura (a fictional vehicle) from the Ennet House all the way across town to a specialty market to pick up eggs and vegetables for Joelle van Dyne, he takes Storrow Drive (which Wallace refers to as the Storrow 500, a comparison to Nascar racetracks). From the highway, Don can see the whole city passing him by, and each of the locations he passes that Wallace remarks on contains a part of Gately's past, whether it's the Brighton Projects in Allston (real neighborhoods in Boston) or The Unexamined Life bar, a fictional bar where on the weekends Enfield students intersect with the security guards that police the hospital facility where the Ennet House is located.

Later on in the novel, when Green and Lenz become separated on their walk back from an AA meeting, Green is drawn by the faint sound of Hawaiian music to his childhood neighborhood in Allston (also the home of one Michael Pemulis). Allston is a working-class neighborhood, and with that come different woes and obstacles that connect characters in the reader's mind through their common experiences, even when the characters don't actually cross paths in the novel. Pemulis inhabits a world, the world of Enfield Tennis Academy, that is mostly foreign to his prior experiences—an upper-middle-class to upper-class existence where money, for many of his peers, is no object, and the desire for a full-ride scholarship to university is more out of vanity than actual need.

In a literary essay published on The Millions website, Adam Kelly, a scholar of English Literature, writes about the "Infinite Boston" tour he gives to his Harvard undergraduate students to pair with their reading of Infinite Jest. Kelly compares Wallace's engagement with Boston in Infinite Jest to Joyce's Dublin in Ulysses (with the caveat that Joyce is far more concerned with textually reconstructing Dublin in painstaking detail, whereas Wallace uses Boston more as a series of trail markers, blending the real with the fictional in a way that allows his readers to try and imagine and place Wallace's fictional locales in the context of a real Boston (a pursuit that continues still, almost twenty-five years after the novel's publication, as shown by online communities like "Infinite Boston").

The concept of "maps" pervades the novel in many forms. The most frequent use of the word "map" in Infinite Jest is in reference to one's selfhood: i.e. to eliminate one's own "personal map" or to eliminate someone else's "map" (196, 220, 231, 286, 348, 374, 407, 408, 446, 532, 558, 712) refers to suicide and murder. One's "map" is one's face, but it is also one's selfhood. Then, this distinction between "map" and "territory" comes to a major head during the chaotic game of Eschaton the day before the I-Day festivities, when Pemulis insists upon the total lack of relationship between the conditions of the "real" world in which the representation of the game exists, and the theoretical conditions of the game world, i.e. the "territory." So, when one of the players suggests that the snow falling on the tennis courts should affect the conditions of the game, Pemulis reminds him that, "It’s snowing on the goddamn map, not the territory, you dick!" (333) thus distinguishing the representational "map" from the theoretical conditions of the intangible "place" that the map represents—i.e., the "territory." Kelly extends the geographical significance of Infinite Jest as a metaphor for fiction, writing that "the Eschaton scene is also a comment upon the role of fiction itself as a form of representation that takes the world as its object without becoming identical with it, or even being tied to it."

In his conclusion, Kelly writes, "One of Wallace’s most profound historical projects involved trying to convince his generation of Americans that they needed to revalue and reestablish boundaries; rather than individual freedom inhering in a lack of restrictions, limits could be understood as animating and enabling. The boundaries of a game, and the boundaries of a self, were clearly two kinds of limits that fascinated Wallace." This idea that limitations on people's consumption of excess "special treats"—which range, according to Wallace's analysis in "E. Unibus Pluram," from candy to drugs and alcohol, stretching also to include the essay's main focus (and of primary significance to the novel) the passive consumption of television and other forms of digital media—is the central thematic thrust of Infinite Jest. And the most explicit discussion of this theme comes in the scene between Marathe and Steeply on an Arizona mountainside. Steeply, defending the characteristically American stance that setting limits on what individuals can legally consume and the quantity they consume is fundamentally paternalistic and an overstep of government's authority, claims that U.S. citizens are considered not to be children, but adults fully capable of making their own decisions, even if those decisions drive them to an early grave, or perhaps worse, a living grave. At the center of their discussion is J.O.I.'s lethally entertaining cartridge, Infinite Jest. Marathe responds with a question: "What is the difference, please," he asks, "if you make a recorded pleasure so entertaining and diverting it is lethal to persons, you find a Copy-Capable copy and copy it and disseminate it for us to choose to see or turn off, and if we cannot choose to resist it, the pleasure, and cannot choose instead to live?" (321).

This notion that setting boundaries and enforcing abstinence from pleasure can actually lead to a fuller sense of freedom than the freedom simply to choose pleasure is at the heart of AA and other Anonymous programs devoted to supporting their members' attainment and maintenance of sobriety. In the Ennet House sections of the novel, Wallace refers to addiction as a cage. At a certain point, one does not choose to drink or take pills or do whatever it is one is addicted to doing—one just does it, even when one doesn't want to, when one would elect, actually, to not do it anymore, because the pleasure it once gave one it has long ceased to provide. The fundamental difference here between Marathe and Steeply's conversation and the governance of AA is that AA is, ultimately, a council of suggestions. One still has to make the individual choice to get clean and stay clean. Wallace addresses this tension as a fundamental shortcoming of the program for some members, referring to Don's desire for that paternalistic force that Steeply so flatly rejects as ultimately a promotion of individual freedom. When Don speaks at a commitment for the Tough Shit But You Still Can't Drink Group, Wallace, describing Gately's share, writes that "at this juncture he’s so totally clueless and lost he’s thinking that he’d maybe rather have the White Flag Crocodiles just grab him by the lapels and just tell him what AA God to have an understanding of, and give him totally blunt and dogmatic orders about how to turn over his Diseased will to whatever this Higher Power is" (443). Infinite Jest suggests, among its many suggestions, that total freedom of choice is short-sighted, because some choices are like crab-traps—once made, the consequences of the choice precludes the possibility of any future choices.