[I actually wrote this yesterday before our discussion about Avril in class, so some of it might overlap a tiny bit. I think it’s still pretty relevant, though.]
One character we have not focused much on during our Infinite Jest discussions is Avril Incandenza. There was a passage in the most recent reading that seems to sum up Avril perfectly: “Orin and Hal’s term for this routine is Politeness Roulette. This Moms-thing that makes you hate yourself for telling her the truth about any kind of problem because of what the consequences will be for her. It’s like to report any sort of need or problem is to mug her” (523). Avril is a bit of a paradox to me: on one hand, as shown by this quotation, she seems like the perfect caring mother. The Politeness Roulette appears to highlight the selflessness of Avril-her willingness to give up her dinner so Hal can eat, for example. But there is another side of the Politeness Roulette that may be less obvious: “Orin believed she did it all on purpose, which was way too easy. He said she went around with her feelings out in front of her with an arm around the feelings’ windpipe and a Glock 9 mm. to the feelings’ temple like a terrorist with a hostage, daring you to shoot” (Ibid.). The comparison of Avril to a terrorist is clearly not a flattering one, particularly when articulated by her son.
Perhaps this is because a portion of my paper focused on Avril, but the more I read of her, the less I like her. The Politeness Roulette highlights the self-absorbed, rather two-faced nature of Avril: on the one hand, she seems to be perfectly caring, but on the other, it appears more and more to all be a narcissistic act. A lot of the characters in Infinite Jest are self-absorbed (actually, is there anyone other than Mario who isn’t?), but not to this degree. While what we see of Himself, for example, indicates that he is extremely withdrawn and self-absorbed, yet he does not give his sons the “special fantodish chill of feeling both complicit and obliged” (Ibid.) that Avril does. Maybe the part that most bothers me about Avril is not her actions or motives but her affect on other people. Hal, for example, “despised the way he always reacted, taking the apple, pretending to pretend his reluctance to eat her supper was a pretense” (Ibid.). Of course, people pretend all the time for polite reasons, but in the case of the Politeness Roulette, it seems affected-if a mother gives up her meal for her son, it should not have to be fraught with “pretending to pretend” and terrorist-hostage comparisons.
The phrase that seems to best fit Avril is that she is somehow forcefully passive aggressive. When Hal remarks that he doesn’t want to eat her apple because that’s all she’ll eat between 12 and 23 h, she says she’s “‘stuffed. Huge lunch with a set of parents not three hours ago. I’ve been staggering around since.’ Looking at the apple like she had no idea where it’d even come from. ‘I’ll probably pitch this out'” (Ibid.). Avril is not merely trying to give her son a snack, but she keeps pushing it on him through her polite yet passive aggressive comments, such as “I’ll probably pitch this out.” I know that this is something most mothers would do, but from Avril, given her narcissistic tendencies, it seems more plotted and self-benefiting somehow. I feel like readers have yet to see a truly selfless or unmotivated act from Avril-it’s all self-promoting or helping. My personal favorite of her selfish moments is in the scene when Hal eats the mold and all she can do is run around in circles screaming that “‘my son ate this'” (11). I really cannot imagine a mother who wouldn’t do something in this situation-call 911, take Hal to the doctor, or at least make sure there’s no mold remaining in his mouth-besides running in circles screaming. I’m not really sure what to make of Avril’s self-absorption or its role in the novel, though.