Don Gately

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Along with Hal Incandenza, Don Gately is a protagonist in Infinite Jest. The two meet during the gap between the novel's actual end and its chronological end.

Gately is 29 years old, nine(?) months sober, and physically enormous. He is a live-in Staffer at Ennet House, as well as a regular member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Toward the end of the novel, Gately, trying to protect Ennet House resident Randy Lenz from a group of lethal Canadians, gets shot in the arm. The final scenes of Gately consist of him in the hospital.

Drug Abuse

Gately has had an intimate relationship with substances since he was a young child. Known in school as B.I.M. (or Bimmy, Bim, and many others), an acronym for Big Indestructible Moron, Gately was a football star with an unbelievably large and tough head. He "smoked his first duBois at age nine," and "[did] his first Quaalude at age thirteen," (903) and moved quickly to harder drugs, like oral narcotics and painkillers. Coming from a dysfunctional, abusive home, all Gately really knew was football and substances. Soon, however, substances began to dominate his life, as "Quaaludes and QuoVadis and Percocets are lethal in terms of homework, especially washed down with Hefenreffer, and extra-especially if you're academically ambivalent and A.D.D.-classified and already using every particle of your self-discipline protecting football from the Substances" (905). So, from an early age Gately was on a slippery slope, descending into drug abuse and misery, but fell off completely when his mother suffered brain damage and was placed in a long term mental institution (906). That was his junior year of high school, and Gately dropped out right after.

The novel's final scene depicts Gately in the hospital remembering his final drug binge. After consuming massive amounts of Dilaudid, with Gene Fackelmann after Fackelman took $250,000 from his bookie employer Whitey Sorkin and Eighties Bill in a gambling mix-up. Whitey sends his muscle to torture and possibly kill Fackelman Gately gets shot up with "Sunshine" which is "Metro Boston's third-hardest thing to street cop after raw Vietnamese opium and the incredibly potent DMZ" (1079) and makes him feel "less high than disembodied" (981).

Marshall Boswell notes that although "the novel provides hints that gately has this hallucination/recollection because of delirium brought on by his intense pain; it is possible that he 'reexperiences' this episode because he has been given the painkillers after all" (177).

Alcoholics Anonymous

Gately, as a former addict and current Ennet House staff member, is strongly advised to attend AA meetings. His history with AA is an interesting one, involving a great deal of resistance on his part. As a beginner at AA, Gately often spoke to the group in defiant, angry terms, hoping to potentially get kicked out. He specifically disliked and spoke out against the "Higher Power" step of the AA process. His aggression and brutal honesty, however, only produced clapping and approval from the other members of the group, especially the "crocodiles" (long time AA veterans). They would consistently tell Gately he was "right where he needs to be." While this confused and frustrated Gately at first he continued to attend his meetings. After a while, though still grappling with his version of a Higher Power, Gately warmed up to AA. He was taken under the wing of one of his group's crocodiles, "Ferocious" Francis. Over time, just as many of the AA veterans had said would happen, Gately began looking forward to AA. It had become a strengthening support system attended as regularly as possible, to help him avoid retreating to his old ways. Gately reaches a point of such commitment that even while he is in the hospital with tubes down his throat and a possible pending amputation, he is worrying about how many meetings he has missed and whether or not he will have to address the crowd with a hook for a hand in the future (823).

Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House

Gately is a live-in Staffer at Ennet House. His duties include: doing selected Ennet House errands, cooking the communal supper on weekdays, and doing the House's Weekly shopping (461). He's also responsible for locking the House's door at curfew; it's up to his judgment whether to let curfew-missers back into the home. Gately also has the power to pull spot-urine tests on residents he suspects to be using drugs. Because of Ennet House's requirement that residents need to find employment, Gately works as a janitor at the Shattuck Shelter for Homeless Males five mornings a week.

End of Novel

Boswell contends that the novel's final line, where Gately is "flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out a low sky, and the tide was way out" (981) is fundamentally a scene of rebirth, with the ocean as a womb (179). Boswell acknowledges the scene's rich ambiguity, noting that Gately could either be remembering his rebirth after the drug "killed" him, or currently experiencing a rebirth as he starts to heal. Either way, Boswell concludes, "the point is that he has been reborn from the womb of his addiction, and the woman who killed him--heroin, Dilaudid--has also given him birth, has saved his life. The ending is therefore both a death and birth, an exhaustion and a replenishment" (179), a fitting end for a book so focused on cycles of addiction and metempsychosis.


Furthermore, the novel physically ends with the endnote "Talwin-NX--®Sanofi Winthrop U.S." (p. 1079n388), and this ending contradicts the theory that Gately had in fact found a way out; the physical way out of the cyclical novel is perhaps only the cycle of addiction. The book may end with a spiritual rebirth which seems positive as Gately seems to have the prospect of new life. However, metempsychosis can be viewed as a larger-scale cage of inescapable recursivity.