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Hal Incandenza

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Hal Incandenza is one of the two protagonists of David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest. Hal is 17 years old as of Y.D.A.U. and is considered a lexical prodigy; he used to read the Oxford English Dictionary and memorize it in his spare time.

Enfield Tennis Academy

As Hal is a resident of the Enfield Tennis Academy, the majority of Hal's scenes take place there. Hal is the #2 tennis player at the E.T.A., second only to John Wayne, and the #6 18-and-Under player continentally. He has lived at the E.T.A. since age seven (4).

Hal is a Big Buddy for some of the 14-and-Under players: Peter Beak, Kent Blott, Idris Arslanian, and Evan Ingersoll (98). He likes being a Big Budy, stating that "he likes being there to come to, and likes delivering little unpretentious minilectures on tennis theory and E.T.A. pedagogy and tradition, and getting to be kind in a way that costs him nothing," despite the fact that uhe has the "strange urge to be cruel to Ingersoll" (98).

Hal is good friends with several of the other E.T.A. residents, including Michael Pemulis and Ortho "The Darkness" Stice.

On the days that he doesn't Big Buddy with his charges, Hal will "get covertly high in the Enfield Tennis Academy's underground Pump Room" (49). He likes getting high in secret, but he is as "attached to the secrecy as he is to getting high" (49).

Relationships With Family


Hal is the youngest son of James Incandenza and Avril Incandenza, and his relationships with his parents are extremely complicated. Near the beginning of Infinite Jest, we see a scene with Hal and a "professional conversationalist" (Himself). According to Hal, Himself has this "hallucination I never speak" (29); it is later revealed that Himself and his father suffered from this very problem. Himself felt that his trouble with his father was his fault, stating that he had a "failure ever to make him hear you really speak" (838). This failure, Himself (in wraith form) says, was passed to his son Hal, and Himself's final days were spent "working tirelessly to contrive a medieum via which he and the muted son could simply converse" (838). It is unclear whether Hal actually speaks and Himself cannot hear it, or whether Hal does not speak but has the illusion that he does. Hal also notes that he had "never once had a conversation . . . open or intimate with Himself" (956), which may or may not be a product of this communication difficulty. Hal is also the one who found his father's body after James's suicide (248).

Hal's relationship with his mother is equally complex, despite the fact that they have ostensibly open lines of communication. Although Avril prides herself on being an accepting and loving mother, Hal notes that "it's like to report any sort of need or problem is to mug her" (523), and he and Orin Incandenza even have a running joke about her "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" (523). In fact, Hal despises the way he "always reacted" around her during this routine, and gets a "special fantodish chill of feeling both complicit and obliged" (523) when Avril does this. While Avril believes that she and Hal have great communication, her forcefull passive-agressiveness makes her son "despise" the way he acts around her to the extend that it gives him a "special fantodish chill," indicating a complicated, unhealthy relationship.


Hal is quite close to his second-eldest brother Mario Incandenza. They share the same room at the Enfield Tennis Academy, and Hal calls Mario "Booboo" (316). In fact, Hal "almost idealizes Mario, secretly . . . Mario is a (semi-) walking miracle, Hal believes" (316). Hal fears Mario's opinion "more than probably anybody except their Moms's" (316).

Hal is less close with his eldest brother Orin. In fact, Orin has not seen Hal for "four years 216 days, and with two years of that not even once even calling" (249) before he abrubtly begins speaking with Hal again in the spring of the Y.D.A.U. Hal estimates that "over 60% of what he told Orin on the phone . . . was a lie. He had no idea why he liked lying to Orin on the phone so much" (136). Despite the lack of speaking and the lies that are told, Hal is the only person in the Incandenza family with whom Orin is in contact, indicating some type of relationship or bond between the two.

Hal and Themes


Both Mario Incandenza and the wraith of James O. Incandenza give separate accounts of Hal's sadness. Mario struggles to articulate Hal's sadness, which he sees as a strange turning-inward. He asks Avril Incandenza about the sadness: "what if it's that they're almost like even more themselves than normal? Than they were before? If it's not that he's blank or dead. If he's himself even more than before a sad thing happened. What if that happens and you still think he's sad, inside, somewhere" (768)?


In the underground tunnels of E.T.A., Hal secretly smokes marijuana almost every day. For Hal, the appeal of getting high is less the high itself, but the secrecy of it. In footnote 321 Hal tells Pemulis that he fears that he (Hal) is addicted to marijuana and that he plans to stop smoking it. Pemulis urges Hal to "spend some time figuring out this needing. Like what part of [Hal's] come to need" marijuana. Toward the end of the novel, Hal admits that he is addicted and searches for a Narcotics Anonymous support group.

See Also