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David Foster Wallace


David Foster Wallace was an American novelist, whom several people have termed as inimitable, due to his skill and style. He committed suicide out of depression in 2008. However, despite having the condition for over 20 years before he committed suicide, e relentlessly created a new way of expressing his perceptions towards the world and the people who live in it. He won awards due to his sometimes enigmatic expressions and perceptions that made his works widely read and interesting to scholars, journalists and anyone else who came across them. In this paper, we will try to look into some of the expressions and perceptions that were expressed through his writings. We will disregard his personal life and seek his feelings from his texts.

Unfair World

Wallace, in several occasions had depicted the world as unfair and harsh when it should have been softer on the victim. Most of the victims in his stories are not to blame for their misfortunes and their own undoings, but the world just imposes undeserved punishments on them. A good example is the young toddler in “Incarcerations of Burned Children”. The child did not have any knowledge regarding the chances if an accident, yet he suffered the most. He became scalded and hurt and cried for long periods of time. The suffering of the innocent child was then increased by the fact that the parents did not know that there were other places that the child was burning. They did not check the diapers, where the ultimately realized was the main source of pain to the child. Another case of a ruthless world was the case in “All that” where the young boy searched for long periods for an answer that never existed. He always looked out for a way to determine whether the tank on his cement mixer really moved as his mother had lied to him. The boy innovated new methods and tricks such as watching through keyholes as another person dragged the truck, using mirrors, turning quickly and slowly, all in vain. He also learnt from his father that the dad had also been in the same situation when he attempted to catch fairies using teeth. The boy even cried at the sadness of how his father suffered. He however did not realize that he was following the same path with the cement mixer. The mother to the narrator in “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” also suffered consequences that could not be attributed to any of her errors. The narrator describes the mark on the face as a crow’s foot that the mother was determined to eliminate through cosmetic surgery. However, something that was not beyond the control of the mother, the doctor who performed the surgery made it much worse as the mother got a new face that kept her looking frightened. The second surgery that was meant to reduce the surprised look made it worse. The writer describes it as a look that looked like screaming, yet there was no sound. The mother had not made any mistake, but fate and the injustice in natural setting led to the disappointments.


Wallace used choices of words that led to shrills as one read the ordeals. He carefully explained an issue with detail despite the issue having some uncomfortable message. In his “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature”, he explains the process that led to the disfiguring of his mother. It was the knife that went into the wrong direction and this led to the surprised look that his mother acquired after the surgery. He gives the details in a very unforgiving way and this shows that he views the world plainly with no concealments. Everything should be said the way it was, no matter the effects it would bring to the reader. The same unforgiving and thrilling trait can be observed in “Incarcerations of Burned Children” where he explained the way the father found the burned child. He writes

“the toddler in his baggy diaper standing rigid with steam coming off his hair and his chest and shoulders scarlet and his eyes rolled up and mouth open very wide and seeming somehow separate from the sounds that issued, the Mommy down on one knee with the dishrag dabbing pointlessly at him and matching the screams with cries of her own, hysterical so she was almost frozen”

The thought of steam coming off a toddler’s hair and chest, eyes rolling were very deliberate and unforgiving.  He never used any soft words and this could be used to describe his nature as very ruthless and insensitive of other people’s feelings. At some point, one could argue out that he enjoyed creating this feeling deliberately.


Foster never left any details for any chance. He gave explanations of objects in a way that would lead to a perfect formation of the picture. He never left any stone unturned and ensured that the reader had the full picture of all the issues that he wanted to convey to readers. In some cases where he has used long sentences and his own discovered vocabularies, he has used footnotes to explain. This shows his desire to ensure that the reader gets a full understanding of the messages that he wishes o convey at any given time. No matter the nature of the information, he provides a good explanation, no matter the situation he explains is thrilling, humorous or brings an idyllic with them. A very good example can be seen with the explanation of the methods that the young boy in “All That” used to determine whether the parents were true when they told him that the tank on the cement mixer revolves, only when the boy was dragging the cement mixer, and stops when the boy looks at it. In “Wiggle Room”, Wallace explains the main character in every single detail, never trying to aggregate the order of events until the reader visualizes the actual happenings.

“…Then he did two more returns, checked the clock real quick, then two more, then bore down and did three in a row, then flexed and visualized and bore way down and did four without looking up once, except to put the completed files and memos in the two Out trays side by side up in the top tier of trays, where the cart boys could get them when they came by”.

This keeps the reader close to the author and a feeling of ownership to the story. This can be used to depict the actual character of Wallace in real life, where he would rarely miss any detail in any event, abrupt, occurrence or while receiving or giving a piece of instruction. Therefore, he could be a sought of a perfect person who was thorough with details, no matter how small they sounded.

Humane and Sensitive to Other People

The author has displayed his concern to the people who suffer in the stories. He also shows his concern to the people who suffer due to the suffering f the people that they love. In the story of “Incarcerations of Burned Children”, the story is told from the perspective of the father who feels very remorseful and feels that the accident could have been avoided. The child is in great pain and there id parental guilt that reigns over the responsible father. The father and mother are portrayed as very touched and shaken by the accident that befell their child. They are too shaken that they even forget to remove the diapers, and when they did, they were regretful as to why they did not think about it earlier. In the other story, “All That”, the author is again remorseful for the young child. He explains how the young boy used to cry when he learnt that his father had been running at setting traps to catch fairies yet he never managed to catch any. The boy was remorseful at the hard moments that his father went through but did not realize that he was going through the same, in a different way. In this case, the author shows his concern about other people, yet he could be going through similar problems unknowingly.

Realistic to Life

In his story “Incarnations of Burned Children” Wallace creates an unforgettable incident in a home. The characters are not named (Mommy, Daddy and child) and their locality is also concealed throughout the story. The state at which the accident occurs is very realistic and could happen in any home. The child pulled a pot from the stove and the hot water poured on him. This could happen anywhere and from any background. The fact that the names are concealed shows that such an accident was unlimited to any background and personality. Also, the same trait can be discovered in his “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature” where he explains that an occurrence where a doctor can make a mistake to produce undesired results were also possible. The mother to the persona had visited a hospital to have her face reconstructed after she had had small marks on her face. She did eliminate the marks, but worse consequences followed. The more they tried to bridge the damage cause by the surgery through another, the worse the other looked. Many authors, especially those who write short stories, make a story carry a happy mood throughout. Wallace does not do this as he exaggerates the state of his mother which shows that he can only say realistic things about life and nature. No matter how bad the mother looked, he went ahead and explained it. At some point, he went on to say how the son mocked his mother which led to a big row between the mother and the son.  


Writing is a talent that has different levels. Exemplary writers create a mood to the reader and Wallace could be termed as one of these. Once a person starts to read a piece of his writing, it is usually hard to stop. In the course of writing, some writers, though not using themselves, end up making people know the kind of personalities they hold. When a writer wrote a story during a time when he was stressed up or in depression, he would probably develop a sad story. These traits are seen in most of Wallace’s stories where his writing is showing the kind of a person he is. They show his character and perception to life and general observations. At some point, they make conclusions suggesting how the world should be, though through the use of the characters they use in their stories. A closer look at the work of Wallace Foster has showed us the kind of a person he is and what he would have expected in his life. He also suggests what people should expect in life and not take it too casually, always with a happy ending.

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