David Foster Wallace’s Good People

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“Good People”, by David Foster Wallace is a story about a young, unwed, Christian couple that is facing a difficult decision. Their decision may result in both moral and religious implications that further complicate their situation. The presentation of dichotomy in this short story by Wallace is represented to the audience through the inner thoughts of Lane Dean as he struggles with the decision at hand. Due to Lane being frozen in fear and his inability to build up the courage to talk to his girlfriend, Sheri about the situation, he has a conversation in his own head that leads him question multiple aspects in his life: love, morals, religion and life. Two main threads run throughout this short story. The first thread is crisis of conscience, and the second thread division and unity.

“He knew it was wrong, knew something was required of him that was not this terrible frozen care and caution, but he pretended to himself he did not know what it was that was required. He pretended it had no name. He pretended that not saying aloud what he knew to be right and true was for her sake, was for the sake of her needs and feelings” (158).

Crisis of conscience. In this passage, Wallace presents the beginning of the first thread, crisis of conscience. While Lane and his girlfriend sit on a picnic table at the park, they sit very still in silence. The presentation of Lane’s inner thoughts allow readers to learn about what he believes to be right and wrong. The passage above shows the beginning of his crisis of conscience by displaying the guilty feeling Lane has. He’s worried and uncomfortable because he believes what he really wants is immoral. His desperation to convince himself of being a ‘good person’ while still admitting what he truly desires is his greatest enemy in the situation. What is displayed in the passage above is Lane’s struggle for justification of his wishes for himself. He wishes Sheri longed for what he longed for, but in truth he knows what her decision already is going to be. This fabrication Lane tries to convince himself of progresses the crisis of conscience he has furthermore.

“He felt like he knew why it was a true sin and not just a leftover rule from past society. He felt like he had been brought low by it and humbled and now did believe that the rules were there for a reason. That the rules were concerned with him personally, as an individual. He promised God, he had learned his lesson. But if that, too, was a hollow promise, from a hypocrite who repented only after, who promises submission but really only wanted a reprieve?” (160).

In this passage we greatly see Lane’s struggle with his religion. However, this example of crisis of conscience presents not only religious aspects, but also moral aspects. While Lane is worried about his faith, and the ‘rules’ involved within it, Lane continues to question his stance as a ‘good person.’ From the religious point of view, Lane has sinned greatly. Was he trying to get off easily? Would he truly repent, or was his promise to God simply, a get out of jail free card. This passage presents religion directly, and morals as a subgroup. As a Christian, Lane has religious morals he is meant to abide by (“rules”). His crisis of conscience lies within the fact that he broke said “rules.” By going against the God of his religion, with not only the actions leading up to the decision he must make, as well as the consequences of the actions, Lane feels his morality is jumbled.

Lane’s contradictory thoughts continue the battle inside his own mind. The situation he was in was not simply one of turning back the clock and starting over. He could not ‘reset’ his life and begin brand new. He had to deal with the outcome of his previous decisions. While personally, for his own life, Lane wishes to not have to deal with the consequences and continue living his young life as he feels one should: to be free of major responsibilities, to not have something holding him back, and to begin his adult life when he is ready to. On the other hand, Lane is faced with religious issues. From his religion’s point of view, he has sinned greatly. He must deal with the outcome of his actions. His wish for forgiveness from God, he feels, is also corrupted. Does he truly think he did something bad, or does he just feel this way because of the pressure of his religious standards? The crisis of conscience presented within “Good People” continues throughout the short story expressing Lane’s inner battle.

“What he believed in was a living God of compassion and love and the possibility of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through whom this love was enacted in human time. But sitting here beside this girl as unknown to him now as outer space, waiting for whatever she might say to unfreeze him, now he felt like he could see the edge or outline of what a real vision of Hell might be. It was of two great and terrible armies within himself, opposed and facing each other, silent” (161).

Division VS unity. This passage begins the second thread presented throughout this short story. This could also be referred to good VS evil. Is God within Lane, or is he simply alone? The presentation of division VS unity is manifested in both basic and complex ways. Religiously, Lane feels he has two choices: to be either against God, or with him. Lane feels isolated in his true wants. The presentation of division shows greatly in this specific passage. He makes it clear to the audience that although he is by his girlfriend, whom he is supposed to know very well and be with, he feels completely alone – she feels as foreign to him as “outer space.” Lane’s feeling of isolation is reflected in this passage of his inner thoughts by presenting to the audience how he feels it is him against everyone else.

“That listen — this is her own decision and obliges him to nothing. That she knows he does not love her, not that way, has known it all this time, and that it’s all right. That it is as it is and it’s all right. She will carry this, and have it, and love it and make no claim on Lane except his good wishes and respecting what she has to do. That she releases him, all claim, and hopes he finishes up at P.J.C and does so good in his life and has all joy and good things. Her voice will be clear and steady, and she will be lying, for Lane has been given to read her heart. To see through her” (162).

In this passage the aspect of love is observed. This passage, while reflecting greatly on division, also presents the idea of unity. To follow through with his wants, Lane would be divided. Lane must decide whether Sheri and the child remain physically united, or become divided permanently. To have this child would represent the permanent unity of the family he could have: him, Sheri and their child. An abortion would be a permanent division. He has a decision to take a leap of faith and try loving Sheri, try remaining united, or to become divided by telling her he wants her to get an abortion or to leave the two. This battle between division VS unity runs all throughout the short story.

Within this thread, both the division of religion and family are represented. Division VS unity is the central tension of this story. To be with or against God. To be with or against Sheri and the child. The effect of only one character’s inner thoughts also plays a part within this thread. We know exactly what Lane is thinking about. Only knowing what he fears makes his thought of division stronger. It has a greater impact on the reader when we only read about how he sees the situation ending up if he decides against the unity.

In this short story, we consistently see the idea of these two threads. The appointment for the abortion, yet Sheri’s willingness to raise the baby herself present problems for Lane. In the end, Sheri does decide to carry the child, which Lane sees as a leap of faith she has in him. The two have built their moral beliefs upon God and their religious upbringing. The fear of either decision drives Lane to have a crisis of conscience between what he wants and what he believes is right. Regardless, Lane, although seemingly controlled by fear throughout the story, realizes that there are some situations in life that are too complicated to be answered by the “rules” of religion.

There will always be a battle between right and wrong, no matter the strength of their religious beliefs. Lane finally breaks free of the fear that has consumed him and takes his own leap of faith in giving loving Sheri a try. The threads in this story, the crisis of conscience and division VS unity are not completely resolved by the end of the story, but Lane has a more clear direction of where his life is going to go.


Cite this paper

David Foster Wallace’s Good People. (2021, Oct 08). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/david-foster-wallaces-good-people/



What is David Foster Wallace good people about?
He is a good person because he is a kind and caring person. He is also a good person because he is a good friend.
What is the main theme of good people?
The main theme of "Good People" is that everyone has the potential to be good, no matter their past.
Who are the characters in Good People by David Foster Wallace?
The main character is a woman named Margie, and the other characters are her friends and family.
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