Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Something Extraordinary about a Depressed Youth


Hequn Cai


Darlene Rivas, Professor of History and Latin American Studies, Pepperdine University

David Foster Wallace was a post-modernist writer who authored several renowned fictional novels, such as Infinite Jest, The Pale King, and hundreds of essays both fiction and nonfiction. He was also a man who suffered under psychological depression since his college years. Through an investigation of primary sources at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas and secondary sources, I found that his depression was constructed from three different sentiments – boredom, narcissism, and disappointment. Boredom was, as stated in Wallace’s commencement speech at Kenyon College, “a banal platitude” of everyday adult existence. Wallace’s college essays and his lengthy research for The Pale King indicate that boredom played an important role throughout his early years. Boredom motivated him to find value in everyday life by pursuing his passion to write. Narcissism refers to a “default setting” Wallace claimed that every human being has, which is thinking that he or she is the center of everything. Numerous references in Wallace’s essay collections are evident of this belief. Wallace struggled to counter this thinking. Disappointment was the most significant sentiment that caused the depression. Wallace was born and raised in a highly educated family. He had high expectations for himself as a result of the emphasis on academic achievement in his home. However, as Wallace started his adulthood in his twenties, the reality was much crueler than expectation. Correspondence with Wallace’s literary agent Steve Moore and fellow writers David Markson and Don DeLillo show that Wallace constantly revealed his disappointment about himself to them. Wallace was disappointed that he didn’t achieve what he expected himself to achieve. In conclusion, despite the predicament Wallace had as a youth, he fought depression, never gave up writing, and created remarkable literary work. This determination is what is significant about David Foster Wallace.

Presented by:

Hequn Cai


Saturday, November 17, 2012


4:00 PM — 4:15 PM


Bell Tower 2684

Presentation Type:

Oral Presentation


English Literature