The Narrative and Meaning of Good People by David Foster Wallace

Categories: Short Story

Good people by David Foster Wallace is an informative and insightful story about an unwed Christian couple faced with a difficult decision that requires them to make both moral and religious considerations. The story begins with Lane A. Dean, Jr., and Sheri sitting at a park. They are dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and have to consider their moral values and religious beliefs before making a decision on what to do. Whilst still weighing her options, Sheri schedules an abortion which weighs deeply on Dean.

Dean is fearful, and instead of talking directly to Sheri he has a conversation with her in his mind, thinking of all the possible outcomes that could happen in their current situation.

Sheri decides to keep the baby and Dean takes this as a show of her faith in him. She is also making this decision herself because she really can still be a good person and make a morally correct choice even after she has already made an immoral choice that has gotten her in this situation in the first place.

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Lane also decides to take a leap of faith and commits to try to love her, after all that’s the very least he could do after getting her pregnant. The story is interesting as it vividly describes the jumbled up thoughts and the state of indecision one might go through when faced with the decision of whether to abort or not. The couple is presented as Christians, which makes the decision harder because Christians are profoundly anti-abortion.

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According to Nathan, who is a literary critic of the story; “Most anti-abortion advocators often reason that the fetus is alive but we can really determine at what point the fetus is to be deemed to be alive.” (Nathan). This uncertainty in this field further worsens the decision making as one cannot definitely describe the act as an act of killing the fetus or not. The story is written in the perspective of Lane Dean. Wallace describes how he tries to comfort Sheri by telling her that he would “be with her all the way.” (Wallace) This does not bring any comfort to her as she would be the one undergoing the procedure whilst the best Dean can do is waiting in the waiting room and wish her the best of luck. This perspective shows us the torment that a man undergoes when faced with an abortion decision. In as much as they will not experience the physical pain of the procedure, one would say they also suffer through an emotional torment. Nathan also describes the story as: “being a good illustration of a real life situation.” (Nathan)

The story does not try to pass across a message but tries to show the various feelings that in a real life situation both sides would be going through. The way this short story was written really makes any reader feel sympathy for these two characters even if they themselves, have never been in their shoes. The level of tension, emotion, and internal confliction between the two characters in this piece of writing really uses pathos in a very effective and successful way. Another literary critic explained how: “The story is well structured to show the binary nature of the decisions that the two have to make. It has references to dichotomy and division which in the end illustrates the two-way dilemma the two are in, i.e. to carry or to abort, to lie or to tell the truth, to love or not to, sin or to be good” (MattBucher). Wallace structures the story to show division in all aspects. He makes various references to this aspect when he refers to Dean stating, “he wanted to be a good person” and to Sheri that “she was a good person” (Wallace).

These statements show the divisions in personal morale that people experience in relationships and major issues such as the one depicted in this short story. Different parts of us drive us to want two different things regarding the same situation. It shows how one person can become torn, because they themselves want one thing to go a certain way, but they know it can’t be their decision in the end. They know they have to also consider to feelings and emotions of their partner. Relationships are not one sided, and in every situation both people must consider the other person, and come out to make a decision best for the both of them to feel at peace. The religious aspect of this situation between Lane and Sheri acts as a restriction for the couple, as they cannot seek advice elsewhere in this moment.

Most religions prohibit engaging in sex before marriage and an unplanned pregnancy would be viewed as a sin, as it is as a result of fornication. In this context, the mistake they did is based on their religious values and beliefs. Engaging in sex before marriage is a sin in Christianity and is forbidden. Having become pregnant, they are then faced with another predicament where they have to choose whether to commit another sin or not. The decision is difficult, as it is something that will change their lives forever. Lane is presented as being very reflective in all aspects. He keeps thinking and knows that something more is required from him. We can, thus, see that he has high expectations of himself. He keeps comparing himself to Sheri in a manner that shows he is not satisfied with who he is at the present moment. His reflections get him to start doubting his faith and his love for Sheri. He views his current predicament as something that has driven him away from his faith. This then makes him question his goodness. Sheri, on the other hand, seems to be more comfortable with herself and much more sure of what has to happen now. The narrative presents her as being blank and hidden. Her self-surety, however, does not indicate happiness as she has her face in her hands.

From their posture, and body language, one can tell that they have a problem with each other. They aren’t exactly on the same page quite yet. The focus of the narrative is the conflict that the couple battles with. The conflict is an internal one for both of them. We first see it in Dean’s reflections as he battles with his feelings and his faith. He wonders whether he loves Sheri or not. We can see that he is afraid of telling her directly that he does not love, as he is afraid that such a declaration would prompt her to go for the abortion, even though she would not feel right doing it. Lane doesn’t want to influence her to make any decision different than what she chooses on her own. There is an insanely tense atmosphere of unhappiness between the two characters. The narrator attributes this to Dean’s decision not to come clean to Sheri and be honest about his feelings.

According to Lane: “If he had loved Sheri or even told her that he loved, then they would not have been in the predicament they are in now.” (Wallace). He struggles with telling Sheri the truth, and what the consequences would be if he did. In his mind, he imagines what he would like Sheri to say to him when he tells her the truth. He wants her to say that it is all right and so then he would be freed from all his obligations. He had been praying for love, but he later realizes that instead, he should have been asking God to give him the courage to tell Sheri the truth. In this case, we also see deceit in the narrative. Lane deceives Sheri, not by telling her that he loves her but by not telling her his exact feelings towards her. He is being dishonest by not being completely blunt and coming out and saying what he’s really feeling. Sheri does not say anything as Dean thinks through all of this, since she may be waiting for him to open up about everything and be honest with her. The title Good People is in retrospect referring to Lane.

Sheri is already presented as a good person. However, Lane is still battling with everything as he cannot decide in which direction to go to. He wishes he were a good person by being strong in his faith. He views that he has strayed away from his values and as such is not a good person. He wants to feel that he is good. He does not want to keep lying to her or even to himself. He, however, is in a difficult situation and is afraid that telling the truth and being “a good person” could result in actions that would be negative, and immoral in the view points of his Christian religion. Telling Sheri that he does not love her could cause her to get the abortion immediately. In an online website collection of short stories and literary analyzation views, I found this quote to be very agreeable; “His desire to be good is a reflection of desires by many people in real life situations.

The church preaches to Christians to be good, but it is also a desire for many people, both religious and non religious to be good.” (Study Moose). In the end, he figures that he is not as strong in his faith as he wishes he were, but becomes a good person by being courageous enough to tell her the truth in the end. According to Christianity, the couple had already made one mistake by engaging in the act of fornication. They were then about to make another mistake and betray their values by getting an abortion. According to Toni Carilli, in an article on the psychology of errors, “there are different factors that cause people to make errors systematically.” (Carilli) Firstly, people have a tendency to think that each new idea is a good one. Secondly, once someone has spent a lot of time looking into an idea and researching all aspects of it, it becomes hard for them to look at other ideas objectively.

Lastly, people have a hard time accepting that the decision they had made in the past was a mistake and will try to distort the reality now in order to erase the previous mistake or make it seem logical. In this case, an abortion would erase the mistake done in the past. Fornication is not a mistake that can be outwardly seen, but a pregnancy is something that will bring to light previous mistakes. The couple has already scheduled a session for the abortion. The need to make a previous error seem logical would have led to another mistake. According to Stosny, a published psychologist and philosopher; “both adults and children have brief memories of past states of emotions.” (Stosny). We find Lane doubting his love for Sheri.

One would say that this situation is brought about by their current predicament. He wishes he had gotten rid of the situation by hoping that if he tells her he loves her, she will free him of his obligations and would have to deal with the stress of an unplanned pregnancy herself. Stosny states that: “people make mistakes repeatedly, as they have a tendency to retreat a state of regulating their emotions when under stress. This habit is formed in childhood.” (Stosny). Toddlers often fill in the gaps in their knowledge of other people using imagination. This is controlled by their current feelings. Adults at times copy such reactions. When looking at Lane Dean, he is trying to regulate his emotions, as he is under so much stress to the point of doubting whether he really loves Sheri or not. He also tries to fill in the gaps in his knowledge of how Sheri would react to such a revelation by trying to imagine what she would say and wishing that it would be true. He would like Sheri to tell him that all will be okay and so then he would be freed of all his responsibilities and obligations to her, as the father of her child.

From the narrative, we can see that the couple is conflicted about the decision to abort. It mainly focuses on Dean, but through him, we are able to see what Sheri feels and her perspectives. The perspectives given may be biased, as we get to see her through Dean’s eyes. At some point, it is difficult to differentiate whether the narrator is saying what Dean wishes or whether it is Sheri is expressing her feelings. However, from the narrative, we can see that even though they made a mistake, at the end of the day, Lane and Sheri are good people. They have values that they believe in, and are willing to suffer the consequences of having a child before marriage by standing with their Christian values of not aborting. Even though they betrayed their Christian values once, and had sex before marriage, they are strong enough to admit that, and live with the consequences by not aborting instead of getting rid of any evidence of their mistake.

The internal conflict shows just how hard the entire experience was. It is a reflection of what happens in real life where as much as we want to stand by our values, various predicaments make us question ourselves and whether we would stand by our values when the best and probably easiest solution is to betray them.

This narrative shows us that everyone has good and evil inside of them, but I think that for the most part, the world is filled with good people. People may make mistakes at times, but in the end, our intentions usually turn out to be good. Sometimes even when the consequences are much harsher when you tell the truth, a lot of times people listen to the angel on their shoulder instead of the devil on the other, because taking the “easy way out” would only end up leaving you with regret and doubt. Even you continue to make mistakes over and over, and not ever choose what will make you ultimately happy in the end, by doing the right thing, we are all still searching for what we can do to make that change about ourselves to become a better person.

I think in life we all can have our sort of “rock bottom” experience or time in our lives that really help us see that we can’t keep doing what we do, that isn’t right, or makes us unhappy. In that moment we truly make a valiant effort to change and grow and become better. We can learn to see that just because you have done something that is considered bad, it doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. There is never a point in life when it is impossible to turn a bad situation around and make it a good life lesson to be learned. We were all put here on earth to make mistakes, learn, and grow from them.

Works Cited

  1. Carilli, Toni. The Psychology of errors. 10 July 2007. web. 19 October 2016.
  2. MattBucher. The Pale King: Analyzing “Good People”. 14 February 2011. Web. 19 October 2016. <http://www.simpleranger.net/2011/02/>.
  3. Nathan. Values in the Sun: A Reflection on David Foster Wallace’s “Good People”. 23 September 2008. Web. 19 October 2016. <https://nathanblogskanye.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/values-in-the-sun-a-reflection-on david-foster-wallaces-good-people/>.
  4. Stosny, Steven. How We Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over. 31 October 2014. Web. 19 October 2016. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/anger-in-the-age entitlement/201410/how-we-make-the-same-mistakes-over-and-over>
  5. Wallace, David Foster. Good People. 5 February 2007. The New Yorker. Web. 19 October 2016. <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/02/05/good-people>.

Cite this page

The Narrative and Meaning of Good People by David Foster Wallace. (2021, Sep 15). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-narrative-and-meaning-of-good-people-by-david-foster-wallace-essay

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