Dr. Scott OrtolanoENC 1102 — Literature
The short story “Good People,” by David Foster Wallace was published in 2007, shortly before his suicide in 2008. Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York, to a philosophy professor and an English teacher. Though admired as much for its humor as its bulk and complexity, his fiction often dwells on what he called “an ineluctable part of being a human”—”suffering.” This story is a very touching, powerful story about a young, unwed, Christian couple facing an extremely difficult decision and the moral and religious implications that may result. As a young woman, I too have been in the same situation, where the choice would be life changing.
“Good People” is a third-person narrative where the setting is at a park by the lake. “They were up on a picnic table at that park by the lake, by the edge of the lake, with part of a downed tree in the shallows half hidden by the bank (225).” The downed tree sets the mood to be dark and sad, a symbol that frequently is visited throughout the story. There is a tense atmosphere between the main characters, Lane A Dean Jr. and his girlfriend Sheri Fisher. “Their postures on the picnic table were both the same forward kind with their shoulders rounded and elbows on their knees. In this position the girl rocked slightly and once put her face in her hands, but she was not crying (225).” Lane is a 19-year-old accounting and business major at a junior college. Sheri is a 20-year-old student in a nursing program and who works as a hostess. The story is a limited omniscient point of view, only allowing us into Lane’s head. We only know his opinions of Sheri and then once silence is broken, her final decision.
The major themes of the story include religion and morals. However, I want to concentrate on two important points that I can relate to personally; love and communication. Lane admits early on that he doesn’t love Sheri: “This might be the frozen resistance- were he to look right at her and tell her he didn’t, she would keep the appointment and go. He knew this. Something in him, though, some terrible weakness or lack of value, could not tell her (227-228).” Lane has internal conflicts with himself about right vs. wrong and being a hypocrite. The last paragraph shows a shift in Lane’s thought process. Sheri tells him that she cannot go through with the abortion and that she knows he does not love her. She tells him that she releases him of the responsibility, but Lane knows this is a lie. This is the first time we see him able to “read her heart” and how much faith she has in him. Lane questions if he even knows what love is and why he is so sure he doesn’t love her. This realization unfreezes him, giving him courage to look into her eyes and trust his heart. I can relate to this because although our love was never a question, it was love that made us have faith in the unknown. Once we both planned out how we could provide for our future, the monumental decision was easier and abortion was no longer an option. Our love had changed and trust was the foundation.
Communication in any relationship is a key to success. Lane, frozen in fear and not having the courage to freely talk to Sheri about the situation, has a conversation with her in his own head. Lane is torn between what he knows is right and what he wants. “That if they needed to pray on it more and talk it through then he was here, he was ready, he said. The appointment could get moved back…and yet he also knew he was also trying to say things that would get her to open up and say enough back that he could see her and read her heart and know what to say to get her to go through with it (227).” He talks about how he knew the abortion was what he wanted, which is why he hadn’t gone to anyone for counsel. Then he questions why Sheri hasn’t either, providing a glimpse of how he found her blank and hidden during this situation. Lane wants Sheri to make the decision for him. Sheri ultimately decides to not have the abortion. Lane foreshowed this when he mentioned her ringing the doorbell early that morning, when the appointment was that afternoon. Lane knew that Sheri could neither have the abortion nor carry the child alone and shame her family. She is gambling that he is “good”. I was able to have open communication with my partner about all the options. He did lean on me to make the final choice, assuring me that either way he supported the decision. I was worried about letting my family down, giving up my future and having to grow up so quickly. I ultimately was unable to abort as well. I did not want to be left with feelings of remorse nor have my partner love me less.
I think in the end, they keep the child and work on their relationship–united in their faith, religion and want to do right by each other. Love comes in many stages and growing to love someone is entirely possible. Communication and the courage to be honest in your feelings is the only way to be heard and understood. Wallace leaves us questioning what makes a person “good” and the moral battle within ourselves.
Wallace, David. “Good People.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, 12th ed, edited by Kelly J. Mays, 2017, pp. 224 – 229.