What is the theme of "Good People" by David Foster Wallace?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

 One theme in the short story "Good People" is the crisis of conscience. 

The story's omniscient narrator focuses on the thoughts of Lane Dean and his perception of his relationship with his girlfriend. As they sit on the top of a picnic table with their feet on the bench, Lane watches Sheri sigh with the weight of deciding whether to have an abortion: 

The whole thing felt balanced on a knife or wire; if he moved to put his arm up or touch her the whole thing could tip over. 

As his girlfriend sits quietly with her thoughts, Lane wrestles with his conscience. He feels guilty for being so "frozen" about this matter. He is trying not to be involved in the consequences that he perceives as influencing his girlfriend's life much more than his.

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. 

Finally, after a lengthy examination of his conscience

...two great and terrible armies within himself, opposed and facing each other, silent—

Lane realizes that he shares responsibility for the situation as much as his girlfriend. So, her moral dilemma is his dilemma, as well. He realizes that he has been hypocritical and selfish to have considered things to be solely decided by Sheri. Watching his girlfriend, Lane recognizes his obligations to her. He knows that she may absolve him of them by declaring that she will have the baby, after all, and raise it by herself. However, he cannot let her do this; he must share with her the responsibility for their actions.

There on the table, neither frozen nor yet moving, Lane Dean, Jr., sees all this, and is moved with pity, and also with something more, something...that is given to him in the form of a question....Why is one kind of love any different? What if he has no earthly idea what love is?

Lane considers the possibility that he does love Sheri after all, and he simply has not recognized his feelings as just another kind of love from what he has imagined. As Lane acknowledges his feelings for Sheri, he takes her hand and prays for the courage to meet the truth.

pnhancock eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A major theme of David Foster Wallace's short story "Good People" is the tension between personal morality and practical decisions, and the resulting fear of hypocrisy. The story revolves around the relationship between two young Christians facing an unwanted pregnancy and contemplating the possibility of abortion, which their religious beliefs forbid. 19-year-old Lane feels the stress of the desire to maintain a positive relationship with God along with the fear of going to hell, and the necessity of abortion to allow him and his girlfriend Sheri to avoid shame and pursue the futures they planned for. Much of the story is told through Lane's contemplation: of Sheri, her plans to be a nurse, whether or not he loves her, and whether his relationship with her will result in him going to hell. He concludes that either decision they make, keeping a child out of wedlock or having an abortion, would go against their religious morality. The story ends without stating whether or not Sheri ends up having the abortion, instead finishing by examining Lane's fear and uncertainty. Ultimately the story conveys the tension between religious morality and the necessity of making decisions in life that oppose it, and examines the thought processes of a young couple trying to decide which choice they will make in opposition to their own morals.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The short story "Good People" by David Foster Wallace examines the themes of hypocrisy, morality, and the duality of human nature. Lane and Sheri are morally conflicted about their decision to get an abortion or have a child out of wedlock. As a Christian, Lane knows that abortion is considered a sin and is drastically against his beliefs. Although he believes that getting an abortion is wrong, he struggles to admit to himself that it is what he really wants. Lane feels that he is a hypocrite and liar, which is why he refuses to tell anyone about his secret. Lane also struggles with his morality when he thinks about repenting for his sin. Lane thinks of Hell and then realizes that he is simply a flawed human being trying to please God. Lane's internal conflict between making the practical decision and obeying his faith examines the duality of human nature. Lane is a good person who feels terrible for sinning. He feels like a hypocrite and struggles to realize that all humans have both good and bad qualities. Lane finally comes to the realization that he is a fallen human who was born imperfect. Whether the couple decides to abort or keep the child is left unanswered.

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