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Summary of “Good People” by David Foster Wallace

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Who is “Good People”?

Society has a general idea of what makes a person good: selflessness, righteousness, moral uprightness, and so on. The definition of “good” deviates from this basis when it comes to subjective perceptions of which morals are good or bad. What we define for ourselves as good or bad is either taught to us or learned over time, and often during this process, we find ourselves at a fork in the road. “Good People” by David Foster Wallace is a short story that captures a moment of moral conflict in two young people’s lives that many should be able to relate to, even if they did not experience the same circumstances. A boy, 19, and a girl, 20, face a tough decision between aborting their child or their futures, reputations, and principles. Told from a third person limited point of view, the narrator focuses on the emotions of the boy, Lane A. Dean, Jr., whose internal conflict spreads from taking responsibility for his pregnant girlfriend to small actions such as whether or not he should touch her. Through Lane’s battle with himself, he is forced to face his beliefs and grow as a person. Wallace’s story encapsulates the hardship that comes with binding oneself to unrealistic ideals–whether they come from religion, family, or society.

The irony of “Good People” is that the young couple in the story are who most would define as good people; they’d met in campus ministries, worked part time jobs, and the girl–Sheri–had bought her own car. Lane described Sheri as being mature for her age and his mother liked her because “she knew what she wanted,” (Wallace). Once she got pregnant, the career that she had planned to pursue was put on the line. She no longer knew what she wanted because she was faced with a decision between two things that were important to her–her faith and her future. As for Lane, he was experiencing his own hell; “He was starting to believe that he might be serious in his faith…He was desperate to be good people, to still be able to feel he was good,” (Wallace). Throughout the story, Lane quotes the Bible and shames himself for not following the scripture. Because, in Lane’s eyes, what makes a person good is their faithfulness to what the Bible preaches, he believes himself to be sinful for getting his girlfriend pregnant out of wedlock. The tribulations Lane and Sheri experience stem from the pressure to be good people as their religion taught them. When faced with the moral dilemma of unplanned pregnancy that would force them to either give up their potential futures or violate the laws of their god, the couple no longer felt like they were good people. They eventually put religion in

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Other readers may not agree that conflict between religion and the couple are not the focus of the story; they may believe that religion is only a factor Lane and Sheri would consider in their decision, and the real conflict is Lane’s relationship with Sheri. Lane consistently pried at the validity of his relationship throughout the story; he struggled to comfort Sheri, was not sure he deserved her, and whether or not he loved her was questionable. Early on in the story, Lane’s thoughts tell us, “Different parts of him felt unconnected to each other. She was smarter than him and they both knew it,” (Wallace). Lane then continues his train of thought by describing all the aspects of Sheri he admired and coveted. From this point on, readers are aware of his insecurity about his relationship, and from this insecurity, his relationship with her is damaged. While all of this is true, I still believe the theme is the conflict between self and religion because Lane’s relationship insecurities are only magnified to a problematic level when he begins to compare himself to Sheri, who he believes is holier than himself. Lane even goes as far as to think, “She was in serious in her faith and values in a way that Lane had liked and now, sitting here with her on the table, found himself afraid of. This was an awful thing. He was starting to believe that he might not be serious in his faith,” (Wallace). In fact, the story ends in a cliffhanger, and readers are left to assume whether or not the couple chose to abort. This may be because it is not the decision that is important, but the process of reaching that decision. The unplanned pregnancy putting a strain on the couple’s relationship is one conflict in “Good People”, but the strain is driven by their religious beliefs, and this is the focal conflict.

Readdress body. Why it is important. How it applies to readers. Examples. How to understand. Why the story ends in a “cliffhanger”. Summarize main points. Draw back to intro. Clinch.

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Summary of “Good People” by David Foster Wallace. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from
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