Date of Award

Winter 1-1-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts In English



First Advisor

Karem, Jeff

Second Advisor

Dr. Adam Sonstegard

Third Advisor

Dr. James Marino


The Pale King is a fragmentary work which many critics understand as primarily an examination of boredom. This is an interpretation put forth by Wallace’s editor, Michael Pietsch while attempting to unify the disparate components of the text as it remained after the author’s untimely death in 2008. As Pietsch argues in the 2011 edition’s introduction, “David set out to write a novel about some of the hardest subjects—sadness and boredom” (ix). Though boredom is indeed a theme throughout the book (and one which Wallace addressed while writing it (D.T. Max 281), The Pale King may also be a read as an examination of gender identity in America in the latter half of the twentieth century. David Foster Wallace is not often thought of as a writer preoccupied with gender, yet it vexed him throughout his career, evidenced by his depictions of femininity and masculinity (frequently at odds with one another) in Infinite Jest, Oblivion, and most importantly, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Wallace’s use of reconstructed gender identities in The Pale King represents his most profound and patriarchy-defying depiction of the subject.