“Tiny Ewell, in a blue suit and laser chronometer and tiny shoes whose shine you could read by, is sharing a dirty aluminum ashtray with Nell Gunther, who has a glass eye which she amuses herself by usually wearing so the pupil and iris face in and the dead white and tiny manufacturer’s specifications on the back of the eye face out” (Infinite Jest 362-363).
This moment occurs during the Boston AA meeting Gately and the other members of Ennet House attend. This section explains the experience of the AA meetings that Ennet House residents are required to attend daily and what they are supposed to get out of the sessions. In this moment, we are faced with two characters: One who is not self-aware enough to admit he has a problem, and one who is self-aware without necessarily knowing so. Nell keeps her glass eye in backwards and facing into her head. This inclination reflects her self-awareness, as her eye sees into her own head. Symbolically, she is able to understand herself more fully because she can see this part of herself while nobody else can say the same about themselves. Not only can she see inside her head, she can see how she communicates with the world more clearly because she can see the communication between the internal and the external at the same time.
One of the main problems the addicts at Ennet House and other places in the novel have is the self-awareness and the insight to communicate that they have a problem . This point is illustrated by the transcripts of Pat Montesian’s drop-in hours on pages 176-181. Many of the characters identify the result of their addictions, but only a few of them straight-out admit that they have an addiction. This is particularly evident in Tiny’s transcript.
In Nell’s transcript, however, we see a character who is extremely self-aware without explicitly saying that she is. For example, her transcript tells of an episode at the dinner table in Ennet House where she stabbed another resident, Morris Hanley, in the hand with a fork because he continuously tapped on the table. She describes the sound as “whacked” and “insane” and “…the kinds of sounds you can imagine a girl hears in her head right before she kills her whole family” (I.J. 177). Nell was actually describing herself when she was describing the sounds. Because she has the self-awareness granted from seeing into her own head, she knows that she, herself, is a little bit on the crazy side, and that is why she attacked Hanley.
Tiny Ewell is not so lucky. He does not have the same view into his head that Nell does. Because of this, he is not able to see that his problems stem from his addiction. He doesn’t deny that he is an alcoholic, but he doesn’t agree that he is, either. He does not have the same self-awareness that Nell does. The closest thing Tiny has is being able to see his reflection in his shoes if he were to look down. Although that would reflect the person the rest of the world sees, it would do little to show Tiny what goes on inside his head. He can’t see the communication that goes on between his brain and the outside world the same way Nell can.