“And are you hearing me talking, Dad?”
The answer is always, “No.”
In Chapter 3, we meet Hal’s father, James Incandenza, for the first time. Of course, we don’t know that it’s James. DFW gives us nothing but dialogue and sound effects, an exchange between Hal and a professional conversationalist who turns out to be Hal’s dad in disguise.
This chapter is a send up of the meeting Hamlet has with his ghostly father in Hamlet‘s first act. Yes, that conversation is about plot: “Son, I was murdered! Revenge me!” But it’s also establishing that Hamlet Sr. cares way more about Gertrude than he does his son. He never expresses affection, just a demand that Hamlet fulfill his filial responsibility. Hamlet worships his father, but he is merely an errand boy for his dad.
In this IF scene, father and son are talking past one another. There’s a passing knowledge of one another, but the conversation’s gist is that they can’t have a conversation. James has Hamlet Sr.’s same obsession with his wife’s sexual (in)fidelity, and the son is simply a means to the father’s end.
To top it all off: the imagery of a father’s face melting as he talks incomprehensibly past his auditor? A mirror image of Hal’s situation in Chapter 1.