Analysis of “Consider the Lobster” David Foster Wallace

In the passage “Consider the Lobster”, David Foster Wallace writes about his experience when attending a large lobster festival in Maine. In the first half, he describes the details of the festival: the attendees, the food, the company who produces the festival. After that, however, Wallace turns his focus onto the action of boiling lobsters alive for the festival and food in general when PETA activists begin to protest.

Wallace finds it critical to point out some of the difficult ethical questions that come out of the Maine Lobster Festival (MLF). In order to make his point, Wallace firstly argues that lobster is prepared either within one’s sight at the MLF or by oneself in the kitchen. For instance, at home, once the cook places the live lobster into the pot of boiling water and closes the lid, one can hear fervent scratching of the lid. In other words, as Wallace bluntly puts, the lobster acts just as any rational person that is in pain would. More importantly, Wallace points out that lobsters seem to meet the two criteria that ethicists use to determine whether an animal is capable of feeling pain: 1) the number of pain receptors that the animal in question has, and 2) whether the animal displays the behavior associated with pain. While Wallace contends that although lobsters do not have the same nervous system as that of humans, they are very sensitive animals that can detect an increase in temperature. The frantic scrabbling of the pot containing a lobster shows that they can feel pain and suffering. To further strengthen his point, Wallace asserts that the lobster’s scrabbling behavior is one of preference. Since Wallace believes that showing a preference for one condition versus another is an important indicator of suffering, Wallace logically concludes that lobsters are in fact capable of experience suffering.

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In raising these points, Wallace hopes to evoke self-examination from the reader’s on their view towards animal cruelty. It confuses Wallace as to how people “would boil sentient creatures alive just for their gustatory pleasure” (4). Conversely, Wallace wonders what moral justifications people have to dismiss the claim. Overall, Wallace believes that this is a question that is worth public discussion and consideration.

Nonetheless, some people believe that they are justified in cooking and eating lobster because lobsters are not human. Not surprisingly, Wallace points out that the Maine Lobster Festival wholeheartedly supports this claim. In their 2003 “Test Your Lobster IQ Test”, they printed that lobsters have simple nervous systems that are as simple as those of grasshoppers. “They lack the cerebral cortex which in humans is the area of the brain that gives the experience of pain” (Wallace, 5). From this comparison, the argument that lobsters were more similar to insects than humans was set. Through phylogenetic analysis, it is clear that lobsters have an evolutionary history more closely aligned to those of insects and are therefore more closely related to insects than they are to purported “sentient” creatures such as dogs. Wallace also assures that the coming generation will likely relate our current agribusiness and eating practices to the practices of the middle ages of Aztec’s sacrifices and Nero’s entertainment because they pose the same form of cruelty.

In the last paragraph, Wallace begs to not come off as preachy since he is as confused about the moral status and physical suffering of the animals involved. He is putting this questions for everyone out there to ponder on the treatment of these animals. Questions like, “What makes it feel okay to dismiss the whole issue at hand?” Is it reluctance? Or just sheer laissez-faire?

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Analysis of “Consider the Lobster” David Foster Wallace. (2021, Nov 29). Retrieved from