The Broom of the System is a novel by David Foster Wallace, published in 1987.


The initial idea for the novel originated from a remark made by an old girlfriend of Wallace. In his retelling, reported by DT Max, the girlfriend said "she would rather be a character in a piece of fiction than a real person." Wallace then "got to wondering just what the difference was."

Wallace summarized the novel and revealed some of its autobiographical elements when he called it "the sensitive tale of a sensitive young WASP who's just had this midlife crisis that’s moved him from coldly cerebral analytic math to a coldly cerebral take on fiction . . . which also shifted his existential dread from a fear that he was just a 98.6°F calculating machine to a fear that he was nothing but a linguistic construct."

The titleEdit

"Has she done the thing with the broom with you? No? What does she use now? No. What she did with me—I must have been eight, or twelve, who remembers—was to sit me down in the kitchen and take a straw broom and start furiously sweeping the floor, and she asked me which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental, in my opinion, the bristles or the handle. The bristles or the handle. And I hemmed and hawed, and she swept more and more violently, and I got nervous, and finally when I said I supposed the bristles, because you could after a fashion sweep without the handle, by just holding on to the bristles, but couldn't sweep with just the handle, she tackled me, and knocked me out of my chair, and yelled into my ear something like, 'Aha, that's because you want to sweep with the broom, isn't it? It's because of what you want the broom for, isn't it?' Et cetera."

- David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System, chapter 9, section /c/

The first sentenceEdit

"Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden."

- David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System, chapter 1

The opening line of The Broom of the System was selected by American Book Review as part of the 100 most memorable first lines of novels.