The Real World in "The Pump House Gang"

William Bostwick '07, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

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Tom Wolfe describes life in the age-segregated community of La Jolla, California by switching between narrative styles that can reflect either conventional journalistic form or the lives of surfing youths. By employing different sets of vocabulary, grammar and emotion, Wolfe has created an essay as divided as the community it depicts.

John Shine and Artie Nelander are out there right now. They are just "outside," about one fifth of a mile out from the shore, beyond where the waves start breaking. They are straddling their surfboards with their backs to the shore, looking out towards the horizon, waiting for a good set. Their backs look like some kind of salmon-colored porcelain shells, a couple of tiny shells bobbing up and down as the swells roll under them, staring out to sea like Phrygian sacristans looking for a sign.

John and Artie! They are -- they are what one means when one talks about the surfing life. It's like, you know, one means, they have this life all of their own; it's like a glass-bottom boat, and it floats over the "real" world, or the square world or whatever one wants to call it. [pp. 29-30]


1. One can draw a wealth of information about the contrasting styles of these two paragraphs from their opening sentences alone. How do they differ, and how are these differences elaborated on throughout each paragraph?

2. In the first paragraph, the surfing term "outside" is clearly defined for the reader, but the references to ancient civilizations and religious practices are not (p. 29). In the second paragraph the word "real" is defined by another unexplained youth vocabulary word, "square" and then by the phrase "whatever one wants to call it," that only enhances its ambiguity (pp. 29-30). Why the discrepancy in explanation? Though both paragraphs employ the same third-person narrative, are they written for different readers, with different vocabularies?

3. In effectively describing this scene, would either paragraph work by itself, or must they be put together, as above?

4. What is each paragraph's goal, and does it accomplish it?

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Last modified 14 February 2005