Age Identification in Tom Wolfe's "The Pump House Gang"

Thuy Nguyen '05, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

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"People have always tended to segregate themselves by age," says Tom Wolfe, "teenagers hanging around with teenagers, old people with old people, like old men who sit on the benches up near the Bronx Zoo and smoke black cigars" (p.22). If this is true, then it is no surprise that members of the pump house gang stick to each other just as the black panthers do. It is natural for them to be drawn to people their own age because of the commonalities they share.

Although it seems natural for people to identify with others and to segregate based on age, it is absurd for society to classify one age group as better than the rest or to exclude people socially because they are not at a particular age. Tom Wolfe tries to show this absurdity in a factual manner taking the tone of a journalist to tell a story that is underlined with both sarcasm and irony.

The "Sunset Strip" on Sunset Boulevard used to be a kind of Times Square for Hollywood hot dogs of all ages, anyone who wanted to promenade in his version of the high life. Today "The Strip" is almost completely the preserve of kids from about 16 to 25. It is lined with go-go clubs. One of them, a place called It's Boss, is set up for people 16-25 and won't let in anybody over 25, and there are some terrible I'm-dying-a-thousand-deaths scenes when a girl comes up with her boyfriend and the guy at the door at It's Boss doesn't think she looks under 25 and tells her she will have to produce some identification proving she is young enough to come in here and live The Strip kind of life and-she's had it, because she can't get up the I.D. and nothing in the world is going to make a woman look stupider than to stand around trying to argue I'm younger than I look, I'm younger than I look. So she practically shrivels up like a Peruvian shrunken head in front of her boyfriend and he trundles her off, looking for some place you can get an old doll like this into. [pp. 22-23]


In the beginning Tom Wolfe speaks in the voice of a teenager or a member of the pump house gang, giving the impression that he sympathizes with the kids. In the quotation above, is it clear whom he is sympathizing for, if anyone?

How would you describe the tone in this part in comparison to the tone at the beginning of the essay?

What kind of reaction do you think he seeks to produce with the scene about the woman and her I.D.?

At the end of the quotation he uses words like "shrivels" and "old doll" to refer to the woman. Do you think he uses these words to stimulate a reaction, and if so, would that reaction be for or against the younger age group?

Do you think there is sarcasm in his tone and do you think it is effective in this particular case?

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Last modified 14 February 2005