Rhetorical Breaks and Narrative Voice in Wolfe's "Pump House Gang"

Alicia Young '06, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

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All of a sudden there is an area with thousands of people from 16 to 25 who can get their hands on enough money to support a whole nightclub belt and to have the cars to get there and to set up autonomous worlds of their own in a fairly posh resort community like La Jolla -- Tom Coman's garage." [p. 23]

It doesn't mean a thing to you. All of you just lie around here sitting in the big orange easy chair smoking cigarettes. I'd hate for you to have to smoke standing up, uyou'd probably get phlebitis from it -- Listen to me, Sarah -- -- why go through all that? It's a good life out here. [p. 26]

At Disneyland crazy Ditch had his big raincoat on and a lot of flasks strapped onto his body underneath, Scotch, bourbon, all kinds of stuff. He has plastic tubes from the flasks sticking out of the flyfront of his raincoat and everybody was sipping whiskey through the tubes -- Ooooo-eeee -- Mee-dah! They chant this chant, Mee-Dah, in a real freaky deep voice, and it really bugs people. [p. 30]

And he would prop his head up and out there would be the Pacific Ocean, a kind of shadowy magenta-mauve, and one thing, that was nobody's private property -- But how many Bruce Browns can there be? [p. 38]

It can't be like that, The Life can't run out, people can't change all that much just because godsown chonometer runs on and the body packing starts deteriorating and the fudgy tallow shows up at the thighs where they squeeze out of the bathing suit -- Tom, boy! [p. 39]

The above excerpts from "The Pump House Gang" all contain sections connected by dashes that are littered throughout the narrative. This recurring structure provides a sense of continuity in a text that draws upon multiple narrative voices and perspectives.


1. What do these dashed sections have in common in terms of style, tone, etc.? What events or messages preface or follow each dash? Who speaks before and after each?

2. How does the tone of these breaks change over the course of the text, and how do those changes contribute to the flow of the narrative?

3. Does this rhetorical style help to foreshadow the narrator's ultimate message that one cannot hang onto youth indelibly?

4. In class on 10 February 2005, the class agreed that one of the voices in the narrative sounds "journalistic" in its providing facts and details about the characters. For example, on page 19 the narrator explains that mee-dah "happens to be the cry of a well, underground society known as the Mac Meda Destruction Company." How does this "journalistic" voice compare to Joan Didion's narrative voice in The White Album?

5. Didion and Wolfe's texts are both set in California, and "Pump House Gang" was written during the same epoch as that about which Didion wrote (1968, or more broadly the 1960s). Are the messages of the texts similar? How do they differ?
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Last modified 14 February 2005