Tone Change in "The Pump House Gang"

Caroline Young '05.5, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

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In "The Pump House Gang," Tom Wolfe uses the gang's words and images, presenting a majority of the work from an insider's point of view. The following passage changes in tone, looking at the gang from a more outside, and negative, perspective.

But how many Bruce Browns can there be? There is a built-in trouble with age segregation. Eventually one does reach the horror age of 25, the horror dividing line. Surfing and the surfing life have been going big since 1958, and already there are kids who-well, who aren't kids anymore, they are pushing 30, and they are stagnating on the beach. Pretty soon the California littoral will be littered with these guys, stroked out on the beach like beached white whales, and girls too, who can't give up the mystique, the mysterioso mystique, Oh Mighty Hulking Sea, who can't conceive of living any other life. It is pathetic when they are edged out of groups like the Pump House gang. Already there are some guys who hang around with the older crowd around the Shack who are stagnating on the beach. Some of the older guys, like Gary Wickham, who is 24, are still in The Life, they still have it, but even Gary Wickham will be 25 one day and then 26 and then. . . . and then even pan-thuh age one day? Watch those black feet go. And Tom Coman still snuggles with Yellow Slacks, and Liz still roosts moodily in her rabbit fur at the bottom of the Pump House and Pam still sits on the steps contemplating the mysterioso mysteries of Pump House ascension and John and Artie still bob, time pink porcelain shells, way out there waiting for godsown bitchen set, and godsown sun is still turned on like a dentist's lamp and so far-the panthers scrape on up the sidewalk. They are at just about the point Leonard Anderson and Donna Blanchard got that day, December 6, 1964, when Leonard said, Pipe it, and fired two shots, one at her and one at himself. Leonard was 18 and Donna was 21 -- 21! -- god, for a girl in the Pump House gang that is almost the horror line right there. But it was all so mysterioso. [pp. 38-39]


1. The first word of this passage, after a break in the text, is "But." What is the significance of starting a new section with "But," and how does the tone change after this word?

2. Wolfe's words, "and girls, too" present women as sort of additional, or incidental. In his description they appear even after the "beached white whales." Also later, he describes the earlier female "horror line." What image of women does the narrator create, where is this image coming from and what is its significance through the piece as a whole?

3. Why would Wolfe choose to use the word "mysterioso" repeatedly? Why is this word especially significant in the context of surfers getting older?

4. "The Pump House Gang" like "The White Album" ends with a murder. The word "horror" appears two lines down from the shots being fired, in reference to age. What is the effect of the word horror appearing so close to death but not referring to death? How is Wolfe's use of the murder different from Didion's and how is this passage significant in the lead up to the murder?

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Last modified 5 November 2003