Straddling the Fence in "The Pump House Gang"

J.D. Nasaw '08, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

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Everyone is caught up in contradictions and no one wants to decide. We want the freedom of youth and the wisdom of age. We want to be included as part of a group but be revered in our unique personal attributes. In "The Pump House Gang," Tom Wolfe finds himself caught between two age groups and does not know which way to turn. He wants to be part of both groups but committed to neither.

Maybe the "mysterioso" stuff is a lot of garbage, but still, it is interesting. The surfers around the Pump House use that word, mysterioso, quite a lot. It refers to the mystery of the Oh Mighty Hulking Pacific Ocean and everythingÉ

But Simmons was, well, one's own age, he was the kind of guy who could have been in the Pump House gang, he wasÉ immune, he was plugged into the whole pattern, he could feel the whole Oh Mighty Hulking Sea, he didn't have to think it out step by step. But he got wiped out and killed. Very mysterioso. [p. 27]


Wolfe has adopted some of the lexicon of the Pump House Gang himself. He begins by saying, "Our boys never hair out," but does not define the term "hair out" for another fifteen pages. Why does Wolfe define the words and phrases of the Pump House Gang after he has used them himself? What is the effect of deliberately leaving the reader confused?

At other times, Wolfe defines a word like "mysterioso" but then uses it ironically, as when he calls Simmons' death "mysterioso." Concurrently, he italicizes words in much the same way as Joan Didion in The White Album. In what ways do Didion and Wolfe agree and disagree on the power of language?

Which age group is Wolfe addressing in this passage and in the rest of the story?

Which age group does Wolfe connect with the most in "The Pump House Gang," or does he succeed in staying neutral?

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Last modified 15 February 2005