Attempts at Duplicating "The Life" in "The Pump House Gang"

Brianna Barzola, English 118, Creative Nonfiction in Electronic Environments, Brown University, 2007, Brown University

In Tom Wolfe's "The Pump House Gang" the narrator describes the community of the heavily emphasized "young" surfers that reside in La Jolla, California. However, Tom Wolfe seems to describe the life of these surfers and all of the boundaries and rules that go with their world by immersing the narrator into their world as well; speaking and even thinking like them in certain parts of the book. What is interesting to note, is how the two communities are shown in relation to each other amidst discussing age. The surfer's world is shown as an original; something that only belongs to them. Yet the "square world" is portrayed as the world that tries to take that originality from them and make into something that it is not. The reader, who is a supposed foreigner to this world, is brought in by the explanations the narrator gives of their speech patterns as well as through the narrator's own immersion with the world:

WELL, ACTUALLY THERE IS A KIND OF BACK-AND-FORTH thing with some of the older guys, the old heroes of surfing, like Bruce Brown, John Severson, Hobie Alter, and Phil Edwards. Bruce Brown will do one of those incredible surfing movies and he out in the surf himself filming Phil Edwards coming down a 20-footer in Hawaii, and Phil has on a pair of nylon swimming trunks, which he has had made in Hawaii, because they dry out fast and it is like a grapevine. Everybody's got to have a pair of nylon swimming trunks, and then the manufacturers move in, and everybody's making nylon swimming trunks, boxer trunk style, and pretty soon every kid in Utica, N.Y., is buying a pair of them, with the competition stripe and the whole thing, and they never heard of Phil Edwards. So it works back and forth — but so what? Phil Edwards is part of it. He may be an old guy, he is 28 years old, but he and Bruce Brown, who is even older, 30, and John Severson, 32, and Hobie Halter, 29, never haired out to the square world even though they make thousands. Hair refers to courage. A guy who "has a lot of hair" is courageous; a guy who "hairs out" is yellow. [pp.29-30]


1. Is this "Back and Forth" the reason why the "older guys" cannot be considered part of the Pump House Gang? Even though they have managed a way to keep The Life?

2. In the passage the narrator exalts the fact that these men never "haired out to the square world" but he then says "eventhough they make thousands." What is the purpose of using "eventhough" as a way to degrade the fact that they make a living?

3. The comparison of both worlds, their world and the square world (New York), shows that the surfers see their world as containing the "original" and then taken to be mass produced (which it can't really be) The square world tries to take something form their world and then does not pay homage to the original in their world. Is this their reason for contempt towards the square world?

4. Is the reason that "a lot of hair" means "courageous" because long hair is also associated with youth?

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Last modified 1 February 2007