Overdevelopment and Passivity Define the Grotesque in Tom Wolfe's "The Put-Together Girl"

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

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Tom Wolfe's "The Put-Together Girl" exposes the fears and gender norms of Americans in recent times. Within the narrative the idea that a woman should worry more about appearances than health because of the competition for men, is subject matter that is taken lightly and passively by the narrator. The rush to win this competition, although normal to the narrator, seems foreign because of the extremes which Wolfe provides including mothers who insist on speeding up their daughter's development even when they are naturally not ready.

But there are plenty of women in California who are willing to take the chances, whatever they are. There are about seventy-five doctors in Los Angeles giving the treatments, and one of them does twenty-five women a week. There are two hundred women taking the course in Las Vegas alone. More than half of all these patients are housewives, and some women bring their teenage daughters in there because they aren't developing fast enough to… compete; well, Carmen is social. And actually it's such a simple thing in a man's world where men have such simple ideas. After all, Carol Doda developed, from a bust measurement of about 35, up, up month by month, to 44, through twelve months, eight sets of shots, $800. And why not? After all, one, anyone has fillings in the teeth, plates in the skull, a pin in the hip — what is the purpose of living, anyway? Just to keep on living or to enjoy, be adored, favored, eyed — or — (Tom Wolfe, "The Put-Together Girl," p.81)

Within this passage, Wolfe depicts the thought process of American women that participate in this competition concocted by society and makes a prime example out of Carol Doda; the personification of the grotesque American mindset. There are two elements of the grotesque in play within this excerpt. One example of the grotesque is found within the actual description of the changes women go through. For instance, the description of the mothers encouraging their daughters to grow up physically, faster than naturally possible, is grotesque because of the resistance to what nature offers. It is also grotesque because we see the mothers encouraging the objectification of their female daughters and reducing their existence to merely pleasing the "simple ideas" of men. Along with this description there is the overdevelopment of Carol Doda's bust going from 35 to 44. The idea that women believe it is acceptable to spend $800 to please others "to be adored, favored, eyed" presents the impression that women are only doll-like creatures that as the title suggests are "put-together." The fact that the narrator is making a parallel between necessity ("fillings in the teeth, plates in the skull, a pin in the hip") and cosmetic surgery shows that physical appearances are weighed as heavily or more heavily than one's health.

The passage is also able to portray the grotesque nature not only by depicting what these women put themselves through to fulfill the standards of the nation, but also by allowing the reaction of these women to be passive. The passivity by which these established norms are received is the most grotesque element of the two. This element is what allows these women to continue to attempt in reaching their goals of physical perfection. The way in which the voice in the passage is able to speak of the women as mechanical robots or manufactured dolls, "There are about seventy-five doctors in Los Angeles giving the treatments, and one of them does twenty-five women a week," shows how the women have naturally come to be unnatural.

Both the physical depictions of what the women do to their bodies and how these women think of the changes they force upon themselves are what make Wolfe's "The Put-Together Girl" grotesque.

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