A Surfer's Tone

Katharine Gorman '07, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

Tom Wolfe relates the surfer lifestyle and culture in California to the reader not only through detailed descriptions but with a surfer's tone of voice. This tone indicates a level of identification with, sympathy for, and awe at the surfer way of life. When Wolfe describes how the surfer life works in terms of housing and transportation, he takes on a carefree, down-to-earth tone which gives the reader a greater understanding of how the Pump House Gang lives and thinks about life.

Something will pan out. It's a magic economy-yes!-all up and down the coast from LA to Baja California kids can go to one of these beach towns and live the complete surfing life. They take off from home and get to the beach, and if they need a place to stay, well, somebody rents a garage for twenty bucks a month and everybody moves in, girls and boys. Furniture-it's like, one means, you know, one appropriates furniture from here and there. It's like the Volkswagen buses a lot of kids now use as beach wagons instead of woodies. Woodies are old station wagons, usually Fords, with wooden bodies, from back before 1953. One of the great things about a Volkswagen is that one can. . . exchange motors in about three minutes. A good VW motor exchanger can go up to a parked Volkwagen, and a few ratchets of the old wrench here and it's up and out and he has a new motor. There must be a few nice old black panthers around wondering why their nice hubby-mommy VWs don't run so good anymore-but-then-they-are-probably-puzzled-about-a-lot of things. Yes.

Wolfe portrays the surfer lifestyle as one that is uncertain but worry-free. The Pump House Gang lives knowing that whatever happens, everything will work out. Life is fun, and all about enjoyment and self-satisfaction. Wolfe presents for the reader people who have sun-bleached conceptions of reality, but who are somehow superior to the mainstream so-called black panthers of the world, who in many ways support them by letting renting out their garages.

Questions

1. It seems that Wolfe uses the italicized terms "appropriates" and "exchange" in place of the word "steal." Why does he do this? How do these words affect the readers' understanding of the surfer's way of life?

2. Wolfe writes, "There must be a few nice old black panthers around wondering why their nice hubby-mommy VWs don't run so good anymore-but-then-they-are-probably-puzzled-about-a-lot of things." Does this sentence convey a sentiment of superiority? What are they puzzled about that the Pump House Gang is not?

3. Why does Wolfe include the example of stealing Volkswagen motors? What is Wolfe trying to convey here?

4. Why does Wolfe uses colloquial phrases such as "yes!," "Something will pan out," and "it's like, one means, you know"? How do these phrases affect the point he is making?


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Last modified 23 February 2005