The Makings of a Hero within the Media's Gaze

Briel Steinberg '06, English 156 (Victorians and Moderns), Brown University, Spring 2004

Throughout his non-fiction novel The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe presents men who, on various levels, have the makings of a hero. For multiple reasons that are expounded on within the text, not all of these men rise to the same level of recognition as others. Some of these individuals quickly rise to fame and become "instant heroes," while others are lost in the shuffle because they do not choose to pursue the quickest means of entering into the limelight. Chuck Yeager epitomizes the latter group of men, as an individual who gained fame for breaking the sound barrier and yet happily refrains from the race to become an idolized astronaut. Instead he remains at Edwards as others pursue the glory of becoming what those in Yeager's situation term "Spam in a can" (60). As the seven men depicted in Wolfe's work quickly rise to glory, Edwards remains utterly content with his decision.

Chuck Yeager was in Phoenix to make one of his many public appearances on behalf of the Air Force. By now the Air Force couldn't publicize Yeager, breaker of the sound barrier, enough. Like the other branches of the service, the Air Force now saw that there was nothing like heroes and record holders for getting good press and winning appropriations. The only problem was that, in terms of publicity, every other form of flier was now overshadowed by the Mercury astronauts. As a matter of fact, today, in Phoenix, what was it the local reporters wanted to ask Chuck Yeager about? Correct: the astronauts. One of them got the bright idea of asking Yeager if he had any regrets about not being selected as an astronaut.

Chuck Yeager, however, entertains no qualms about neglecting the "hero" route in favor of remaining a pilot at Edwards. He informs the information hungry reporters of the logic behind his decision.

"Besides," he added, "I've been a pilot all my life, and there won't be any flying to do in Project Mercury."

No flying? --

That was all it took. The reporters looked stunned. In some way they couldn't comprehend immediately, Yeager was casting doubt on two undisputable facts: one, that the seven Mercury astronauts were chosen because they were the seven finest pilots in America, and two, that they would be pilots on the most daring flights in American history. [99]


1. How does Tom Wolfe present the media's role in the creation and undoing of heroes? In the modern era, can a hero such as the one that Thomas Carlyle was searching for in On Heroes and Hero Worship actually exist? Why or why not, and how exactly is this idea expounded on within The Right Stuff?

2. Whom does Wolfe seem to see as more of a hero within his nonfiction-novel: John Glenn or Chuck Yeager? Would Carlyle agree or disagree with this depiction? Do either of the two men truly wield the power that Carlyle is searching in what he deems a true hero?

3. In the above passage Yeager quickly crushes the "two undisputable facts" that the media has attached to the seven astronauts. What does this say about what truly constitutes the definition of a hero? Is any form of hero worship truly "undisputable" within either Wolfe or Carlyle's works?

4. How does the point of view that Wolfe maintains throughout The Right Stuff affect the depictions of the heroes presented within the work? Is it effective in terms of what Wolfe is trying to convey about the makings of a hero?


Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.

Victorian Web Overview Tom Wolfe On Heroes and Hero-Worship

Last modified 26 April 2004