Cultural approach through language

Patricia Tomaszek, English 118, Creative Nonfiction in Electronic Environments, Brown University, 2007, Brown University, 2003

In "The Pumphouse Gang" Tom Wolfe tries to depict the surf culture of La Jolla. He does so by using the gang's terms often:

"Let's have a destructo." [20]

"Wouldn't that be bitchen." [20]

"Maybe the "mysterioso" stuff is a lot of garbage, but still, it is interesting." [23]

"But Simmons was, well, one's own age, he was the kind of guy who could have been in the Pumphouse gang, he was . . . 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." [23]


1. Is Wolfe successful in developing a "real" gang character by using the surfer's terms?

2. Wolfe keeps explaining the surfer's expressions to the reader and therefore distances every now and then from the line of narration:

"A destructo is what can happen in a garage after eight or 10 surfer's are kicked out of it." [20]

"Bitchen is a surfer's term that means "great," usually." [20]

IMMUNE! IF ONE IS IN THE PUMP HOUSE GANG AND REALLY keyed in to this whole thing, it's—well, one is … immune, one is not full of black pan-thuh panic." [23]

By doing explaining these surfer terms, he adopts the position of an educator — but does this strategy help him in being credible?

3. Isn't the method of distancing in a way disturbing?

4. Wolfe has chosen to depict a culture by its language. How else could he approach to his aim?

5. Does Wolfe manage to create a "social autopsy" as New Journalism often intends to?

Victorian Web Overview Tom Wolfe

Last modified 1 February 2007