American Heros in Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff
Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff depicts the lives of some of America's hottest pilots and its first astronauts. These men include Pete Conrad, Chuck Yeager, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Shirra, Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter and Deke Sleyton. Some of these men were hotshot test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, and some flew cargo planes. Some had impeccable service records, while others hadn't flown in a real dog fight for even a second. Despite these differences in backgrounds and credentials, Tom Wolfe turns each of these nine men into a separate and individualized hero.
Chuck Yeager and John Glenn are probably the most memorable of the nine pilots in The Right Stuff. Chuck Yeager was a hillbilly from West Virginia, who by the age of 22 had 13 1/2 "kills" in World War II. Yeager made a name for himself by being the first man to reach Mach 1, the speed of sound.
John Glenn was an all-American Marine pilot. Glenn was a religious family man who was ready to do anything he could for his country. He became the poster boy for America's Mercury Project.
Yeager and Glenn are two fine examples of American heroes of the 1950's and 1960's. In The Right Stuff, Wolfe presents these men in such a way that the excitement they started is rekindled. Wolfe uses many tools in his recreation of these real-life heroes, including entertaining anecdotes, the characters' own words and thoughts, and the opinions of others.
In several instances, Wolfe uses anecdotes to reveal parts of a character's personality or to show his influence upon others. One example of this occurs when Wolfe mentions that the voices of airline pilots are modeled after the voice of Chuck Yeager. Wo...
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...nks to himself, "What the hell was he talking about. I don't think any of us could really go on with something like this...What possible difference could a wife's attitude make about the opportunity for a giant step up the great ziggurat" (95). This thought again shows the other six astronauts' perception of Glenn as an outsider. He didn't follow the rules of those who had the right stuff; he was stealing the show and directing the attention away from them.
Tom Wolfe is a master of recreating the people and events of the Mercury Project. In The Right Stuff he brings out all the excitement that each astronaut produced during the era. He uses anecdotes, the characters's own words, and the opinions of others to separate the characters and present each as an individual hero.
Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979.