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. Wolfe writes, "Military pilots and then, soon, airline pilots, pilots from Maine and Massachusetts and the Dakotas and Oregon and everywhere else, began to talk in that poker hollow drawl...It was the drawl of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager" (37). This anecdote occurs at the beginning of the chapter that introduces Chuck Yeager. The placement of this story is important because the reader is made aware of Yeager's influence before he knows who Yeager really is.
Wolfe also uses an anecdote to set John Glenn apart form the rest of the pilots. Wolfe describes Glenn's personal exercise by saying," He'd be out there in full view, on the circular driveway of the Bachelor Officers Quarters, togged out in his sweat suit, his great freckled face flaming red...there was no end to it, in front of everybody" (110). Glenn's activities were definitely unusual. The astronauts of the Mercury Project were required to do four hours of exercise per week. John Glenn far exceeded these guidelines. But according to Wolfe, most fighter pilots, at least those who have the right stuff, put exercise very low on their list of priorities. This is an...