Tom Wolfe's narratives as stories of growth


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Tom Wolfe's narratives as stories of growth
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viii, 180 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Stokes, Lisa Odham, 1953-
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1989.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 172-179).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Lisa Odham Stokes.
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University of Florida
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For Tyler


I am indebted to many people without whose support

and interest this project would never have been completed.

I am deeply grateful to Dr. Carl Bredahl, a friend and

respected teacher, for introducing me to Tom Wolfe's work

and for his insightful discussions of narrative, his close

and attentive readings of my many drafts, and his

penetrating comments, which often helped me to enlarge the

range of this project. Also I am grateful to him for his

confidence in me. I want to thank Dr. Brandy Kershner, for

introducing me to Bakhtin's theories, and for his timely and

perceptive responses. And I want to thank Dr. Andy Gordon

for his careful comments. I owe much to all my committee

members for their patience and understanding and

encouragement, so I want to recognize Dr. William Robinson

and Dr. Tom Auxter as well. I want to acknowledge all the

inspiring teachers I have studied with through many years,

including my committee members and Dr. Aubrey Williams,

Dr. Jack Perlette, and Dr. Alistair Duckworth at the

University of Florida, Dr. Ron Schuchard and Dr. Newt

Hodgson at Emory University, and Mr. Jim Smith at Edgewater

High School. I am indebted to Seminole Community College

for providing time and space for me to conclude this project


and for the support of my colleagues, especially Ms. Dorothy

Morrison and Dr. Bob Levin. Most of all, my deep

appreciation goes to my family for caring and sacrificing

for me to finish this project.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS........... ..... .......... ...........

ABSTRACT ............................................


OF GROWTH...................................

Notes. ..................................

STREAMLINE BABY..............................




PAINTED WORD.................................

Notes. ..................................


Notes. .................................

WORKS CITED.......................................... ..


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH...................................

















Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Lisa Odham Stokes

August 1989

Chairman: A. Carl Bredahl
Major Department: English

Traditional scholarship has given little critical

attention to Tom Wolfe's narratives. Narrative derives from

the Latin narratio, meaning relating, and the most striking

feature of Wolfe's narratives is the relating of narrator to

subject, a dynamic process whereby the narrator encounters

the energies of a subject which activate his powers of

articulation. To explore this process, I turn to critical

discussions of narrative force and Mikhail Bakhtin's

dialogic theory of language and his theory of alterity. I

begin by examining the special relationship between Wolfe

and his subjects as he listens to them speak and then speaks

the narrative. Then I undertake to demonstrate the process

of growth which occurs within a Wolfe narrative and in four

narratives, growing out of the initial encounter of narrator

and subject.

The Wolfe narratives investigated are The Kandy-

Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The Electric Kool-

Aid Acid Test, The Painted Word, and The Right Stuff. Each

begins with the birth of a narrative force as energies of

subject and narrator come together. There is a steady

progression among the narratives, as indicated by the

variations of "happening" as narrator works with subject.

Wolfe's phrase "Something was beginning to happen" (Kandy-

Kolored) points to Wolfe's early experiments with narrative

form as he begins to respond to the concrete particulars of

his subject; this experimentation leads to the development

of an integrated narrative as manifested by "happenings" in

Acid Test. "An extraordinary thing happened," the starting

point for Painted Word, signals a change in narrative

direction as Wolfe responds to his subjects' words. This

shift and the earlier emphasis on concrete particulars are

synthesized in the "something has happened out there" of

Right Stuff, as the narrator is activated by both the

physical and verbal energies of his subject.

The changes in the "happenings" from one narrative

to the next affect Wolfe's narrative identity. By the time

he produces Right Stuff, Wolfe exists simply as language,


outgrowing the first-person presence of the first three

narratives. In all the narratives, Wolfe's commitment to

the possibility of growth and to the process of articulation

is evident.



Narrative, from the Latin root narratio, means

relating, and from it come our words narrating, narration,

and narrative. Some of our earliest memories and most

satisfying experiences are of being told stories, then of

reading them or narrating them ourselves. Clearly,

narrative is characterized by an immense power which itself

taps into a power in us. Relating means connecting,

establishing a connection between; it refers to the

particular way in which one thing connects with another--a

correspondence or association (all definitions OED). When

Tom Wolfe describes the process of writing the stories of

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby and

remarks, "I could tell that something was beginning to

happen," he taps into this special sense of relating, where

a narrator connects with his subject in a particular way

(xiii). Through narrating, Wolfe taps into a power within

himself. When a narrator responds to his subject in this

special sense of relating, he directs his voice according to

what is revealed to him by his subject; there is a continual

exchange of energies as the narrator draws from his

subject's energy, thereby exciting his own to articulate the

narrative. Narrative is thus dynamic, a force producing


Contemporary discussions of narrative recognize its

dynamic quality. In Reading for the Plot, Peter Brooks

examines narrative as "the organizing dynamic of a specific

mode of human understanding" and describes narrative as

"essentially dynamic, an interaction with a system of energy

which the reader activates" (7, 112). Wolfgang Iser, in The

Act of Reading, studies the relationship between reader and

narrative and calls narrative a "dynamic interaction between

text and reader" (107). In Marxism and the Philosophy of

Language, Mikhail Bakhtin describes narrative as "the

product of the reciprocal relationship between the addresser

and addressee" (86) and the prominence of their social

relations leads him to introduce the term "dialogic" to

describe the underlying principle of social interaction

inherent in their exchanges. Whether the critic focuses on

the exchange between narrative and reader, narrator and

reader, or narrator and subject, what goes on between the

narrative participants is dynamic in nature.1

Narrative has an internal energy which performs its

work. This energy, which incites narrativity, is born out

of the combined energies of narrator, subject, and reader.

Their energies contribute to the narrative energy yet

maintain their own integrity, actually becoming more

powerful through energy exchanges. This raw power must be

directed. Narrative always "goes" somewhere, driven by

energy and the other forces with which it must interact, the

forces of narrator, narratee, subject, and world. Narrator

Wolfe directs this moving force, responsive to the energies

within it. In my discussion, then, any references to Wolfe

refer not to an autonomous and omnipotent author, but to a

narrative voice which interacts with subject and reader in

the creation of the narrative.

The Wolfe narratives investigated in this study are

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, The

Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Painted Word, and The Right

Stuff. Most significantly, in a Wolfe narrative, the

relating of the narrative participants--narrator, subject,

and narratee--is a dynamic process, each affecting the other

as a connection is made, connections leading to further and

new associations of the participants. This dynamic process

begins with the inception of a Wolfe narrative and continues

throughout, sustaining its movement. To explore the

dynamism of the Wolfe narrative, one can begin with Wolfe's

beginning, where relating between narrative participants,

narrator, subject, and reader, is first glimpsed.

In his introduction to The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-

Flake Streamline Baby, Wolfe describes the process through

which he came to write these stories, giving a clear

indication of the nature of his writing and its direction.

Wolfe is a writer of beginnings--through acute observation

of the world of his subject, he discovers an energy within

it which awakens his own creative energies. Wolfe contrasts

this "something {which} was beginning to happen" in the

writing of the story "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake

Streamline Baby" with the earlier article he wrote about the

boy who built a golden motorcycle. The latter was what

Wolfe calls a "totem story," a story not alive to its

subject, mere reporting, in contrast to the liberating

experience of the former. By "totem story" Wolfe means a

story preconceived by the reporter before his encounter with

his subject and before it is written, one which satisfies

the complacent middle-class reader.2 What Wolfe recognizes

with the writing of Kandy-Kolored is that he is no longer a

newspaper journalist who observes and reports but is

becoming a writer, a seeing eye, inspired and challenged by

what he sees in order to interact with it. His voice has

been transformed.3

The seeing "eye" literally became a narrative "I" as

the narrator responds to what he sees (or hears) and the "I"

defines itself through its relationship to its subject. And

the interaction of the narrative "I" and its subject, the

second narrative participant, leads to the enlargement of

the subject's possibilities.4 Wolfe's opening in

Kandy-Kolored points in the direction that this and future

Wolfe narratives will take:

What had happened was that I started writing down
everything I had seen the first place I went in
California, this incredible event, a "Teen Fair." The
details themselves, when I wrote them down, suddenly
made me see what was happening. (xiv)

First, the narrative is built upon the close observation of

the subject's world; the details themselves, the concrete

particulars, almost usurp the subject as the narrative

stimulus. Second, the narrator develops a deeper perception

of the energies of his subject as he begins narrating it.

The concrete particulars of the subject's world serve as a

catalyst for the narrator's discovery of a story to tell and

the discovery of his voice--the possibilities he perceives

as the subject functions in his world (whether racing stock

cars or flying jets) is translated into the exploration of

the potentialities of narrative.

The Wolfe narrator defines himself as he is

challenged by subjects who use their inner capacities and

those powers within their territory of interest (whether

car, bus, or spaceship) to move as far ahead as they can.

In other words, the subjects are also forces involved in

their own encounters with attracting forces; for example,

Kesey and the Pranksters use acid, which becomes a vehicle

for expansion of their energies. As Wolfe is drawn to his

subjects, the encounter which becomes the narrative begins.

Wolfe's interest shows that his attention is engaged by

subjects actively creating their worlds. Although the

people Wolfe writes about actually exist, they become

imaginative creations of Wolfe's narrativity.5 The

association between narrator and subject (both are involved

in encountering) and their connection are at the heart of

the encounter, where narrator moves in synch with what he

narrates, thereby creating the world of the narrative and

himself.6 Wolfe's narrative identity is established through

language by his articulation through the voices of his

various narrators and the "voices" of the subjects which he

encounters, whether those "voices" are dialogue, commentary,

or illustration.

The three participants of a narrative--narrator,

subject, and reader--are reciprocally active; that is, the

voice of each affects the other.7 The subjects of Wolfe's

books addressed in this study include a stock car driver,

car customizers, an author, Merry Pranksters, modern art

critics, test pilots, and astronauts. While superficially

different, all have in common an energy channelled towards

functioning in their respective worlds--whether cars, drugs,

art, or space. These people are mobile. What interests

them and Wolfe is not so much their ultimate destination, an

end, but the process of getting there, by means of their

various technologies.

To describe the subject's status in comparison to

Wolfe, one must think not of apparent differences in

education, wealth, or birthright, but of the internal energy

of each inhabiting his respective world. The Wolfe narrator

is intelligent and enthusiastic but uninformed, and his

narrative journey involves becoming informed, directing his

enthusiasm and using what he has learned narratively. The

narrator does not blindly accept or identify with his

subjects, who are the organizing center of the narrative,

nor myopically judge them as unlike himself; he evaluates

("takes the strength from") them as they work within their

own worlds.8 Wolfe relates to his subject in the best sense

of the word, which is to establish a significant association

between himself and them. Just as the subject creates his

given world through using the materials available to him, so

Wolfe articulates the narrative by directing the potential

energies of his subject and drawing on his own.

Wolfe respects his subjects' integrity as autonomous

narrative forces. He works with, not at, his subjects in

articulating the narrative. He treats them as subjects, not

objects--that is, the subjects fulfill the relationship of

subject to verb. They are active forces in the narrative,

not merely passive objects to be acted upon by a narrator

who enacts the subject/verb/object relationship. Wolfe is

sensitive to the conversation they "speak" as well as

"listen" to. Indeed, Wolfe's subjects characteristically

speak in the narrative (are literally quoted). He is open

to alteration by his subjects, indeed expects it ("something

was beginning to happen"--Kandy-Kolored; "an extraordinary

thing happened"--Painted Word; "something had

happened"--Right Stuff). The energies of his subjects are

so powerful that they indeed help direct the course of the

narratives.9 Narrator and subject are on a narrative par.

When this equality is not maintained, as happens in the

"Radical Chic" piece on Leonard Bernstein's "uptown" fund

raiser for the Black Panthers, or "The New Art Gallery

Society" in Kandy-Kolored, Wolfe's narratives take another

direction. If the author privileges himself above his

subject, he is thereby deaf to it. His voice becomes shrill

and one dimensional and disrupts the integrity of the

narrative. The integration of the narrative participants

breaks apart, which impedes narrative drive.10 This

happens, for example, in "Radical Chic," in which the

narrator employs Bernstein's voice to illustrate and

belittle the notion of "radical chic." The narrative

zigzags from one subject's voice to another, all treated as

Bernstein's. Finally, the narrative is a simple diatribe

against rich liberals.

Each narrative in the Wolfe canon, from Kandy-

Kolored to Right Stuff, begins with the introduction of

these narrative forces (narrator, subject, and reader) and

their dialogic interrelationship. I use the term "dialogic"

by broadening Bakhtin's understanding of dialogism in

language. I include Bakhtin's dialogic principle as evident

in the interaction of voices in Wolfe's narratives, but

apply the term to the relationship between the energies of

Wolfe and his subjects. Each narrative begins with the

birth of an energy force as the narrator encounters or

becomes engaged with an attractive subject for exploration

in the presence of the reader. This birth is described as a

revelation on the part of the narrator of a story--someone's

(such as Junior Johnson's) or some phenomenon's (Modern

Art's)--ready to be told and the narrator's readiness to

tell it.

As Wolfe begins to work with his subjects, he

discovers himself telling their story, actually plumbing the

depths of narratio, relating narrator and subject. Two

examples of the recording of "the most delicate and

evanescent of moments" include the openings of Kandy-Kolored

and Painted Word. In the introduction to Kandy-Kolored

Wolfe recounts his reaction to visiting a teen fair and

seeing customized cars; then he describes writing the story

"The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" from

which the collection takes its name. In Painted Word, he

describes himself poring over a Sunday Times article about

modern art, reacting to the language, and realizing that

"believing is seeing." In both instances, narrator Wolfe

discovers someone or something "speaking" and he "listens"

(in Bakhtin's terms) then "speaks"--creating the Wolfe


The second way in which the birth of the narrative

energy force appears is in medias res. Here the revelation

on the narrator's part is not recorded but seen, with Wolfe

already in synch with his subject, "narrating" it. Examples

of this type include Acid Test and Right Stuff. In both

cases, the reader as a presence helps determine the manner

in which narrator and subject relate, but he remains outside

their narrative. And as he reads the Wolfe narrative, the

reader relates to the narrative as he "rewrites" it.

The shared energy born of narrator, subject, and

reader is the force which drives the narrative. Peter

Brooks, in his Reading for the Plot, envisions the narrative

text as a "pure motor force" which we may not be able to

understand, but whose presence we can recognize and use in

our attempt to make our conceptual models of narrative more

dynamic, like narrative itself.11 Brooks describes this

force as "narrative desire," noting that "desire is always

there at the start of narrative, often in a state of initial

arousal, often having reached a state of intensity such that

movement must be created, action undertaken, change begun"

(Reading 38). Brooks's "initial arousal state" describes

the openings of Kandy-Kolored and Painted Word; his

"intensified state" which incites movement describes the

action undertaken in the beginnings of Acid Test and Right

Stuff.12 This desire which initiates and sustains the

narrative is explained by Brooks as a passion for and of


I substitute for Brooks's passion for/of meaning, a

desire for creative understanding or comprehension.

"Meaning" suggests stasis and finality, the desire for an

end.14 "Understanding" implies process, the desire for a

beginning. First, understanding, in its definition of "to

give heed, attend, listen to one," suggests a dialogic

relationship and describes the narrator's relating to his

subject as he works to "apprehend clearly the character or

nature of a person" (his subject) and "to be able to

practice or deal with (it} properly." Also, understanding,

as opposed to meaning, reveals the openness and creativity

of this narrative activity: "to take, interpret, or view in

a certain way," "to conceive," and "to take upon oneself,

venture" (all definitions OED). As the narrator "relates"

to his subject, he is driven to understand his subject

creatively and work with it, and through endeavoring to do

so, evaluates and articulates it and himself narratively.

Similarly, the reader is driven to understand the Wolfe-

subject narrative, and through this process "rewrites" it

and himself.15 The Wolfe narrative is built on dialogical

relations between forces defined as the desire for and of

creative understanding.

As the narrative progresses, the energy force born

of narrator, subject, and reader increases in strength and

becomes the catalyst for continued "dialogue" between the

participants. While a thorough demonstration of this

process is difficult to develop because of the length of

Wolfe's narratives and the various experiences individual

readers bring into the narrative, the process can be

demonstrated at any narrative point by examining what

precedes and follows and determining how the narrative moves

from point to point. The narrative continues to grow and

develop as these energy forces reach out to each other as

well as turn inward to utilize the energy exchange, and turn

outward again. The narrator shapes his subject; it in turn

shapes him. The reader shapes the narrative and is in turn

shaped by it. As Wolfe continues to explore the

possibilities inherent in the energy force of his subject,

the subject also reveals further possibilities influenced by

the presence of the narrator. As the reader explores the

Wolfe-subject narrative, the narrative opens up in new ways

to him. The dialogic relationship of the narrative

participants is a synergistic relationship in which

contributing forces serve a greater function together

because of their mutual contribution. And the encounter

multiplies as energies are shaped, through narrator,

subject, and reader, in an extensive and complex chain of

dialogic utterances.16

A dynamic narrative ending never achieves stasis but

opens and invites further narrativity. The Wolfe narrative,

conceived as a series of encounters between narrator and

subject in the reader's presence, continues until the book

ends, but even when this happens, the energies are not

spent, and the energy exchange is not over because the

reader intervenes as another narrative force. The narrative

continues as the imaginative process by which the reader is

invited to continue working with and carrying on an

encounter between the narrative and himself, creating new

possibilities for himself and future readers who enter the

"dialogue," as I attempt to do in this study. Wolfe is a

writer of beginnings, not endings, where possibilities are

opened up and acted upon, by narrator, subject, and reader,

stimulating growth and further activity. Even his "endings"

signal new beginnings.17

The Wolfe narrative usually begins with concrete

detail, and visual orientation predominates throughout the

narrative, not only through detailed visual description but

also through typography, illustration, caricature, and

photograph. All are a part of narrative expression and

serve a special function in the Wolfe narrative. Visual

images do not merely create a good "read," where careful

attention to concrete description creates characters,

actions, and events which readers can vicariously

experience, as is the case in the writings of many fine

realistic authors. The dominance of visual images and

Wolfe's ability to render his subject concretely grow out of

the experience of the initial encounter, where narrator

responds (through narrative articulation) to the raw energy

of the subject. This very physicality sustains and

encourages further encounters. Wolfe "listens" (and goes on

"listening") to the subject "speaking" (through the energy

field which the subject physically expresses), and then he

"speaks" (with a great deal of visual description). The

visual images of the narrative incite further encountering

and enhance dialogic interaction.

Narrator, subject, and reader contribute their

energies to the force which drives the narrative. As the

narrator directs these energies, sensitive to the integrity

of each, his values emerge, values created and shared by

their interaction. These values are the narrator's

particular way of viewing the world since they are born of

his imaginative powers. They include articulation,

openness, acute perception, precision, concrete

visualization, and the engendering of narrative life. The

most essential power and value of the narrator is

articulation, for it requires and thus implies all of the

others--without openness (particularly to the encounter),

the narrator cannot begin to perceive the multi-faced powers

of his subjects (a judgmental narrator would be disastrous);

without acute perception, the narrator cannot see the

possibilities suggested by what he is in contact with;

without precision and concrete visualization, he cannot

express his subject or himself; without encouraging the

engendering of life (life defined as continued growth and

movement), the narrator would soon discover himself

narratively dead--the narrative would be directionless (the

narrative would die). All these powers contribute to the

driving force of the narrative--the articulation of the

encounter and the understanding of its

possibilities--through the conversation between its voices.

A close examination of Wolfe's commitment to

articulation will simultaneously reveal his commitment to

dialogic relations, resulting in polyphonic narratives. To

examine Wolfe's articulation requires an awareness of the

general, verbal, and biological definitions of the word

"articulation." First of all, "articulate" means clear or

distinct; clarity requires an attention and response to

detail, and after the accumulation of these details, a

backing away for a larger perspective through which the

details are of some use. For example, the wealth of

information provided in Right Stuff, through which the

reader understands the basic technical maneuvers of the

early space program, is also the means by which the

astronauts are able to move, and by which the narrator,

through describing their movements, circumscribes the

narrative and, "pushing the envelope," defines his own


Biologically, to "articulate" means to join or unite

by means of a joint. Articulation allows one body part to

work with another. Because of articulation the body works

as an integrated whole. Without articulation movement could

not result. It is a self-generated movement which is a sign

of life. Of the Wolfe narratives which are the subject of

this study, one is a divided narrative (Kandy-Kolored),18

one is an extended essay (Painted Word), and two have been

conveniently labeled by the publisher as "nonfiction novels"

(Acid Test and Right Stuff). All are characterized by a

drive towards integration and the continuance of dialogue.

In the divided narrative, which consists of distinct parts,

alongside the division there is an urge to integrate through

the push towards relating its parts by common themes,

voices, and perspectives. In the extended essay and

"nonfiction novels," this integrative urge is apparent as

all elements of the narrative work together to create it, as

chapter builds upon chapter, and events, characters, and

imagery all relate. In both types of writing the movement

of the narrative is self-generated by the initial encounter,

the birth of an energy force, as the narrator connects with

his subject in the reader's presence.

Finally, as an adjective "articulate" means jointed

or formed with joints, but it can also be defined as formed

by distinct and intelligent movement of the speech organs.

The narrator, distinct from his living subject, is linked to

it finally only through words, words which place him

imaginatively in a functioning relationship with others.

Thus, articulation is the way by which the Wolfe narrator

moves or comes alive. Through words he articulates his

subject and himself. What makes Wolfe narratives special is

the excitement with which he responds to his subject and

language. This excitement is expressed in language

itself--through the panoply of voices, exotic punctuation,

strange vocabulary in an unusual context, and neologisms.19

And this articulation is often expressed through a sense of

humor and excitement on the narrator's part, as the words

just seem to bounce off the page, endowing him with a life

created by the narrative. His preoccupation not just with

saying it, but getting it right, dominates the narrative and

is the core of his voice. There is a constant refrain--"how

does one express it"--that runs through all the books as he

narrates the encounter ("good thinking"). This is a self-

reflexive tendency through which the narrative constantly

calls attention to itself as narrative and demonstrates the

importance of articulation as the driving narrative force;

it reaches beyond a care for craftsmanship and shows a

narrative awareness of the encounter and the necessity of

maintaining and nurturing the dialogic relation among

narrator, subject, and reader.20

Many voices speak in a Wolfe narrative and function

not merely stylistically but dialogically. The voices of

the subject converse with the narrator, as the narrator

responds, both beside the subject and combining with its

voices, extending the narrative and stimulating new

encounters.21 Of the many narrative voices which converse

in a Wolfe narrative, two repeatedly demonstrate Wolfe's

commitment to articulation.22 These include the voice of

the translator/interpreter, who defines and clarifies, who

recognizes the voice of generalization and abstraction and

tries to modify it, and the voice of articulation, whose

constant refrain is "How can one put it into words?" These

voices are the favored speaking voices of the narrator

himself, and he uses them to direct the other narrative

voices and the energy of his subject.

The value accorded articulation suggests the

investment Wolfe makes in the dialogic relation, a special

relationship with the other, because it is through the

dynamics of this relation that his articulation, most

notably of himself, is possible.23 Articulation

necessitates the presence of the other, either the other as

subject of the articulation, the other as a voice within

oneself, or the other towards whom the articulation is

directed. The dialogic relationship nurtured and maintained

in the Wolfe narrative allows for the growth of its

narrative participants, and the intermingling of narrative

voices determines the ongoing identity of the narrative

participants. Especially apparent is the growing identity

of the Wolfe narrator, via the narrative, an identity

defined by growing consciousness and awareness through

social interaction. In Right Stuff, for instance, all the

voices of the Wolfe catalogue appear except for the first-

person speaker Tom Wolfe. This omission suggests that the

identity of Wolfe, through the dialogic interaction with his

subject and reader, has moved beyond the adolescent narrator

of the earlier books. The adolescent narrator, although

working with his subject and dialogically involved, was more

secure represented as an ego, an "I," than as a voice

combined with the voices of the subject. The narrator-

subject distinction is never made stylistically in Right

Stuff, although it is maintained narratively and

dialogically. The dominant narrative voice in Right Stuff

is the voice of the interpreter, which, because of the

technical aspects involved in the subject, constantly

clarifies, creatively and imaginatively. It is a voice

concerned with articulation--hence, a voice whose interest

is in continuing dialogism.

The narrative identity of Wolfe has matured in Right

Stuff and has been transformed into an other-self, that is,

his identity is created by his language and the language of

the others which he finds internally persuasive and takes as

his own.24 It is not that he now identifies with or is

united with his subject, but his subject, the other, serves

as a way of seeing and understanding himself, which can only

be perceived outside himself. What a Wolfe narrative

ultimately does is allow Wolfe, through dialogic interaction

with the other, to grow and define himself, and invite the

reader, through dialogism, to do the same.

How then, does one respond dialogically and evaluate

the growth of a Wolfe narrative and its narrator? An

evaluation involves first looking at the direction of the

narrative from its onset. Given the initial burst of energy

which is the narrative's conception, how is its power

enhanced? This energy is the combined force of narrator,

subject, and reader, but what is each one's contribution?

On the part of the subject, this energy is always very

physical in nature, determined by the subject actually doing

something in relating to his world. The narrator is drawn

to this energy as if by a magnet, and his powers of

articulation enter the energy field; the reader as a

presence contributes the force of the other, a perspective

by which the narrator can weigh the usefulness of his

articulation as he forms it. What does the narrator

discover in this initial encounter and what does he do with

it? Narrative always does something; what does a particular

Wolfe narrative do? I have previously described Wolfe's

narratives as creative processes: the narrative direction is

towards integration determined by the encounter, the

integration of narrator and subject in the reader's presence

through dialogism, and the articulation of their stories.

To express his subject, the narrator must interact with it,

and to express himself, the narrator, through this

interaction, must develop his imaginative powers. His

story, the new story, reveals how his powers come together

and express the narrative.

To evaluate Wolfe's narrative growth further, one

must look at narrative changes in the Wolfe canon.

Significant changes appear in the encounter between Wolfe

and his subject, indicated by the variations of the

"something happening," the birth of the energy force itself,

the initial encounter which begins the relationship between

narrator and subject in the reader's presence. According to

the chronology of the narratives included in this study, the

movement of "something happening" is as follows: Something

was beginning to happen (Kandy-Kolored)--happenings (Acid

Test)--an extraordinary thing happened (Painted

Word)--something has happened (had happened) (Right Stuff).

The changes in tense are significant because they reveal the

nature of each initial encounter and the direction of the

narrative which grows out of it.25 Wolfe can narrate Acid

Test only after having resolved narrative division in Kandy-

Kolored; he can narrate Right Stuff only after having worked

through the theoretical in Painted Word.

Any narrative by definition consists of three

participants: a teller (narrator), a story (subject), and a

listener (reader). These three can relate to each other

monologically or dialogically. In the former state, one

participant, usually the narrator, imposes his views on the

others and creates a single-voiced narrative. In the latter

state, if the response is dialogic, each participant treats

the other as a narrative equal, as having the same integrity

as himself. The latter is the case of a Wolfe narrative, in

which a narrator enters his narrative on an equal footing

with his subject and reader. This does not mean that Wolfe

is not in control of his narrative through his narrator and

voices; he is in control of the narrative expression, the

articulation, but that articulation grows out of the

energies he is sensitive to and makes serviceable--his own

and the subject's. The reader is stimulated to do the same

with the resultant narrative. In the Wolfe narrative, a

narrator especially alive to and aware of the energies of

his subject through relating to them develops and directs

the narrative. The Wolfe narrative thereby tells not the

old story, the imposition of power to create a single voice

and world, an end, but the new story, directing available

energies in the process of becoming the beginning.

In the following chapters I will explore Wolfe's

polyphonic narratives dialogically--entering into dialogue

with the narrative texts, listening to them speak, and in

turn, rewriting them--ideally open to their conversations

and aware of the impact of my own.26 Traditional

scholarship has given little critical attention to Wolfe's

narrative, so the ensuing conversation will be a dialogic

beginning.27 The conversation, of course, depends upon the

integration of the three narrative participants, and my

focus will concentrate on the growth and development of the

narrator who directs the energy of the Wolfe narrative,

responsive to the voices of subject and reader. The changes

in the narrative voice, both within a narrative and from one

narrative text to another, as well as how a narrative begins

and the direction in which it moves, will be explored.

Furthermore, the changes within Wolfe's choice of subjects

and their common characteristics will enter into the

dialogue, because the relationship between narrator and

subject plays an integral part in determining the developing

narrative. The following chapters discuss four Wolfe

narratives separately and chronologically, thus emphasizing

the progression from one narrative text to another and

extending the dialogue.

My critical method will rely on various aspects of

the narrative theories introduced, in particular Bakhtin's

dialogism (including both his emphasis on the social nature

of language and his theory of alterity), Brooks's narrative

desire, Iser's concept of reading, and Barthes's hermeneutic

code and concept of the author. My analysis of Wolfe's

narratives will be pluralistic, and the narrative theories

incorporated are those which reflect the dynamic qualities

of narrative. To recall Stanley Fish's position, our own

critical affiliation affects the way in which we read and

interpret narrative texts. As Fish remarks in "Normal

Circumstances and Other Special Cases":

A sentence is never not in a context. We are never not
in a situation. A statute is never not read in the
light of some purpose. A set of interpretive

assumptions is always in force. A sentence that seems
to need no interpretation is already the product of one.
(Text 282)

With this reminder and in good company, let the conversation

about Wolfe's dialogic narratives proceed.


1Barthes likewise notes the dynamism of these forces
when he describes the reader as "no longer a consumer, but a
producer of the {narrative) text" (Roland Barthes, S/Z: An
Essay, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang,
1974) 4). Scholes also implies an exchange between narrator
and reader when he describes narrative as "a behavior
through which human beings communicate certain kinds of
messages" (Robert Scholes, Semiotics and Interpretation (New
Haven: Yale UP, 1982) 57).

2Wolfe defines a "totem story" as
the kind of story any of the somnambulistic totem
newspapers in America would have come up with. A totem
newspaper is the kind people don't really buy to read
but just to have, physically, because they know it
supports their own outlook on life. (Tom Wolfe, The
Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (New York:
Bantam Books, 1972) xi)

3This transformation has its tradition in America, as
described by standard critics like Leslie Fiedler, Richard
Chase, and R. W. B. Lewis, in one direction taken by the
archetypal Western as
a fiction dealing with the confrontation in the
wilderness of a transplanted WASP and a radically alien
other, an Indian--leading to a metamorphosis of
the WASP into something neither White nor Red. .
Possibilities are opened up for another kind of Western,
a secondary Western dealing with the adventures of that
New Man, the American tertium quid. (Leslie Fiedler,
The Return of the Vanishing American (New York: Stein
and Day, 1968) 24)
Fiedler's pattern of the Western is that in which the white
man encounters the red and through that encounter challenged
to new possibilities which the red man lives but the white
man has not yet imagined. And the sequel to this pattern is
the adventures of this new white man who begins to live what
he before could not even imagine. But while a critic like

Fiedler only perceives the edenic life of the red man as the
white man experiences it, a writer like Wolfe moves beyond
Eden to open up new territory. The Wolfe narrative is an
amalgam of these two patterns and something more--the new
white man, or Wolfe man, the first-person narrator who
encounters his subject taken from actual life, interacts
with it, is transformed by it, and moves ahead as he
imagines and lives the new story creatively. Wolfe is also
in the tradition of American journalists who turned to
literature, including Crane and Hemingway, whose seeing eyes
become narrative eyes. Says Wolfe, "To do what is really
effective, I'm convinced that this very unfashionable thing
of journalistic reporting is the crucial approach, and if
you use any other approach, you're only fooling yourself"
(Tom Wolfe, interview, by Gisela M. Freisinger, Spin Oct.
1988: 72).

4The reader, the third participant in the narrative
triangle, affects the interaction of narrator and subject by
his implied presence and is affected by the given narrative
as he begins to create from within it. The reader is
endowed with a new awareness through his experience of
articulation as he is guided by the narrative.

5In an interview Wolfe describes the relationship
between reporting and the imagination: "Reporting is
important for two reasons: To give one's work the flavor of
life itself, but also because the reporting feeds the
imagination. It gives the imagination something to work
with" (Tom Wolfe, interview, "Creators on Creating," by
Joshua Gilder, Saturday Review Apr. 1981: 43).

6The interaction of narrator and subject is one story
that the narrative tells. The second story is based on the
interaction of narrative text and reader. The narrative
told is affected by the reader's presence. Recall Wolfe's
immediate disclosure to the reader: "I could tell something
was beginning to happen." His tone establishes a
significant beginning as something is beginning to happen,
for the reader to take notice as he reads along; yet he also
introduces an enigma--what is beginning to happen?
(Barthes's hermeneutic code of delay and disclosure). This
question will not be directly answered but will remain for
the reader to work through and resolve for himself. The
reader, in working out the beginning, will in turn,
"rewrite" the narrative, through the pursuit called reading,
as he develops his own pace (starting and stopping the
activity), as he increases his awareness, incorporates his
knowledge as a cultural and social being, recalls past

reading experiences, turns back to previous passages he once
considered irrelevant, perhaps skips pages and reads ahead.
Iser describes this as the theme/horizon strategy which is
based on a foreground/background principle. The perspective
the reader is involved with at any one particular reading
moment constitutes the "theme" which always stands before
the "horizon" of other perspectives he has already read.
This structure involves the reader in actively synthesizing
constantly shifting perspectives which not only modify each
other but also influence past and future syntheses. Iser
explains the dynamic of the theme-horizon structure:
Our attitude toward each theme is influenced by the
horizon of past themes, and as each theme itself becomes
part of the horizon during the time-flow of our reading,
so it, too, exerts an influence on subsequent themes.
Each change denotes not a loss but an enrichment, as
attitudes are at one and the same time refined and
broadened. (Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987) 99}

7Bakhtin describes the narrative participants and
their status in "Discourse in Life and Discourse in Art":
Any locution actually said aloud or written down for
intelligible communication (i.e., anything but words
merely reposing in a dictionary) is the expression and
product of three participants: the speaker (author), the
listener (reader), and the topic (the who or what) of
speech (the hero). (In V. N. Volosinov, Freudianism: A
Marxist Critique, trans. I. R. Titunik, ed. Neal H.
Bruss (New York: Academic Press, 1976) 105)
Note: Although Volosinov is listed as author of this book,
Bakhtin is generally regarded as having written Freudianism:
A Marxist Critique and the essay "Discourse in Life and
Discourse in Art."

8In his "Response to a Question from the Novy Mir
Editorial Staff," Bakhtin says:
Creative understanding does not renounce itself, its own
place in time, its own culture; and it forgets nothing.
In order to understand, it is immensely important for
the person who understands to be located outside the
object of his or her creative understanding--in time, in
space, in culture. (In Mikhail Bakhtin, Speech Genres
and Other Late Essays, trans. Vern W. McGee, ed. Caryl
Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: U of Texas P,
1986) 7)
Tom Wolfe's description of his relationship to his
subjects illustrates the role he plays as a reporter and
also relates to the narrator's twofold relationship to his

subject--outside it, yet involved in it. When asked in an
interview whether he tried to adapt himself to his subject,
Wolfe replied:
No, I used to. When I first started at Esquire, I made
the mistake of trying to fit in. And given the kind of
things I was sent to cover--stock car racing, the
Peppermint Lounge, topless restaurants in San
Francisco--not only did I not fit in no matter how hard
I tried, but I would deprive myself of the opportunity
to ask very basic questions that the outsider can ask.
(Gilder 44)
In another interview, Wolfe remarked: "And I insist that the
only way a writer can come up with material like that
{realism in prose) is to plunge into the life of the
society around him" (emphasis mine) (Freisinger 74).
For my use of "evaluation," see A. Carl Bredahl, "An
Exploration of Power: Tom Wolfe's Acid Test," Critique:
Studies in Modern Fiction 23 (1981): 72.

The narrator is a participant, not a dictator.
Instead of a godlike author who oversees and manipulates the
elements of his work, like Bakhtin's Dostoevsky, Wolfe is a
Christlike author: Christ as "a loving deity, who is silent
so that others may speak and, in speaking, enact their
freedom. Dostoevsky gives up the privilege of a
distinct and higher being to descend into his text, to be
among his creatures" {Katerina Clark and Michael Holquist,
Mikhail Bakhtin (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984) 249). Wolfe's
voice is one alongside others--his subject, his reader, and
language as others--and he is responsive to the undiminished
power of their voices. Wolfe commented on his perspective
in interview. Wolfe was asked, "'With Wolfe for the Defense
you don't need a Prosecutor,' is the way someone described
your 'ambivalent' attitude towards your subjects. Isn't it
necessary to have a moral attitude toward them?" Wolfe
responded: "No! You can't approach a subject with a moral
commitment and come up with anything new. As soon as any
approach has reached the stage that it takes on a moral tone
it is already out of date--it's frozen" (Tom Wolfe,
interview, "Tom Wolfe But Exactly, Yes!" by Elaine
Dundy, Vogue 15 Apr. 1966: 153). What has been described as
Wolfe's "ambivalence" reflects his role of "being among his
creatures." Wolfe's response also reveals his commitment to
moving, not stasis.

10The relationship between listener (reader) and
narrative (narrator and subject) is similar to that between
narrator and subject. First, as an immanent listener who
intrinsically affects the narrative of narrator and subject

(his presence affects the relationship of the other two);
and, secondly, as he is affected by this narrative--with the
freedom to stand side by side with the author, or to align
himself with the subject against the author. The Wolfe
narrative responds to an immanent listener who, in the same
fashion as narrator and subject alike, works with the
narrative of author and subject, not at it. Just as the
narrator relates to his subject as subject, not object, so
the reader associates with the narrative text as another
subject, not by imposing himself upon it as if it were an
object. His coparticipation in the creation of the
narrative as he reads it, entering into dialogue with it and
opening himself to historical and contemporary events,
enlarges his understanding of himself and his world, of
which the narrative has become a part.

11To describe an energetic of narrative, Brooks bases
his theory on Freud's energetic-dynamic model of the human
life span as it appears in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
According to Freud, the ultimate goal of the human being is
to achieve stasis, "an earlier state of things, and to
repeat the past, although in the process of this
achievement, the human being undergoes continual change as
his repetitions are affected by external conditions"
(Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. and
ed. James Strachey (New York: Liveright, 1961) 31). Brooks
concludes that Freud gives us
an evolutionary image of the organism in which the
tension created by external influences has forced living
substance to "diverge even more widely from its original
course of life and to make even more complicated detours
before reaching its aim of death." (Brooks, Reading
Brooks uses this pattern to explain narrative movement. In
the beginning is narrative desire, "like Freud's notion of
Eros, a force including sexual desire but larger and more
polymorphous, which (he (Freud) writes in Beyond the
Pleasure Principle) seeks 'to combine organic substances
into ever greater unities'" (Peter Brooks, Reading for the
Plot (New York: Vintage Books, 1985) 37}. What Brooks
describes here represents the combined forces of the
encounter, contributed to by narrator, subject, and reader.

12Barthes puts it more succinctly: "At the origin of
narrative--desire" (Barthes, S/Z 88).

13Brooks's explanation depends upon Barthes's
description of narrative in his "Introduction to the
Structural Analysis of Narratives":

Narrative does not show, does not imitate; the passion
which may excite us in reading a novel is not that of a
"vision" (in actual fact we do not "see" anything).
Rather it is that of meaning, that of a higher order of
relation {translinguistic} which also has its emotions,
its hopes, its dangers, its triumphs. (24)
From Barthes's French original Brooks translates "la passion
du sense" as both the passion for meaning and the passion of
meaning. "Passion for meaning" suggests the innate desire
in man to discover meaning; in this respect narrative desire
holds out the satisfaction of pleasure, the promise of
reading, the bribe which begins one reading and anticipation
of the moment when, in retrospect, everything will fall into
place. The "passion of meaning" implies "the active quest
of the reader for those shaping ends that, terminating the
dynamic process, promise to bestow meaning and significance
on the beginning and the middle" (Brooks, Reading 19).

14Following Freud, Brooks points out that this desire
for/of understanding, a desire of beginnings, is also a
desire for the end, hence an end to the exchange between
narrative participants. Literally, desired understanding
can only be discovered by having reached the end of the
narrative. The narrative middle, which Brooks calls the
"dilatory space" (as Barthes describes it), is the "place of
transformation where the problems posed to and by initiatory
desire are worked out and worked through" (Brooks, Reading
92). Brooks recalls Barthes's hermeneutic code of delay and
ambiguity which postpones disclosure and resolution and
creates a "dilatory space" through detours, subplotting, and
Brooks's theory of narrative desire appropriately
recognizes a driving force behind narrative. He says he
uses the Freudian model to emphasize narrative as dynamic,
but his stress on endings and meaning works against this
dynamism. Bahktin's theory of the social nature of
consciousness enlarges Brooks's notion of a pure motor
force, which is not determined individually (as in Freud)
but through interaction with the other--in narrative, the
interaction of narrator, subject, and reader. Bakhtin
faulted the psychoanalytic model of the unconscious because
"processes that are in fact social are treated by Freud from
the point of view of individual psychology" (Volosinov,
Freudianism 25). Bakhtin maintains that individual
consciousness is indeed social and substitutes for the
Freudian model of the unconscious his model of inner speech.
Thought is envisioned as dialogues we carry on within
ourselves, addressing imagined listeners and drawn from the
voices we have already heard. We create ourselves through

the selection of one voice among many we've heard and as it
speaks, it keeps changing. Consciousness is intrinsically
social, historical, and linguistic. See Freudianism.

15"From Notes Made in 1970-71" Bakhtin explains how
true understanding is a dialogic and ongoing relationship:
Understanding is impossible without evaluation.
Understanding cannot be separated from evaluation: they
are simultaneous and constitute a unified integral act.
The person who understands approaches the work with his
own already formed world view, from his own viewpoint,
from his own position. These positions determine his
evaluation to a certain degree, but they themselves do
not always stay the same. They are influenced by the
artwork, which always introduces something new. Only
when the position is dogmatically inert is there nothing
new revealed in the work (the dogmatist gains nothing;
he cannot be enriched). The person who understands must
not reject the possibility of changing or even
abandoning his already prepared viewpoints and
positions. In the act of understanding, a struggle
occurs that results in mutual change and enrichment.
(Bakhtin, Essays 142)

16Energies are exchanged between Wolfe and subject in
the presence of the reader, whose energy zone has an impact
on his exchange as Wolfe "listens" to the subject "speak"
then "speaks" a narrative sensitive to the energies of
subject, reader, and himself, and which shifts direction,
varies length, and alters emphases, in response to these
energies and the accumulating force of the narrative energy.
As the reader reads, he likewise "listens" to this narrative
"speak" then "speaks" a narrative also sensitive to the
energies of it and his own. Not only is there an exchange
of energies between the participants, but an impression of
each is left upon the other, conditioning and furthering the
narrative, giving rise to narrative flow.

17In his last writing, "Toward a Methodology for the
Human Sciences" (1974), Bakhtin reminds us: "There is
neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to
the dialogic context (it extends into the boundless past and
the boundless future)" (Bakhtin, Essays 170).

18I rely upon A. Carl Bredahl's use of the term
"divided narrative" and his directing me to Ingram's study
of a similar form in his discussion of short story cycles
(A. Carl Bredahl, "'The Young Thing Within': Divided
Narrative and Sherwood Anderson's Wineburg, Ohio," Midwest

Quarterly 28 (1987): 422). Ingram defines a short story
cycle as "a book of short stories so linked to each other by
their author that the reader's successive experience on
various levels of the pattern of the whole significantly
modifies his experience of its component parts" (Forest
Ingram, Representative Short Story Cycles of the Twentieth
Century (The Hague: Mouton, 1971) 19). Faulkner's Go Down,
Moses and Joyce's Dubliners immediately come to mind.
Wolfe's essays in Kandy-Kolored have a similar linkage which
affects narrative development.

19Wolfe describes the "pale beige tone" of others in
contrast to the excitement of his voice:
The voice of the narrator, in fact, was one of the great
problems in nonfiction writing. Most nonfiction
writers, without knowing it, wrote in a century-old
British tradition in which it was understood that the
narrator shall assume a calm, cultivated, and, in fact,
genteel voice. The idea was that the narrator's own
voice should be like the off-white or putty-colored
walls that Syrie Maugham popularized in interior
decoration. a "neutral background" against which
bits of color would stand out. Understatement was the
thing. You can't imagine what a positive word
understatement was among both journalists and literati
ten years ago. (. .} Readers were bored to tears
without understanding why. When they came upon the pale
beige tone, it began to signal to them, unconsciously,
that a well-known bore was here again, "the journalist,"
a pedestrian mind, a phlegmatic spirit, a faded
personality, and there was no way to get rid of the
pallid little troll, short of ceasing to read. This had
nothing to do with objectivity and subjectivity or
taking a stand or "commitment"--it was a matter of
personality, energy, drive, bravura style, in a
word. The standard nonfiction writer's voice was
like the standard announcer's voice a drag,
droning. .
To avoid this I would try anything. (Tom Wolfe,
introduction, The New Journalism, ed. and with an
anthology by Tom Wolfe and E. W. Johnson (New York:
Harper and Row, 1973) 17-18)

20Wolfe's awareness of the special relationship
between subject and narrator (and reader), the power of
articulation, and the potential through language are
expressed in his comments.
I often see something and think: "That's great
material--it could really have been turned into

something." Often all that's necessary to avoid tedious
writing is concentration in bringing more to a message
than is necessary for meaning. (Tom Wolfe, interview,
"Tom Wolfe in Interview," by Ronald Hayman, Books and
Bookmen 2 Nov. 1979: 31)

21Wolfe's use of many voices reflecting many points of
view causes Weber to remark: "Reviewers have contended that
it's useless to ask what moral or intellectual position
Wolfe really speaks from because his method proliferates
points of view and implies attitudes that are frequently
contradicted or thrown away" (Ronald Weber, "Tom Wolfe's
Happiness Explosion," Journal of Popular Culture 8 (1974):

22Wolfe himself listed the stylistic voices he uses.
They include
1. The voice from the possible perspective of a
2. The "downstage voice," as if it were coming
from someone who was a part of the scene
3. The "hectoring narrator" through which the
reader envisions what is taking place and
can confront characters and poke fun at them
4. The third-person voice which writes
objectively about "Tom Wolfe"
5. Stream-of-consciousness or interior
monologue which selects those thoughts which
most effectively convey the personality of
the character
6. Quoted dialogue
For a detailed description of this list of voices,
see Wolfe, introduction, The New Journalism 3-52. To this
list I would add several other voices:
7. The first-person speaker "Tom Wolfe," who
often starts the narrative (see the
introduction to Kandy-Kolored or the opening
of Painted Word)
8. The voice of the translator or interpreter
who defines, elaborates, and clarifies, who
recognizes the voice of abstraction and
tries to modify it, and whose typical
response begins, "Which is to say, ."
9. The voice specifically interested in
articulation, whose constant refrain is,
"How can one put it into words?"

23In a project to revise Problems of Dostoevsky's
Poetics, begun in 1961, Bakhtin says:

To be means to communicate. To be means to be for
the other, and through him, for oneself. Man has no
internal sovereign territory; he is all and always on
the boundary; looking within himself, he looks in the
eyes of the other or through the eyes of the other.
S. I cannot do without the other; I cannot become
myself without the other; I must find myself in the
other, finding the other in me (in mutual reflection and
perception). I receive my name from the other.
(Quoted in Todorov, Principle 96)

24For Bakhtin, the voice of the other exists within
ourselves as well as without. Bakhtin says consciousness is
social and depends on the inner speech we carry within
ourselves. In "Toward a Reworking of the Dostoevsky Book"
(1961, he affirms:
I achieve self-consciousness, I become myself only by
revealing myself to another, through another and with
another's help. The most important acts, constitutive
of self-consciousness, are determined by their relation
to another consciousness (a "thou"). Cutting oneself
off, isolating oneself, closing oneself off, those are
the basic reasons for loss of self. It turns out
that every internal experience occurs on the border, it
comes across another, and this essence resides in this
intense encounter. (Quoted in Todorov, Principle 96)

25Kandy-Kolored--the narrator's growing awareness of
possible integration; Acid-Test--involvement in and
experience of the encounter, acute awareness of the
traditional roles of narrator, subject, and reader and their
immanent collapse; Painted Word--a fait accompli, the
encounter already underway as narrator encounters a
theoretical subject he wrestles with imaginatively; and,
Right Stuff, another fait accompli, but the past perfect
tense emphasizes a greater distance not only in time but in
the autonomy of narrator, subject, and reader on the
dialogic level. Here the narrator works with a
superficially theoretical subject (because of its
technicality), but one which reveals itself to him
dialogically and which he articulates imaginatively.
Interestingly, in describing his difficulties in writing his
latest book, The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe commented
that he had worked on the novel for about six months "and
absolutely nothing was happening" (Toby Thompson, "The
Evolution of Dandy Tom," Vanity Fair Oct. 1987: 122).

26"From Notes Made in 1970-71," Bakhtin outlines the
reader's active part in "rewriting" the narrative:

The first task is to understand the work as the author
himself understood it, without exceeding the limits of
his understanding. This is a very difficult problem and
usually requires introducing an immense amount of
material. The second task is to take advantage of one's
own position of temporal and cultural outsideness.
Inclusion in our (other's for the author) context.
(Bakhtin, Essays 144)

27The most involved study of a Wolfe narrative to date
is Bredahl's "An Exploration of Power: Tom Wolfe's 'Acid
Test'" (see note 8 above). Bredahl's study develops the
Wolfe narrative as an "expression of narrative imagination
. that has discovered the need and ability to integrate
both the exuberance and the structure if it is to function
in a world characterized by electric energies" (Bredahl 68).
I am indebted to Professor Bredahl for his insights into
Wolfe's narratives and for first introducing me to Wolfe's
work in a graduate course at the University of Florida in
1974. Bredahl's study deals only with Acid Test, but opens
the way for further narrative study.
Zavarzadeh's study of nonfiction novel narrative
also includes extensive discussion of the Acid Test
narrative. See Mas'ud Zavarzadeh, The Mythopoeic Reality:
The Postwar American Nonfiction Novel (Urbana: U of Illinois
P, 1976). Zavarzadeh sees innovations in narrative growing
out of the change in consciousness which resulted from the
gap between literary tradition and "the shape of the new
actualities as in the postwar period in the United States,"
conditioned by recent scientific and philosophical ideas
(Zavarzadeh 4-5).
Weber hints at narrative development in much of his
work on Wolfe, but does not follow through with the line of
investigation he opens, merely placing Wolfe in a tradition
of American narrative:
In trying to reveal something new about our social life,
Wolfe recalls something very old. He casts Kesey in the
mold of the American adventurer continually lighting out
for the territory ahead of the rest and reenacting in a
new time and place what Daniel Boorstin has called our
national "love affair with the unknown." He thus links
the amazing drug world of the sixties with the venerable
American cultural myth of continuous exploration--a myth
that celebrates search more than discovery, going more
than arriving. (Ronald Weber, The Literature of Fact:
Literary Nonfiction in American Writing (Athens, Ohio:
Ohio UP, 1980) 90)
Other discussions of Wolfe's work fall into three
categories: (1) Reviews of current published works, largely

in popular magazines and newspapers, but also some journals;
(2) Wolfe as a commentator on the times, growing out of his
American Studies background (the publishers labelled Kandy-
Kolored "sociology") and focusing on Wolfe as a satirist;
and, (3) Wolfe as a new journalist. These studies often
compare the work of those dubbed "new journalists" (Hunter
Thompson, Norman Mailer, etc.), or discuss Wolfe's ideas
about New Journalism and his adherence to them, fueled by
articles written by Wolfe or by his introduction to The New
Journalism. The Journal of Popular Culture devoted a
special issue to New Journalism (Summer 1975) with attention
to Wolfe. Other studies that take their cue from New
Journalism focus on the relationship between fact and
fiction and assert that a new way of looking demanded a new
kind of writing. See John Hellman's Fables of Fact: The New
Journalism as New Fiction (U of Illinois P, 1981) and John
Hollowell's Fact and Fiction: The New Journalism and the
Nonfiction Novel (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1977).
All Wolfe studies share two common tendencies. All
recognize Wolfe's style through his language and
punctuation. He is a lover of language--unusual vocabulary,
new words and phrases, unusual emphases. Secondly, all are
drawn to the Wolfe persona, created through the language,
which calls for a reaction.


In The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline

Baby, Tom Wolfe brings together twenty-two stories and six

illustrations written and drawn during a fifteen-month

period. All the stories previously appeared in publications

such as Esquire, Harper's Bazaar, and the New York Herald

Tribune's Sunday magazine, New York. The illustrations

first appeared in the Springfield (Mass.) Sunday Republican,

Venture magazine, or the New York Herald Tribune's New York.

All of its parts having been previously published, Kandy-

Kolored, one would assume, is simply a collection of Wolfe's

early writings. Certainly what is immediately apparent on

an initial reading are the divisions between the stories and

the inserted section of illustrations, both of which build

walls not only from story to story, but from section to


Kandy-Kolored is a divided narrative, a narrative in

search of new narrative form whose underlying drive is to

cross the barriers between stories and sections and

find its voice.1 This narrative desire can be seen in

several ways. The subjects articulated by the

narrative--motorcycles and racecar drivers to teenage music

and dancing and modern art--overlap, and common themes,

subjects, and voices reappear. Many of the subjects are

articulated as artists or creators in their particular

spheres, whether those areas be Las Vegas sign making,

parking cars on the East Side, or designing custom cars.

Many of the subjects are impelled to tell their stories to

Wolfe, and much quoted dialogue is used. The first-person

speaker Tom Wolfe also appears throughout as he interacts

with his subject, or a third-person narrator is present,

usually introduced by his dress, as in "the fellow next to

him, who has on a wild solaro-cloth suit with a step-

collared vest" (150).

Common themes, subjects, and voices contribute to

narrative desire, yet they are expressions of it rather than

the moving force. The moving force is determined by the

encounter of the energies of narrator and subject as they

interact in the reader's presence through language; these

energies are active in each story of Kandy-Kolored and the

force traverses the barriers between stories and sections

towards a new narrative enrichment. This enrichment is

determined by their dialogic relationship and the narrator's

articulation of it but is also dependent on the reader's

potential to respond dialogically and likewise surmount the

barriers to narrative development. While the power of those

energies varies, as does their direction, throughout Kandy-

Kolored the reader discovers narrator Wolfe sensitive to the

energy within his subject which allows him the possibility

of telling a new story by developing and directing the

combined energies of subject and himself. As the narrative

proceeds, Wolfe relates to different energies, using them to

expand his own narrative voice, testing the limits of their

relationship, enlarging it, and discovering what does and

does not further narrative growth. The subjects' energies,

like Wolfe's, exist in their voices. Wolfe's voice is drawn

to his subjects' voices, and his articulation is affected by

his voice and those to which he listens.2

In his "Introduction" to Kandy-Kolored Wolfe

describes "a specific starting point for practically all of

these stories" (xi) which began with his visit to a Hot Rod

& Custom car show at the New York Coliseum, from which he

wrote a "totem story" called "The Golden Alligator" about a

boy who had built a golden motorcycle. But, Wolfe admits,

"the thing was, I knew I had another story all the time, a

bona fide story, the real story of the Hot Rod & Custom Car

Show" (xii). On this premise Esquire magazine sent Wolfe to

California to look at the custom car world, which in turn

led to his writing the story "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-

Flake Streamline Baby."

But at first I couldn't even write the story. I came
back to New York and just sat around worrying over the
thing. I had a lot of trouble analyzing exactly what I
had on my hands. (. )3 About 8 o'clock that night I
started typing the notes out in the form of a memorandum
that began, "Dear Byron" (Byron Dobell, Esquire managing
editor}. I started typing away, starting right with the
first time I saw custom cars in California. I just
started recording it all, and inside of a couple of
hours, typing along like a madman, I could tell that
something was beginning to happen. {. .) What had
happened was that I started writing down everything I
had seen the first place I went in California, this
incredible event, a "Teen Fair." The details
themselves, when I wrote them down, suddenly made me see
what was happening. (xiii-iv)

Wolfe at first has difficulty writing "The Kandy-Kolored

Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" because his approach is all

wrong. Analysis is an intellectual activity which hinders

the connection between narrator and subject. As Wolfe tells

us, when he abandons analysis and writes down the details of

what he has heard and seen, "they suddenly made me see."4

Inspired by the concrete particulars, he begins to write

"the real story," and his seeing eye, attracted to the

details and concrete particulars of his subject, becomes a

narrative I. The subject has activated Wolfe's language.

These introductory remarks reveal a great deal about

the dynamics of the Wolfe narrative--what Wolfe calls "the

real story." It differs from a totem story like "The Golden

Alligator," in which the narrator privileges himself above

his subject and the boy on the golden motorcycle becomes a

"gentle nut" (xii). To tell the real story, the narrator

and his subject are treated as narrative equals, each

granted his specific talents and skills and allowed freedom

of movement in his milieu--the subject in his world, Wolfe,

through language. While the subjects' particular expertise

varies, Wolfe's is closely associated with articulation.

The equal footing makes possible the dialogic relation

between narrator and subject in which each stimulates and

helps create the other.5 Wolfe's subjects enable him to act

on his potential as a writer, and Wolfe transforms his

subjects into storytellers. The wide range of their voices

which appears in Wolfe's narrative, from lower-middle-class

to upper-class, regional dialects, and professional genres,

are absorbed by Wolfe's voice. Wolfe's articulation thus

requires power and form--the energy to respond to his

subjects' voices and the form to direct his subjects'

energies narratively.

Wolfe brings together twenty-two stories of numerous

subjects, each having a specific energy and voice impelling

Wolfe's articulation, but the powers of these forces vary

and thereby affect the narrator's exchange with them and

influence the direction taken by the narrative. There are

nine stories of high-energy subjects, mostly appearing in

the first half of the book, in which the subjects' energies

put them in functioning relationships in their respective

worlds and in which their movement toward growth and change

is unimpeded.6 Wolfe responds to them as integral narrative

forces, moving with their energy and incorporating their

voices. Included in this group are the sign makers of Las

Vegas, who create the new forms of American life, now seen

along any American highway, car customizers George Barris

and Ed Roth, who design new "sculptures," and Junior

Johnson, who races stock cars.

In a second group of stories, the subjects' energies

again put them in functional relationships with their

respective worlds, but there are obstacles to their

continued growth and development which thereby effect the

narrative effort.7 In his interaction with these subjects,

Wolfe not only works with the energies of his subjects but

works through the obstacles. He never imposes on the

subjects his story, but through listening to theirs and

interacting with them, he articulates the new

story--relating both theirs and his own. He is sensitive to

the potentials of their energies, even when obstacles to

those energies are imposed by the subject. He is never

judgmental but remains open to affirming the new energy born

of subject and narrator.8 In stories of this second group,

like "Peppermint Lounge Revisited" and "The First Tycoon of

Teen," both his narrative powers and developing identity are

tested as he directs the narrative but does not dominate his


Narrative powers and the narrator's identity are

further tested in a third group of stories in which other

obstacles to narrative progression are introduced. In these

stories the energies of the subjects are somehow misdirected

and thus effect narrative direction.9 In these stories of

misdirected energy, which are largely included in the second

part of the book, Wolfe is challenged to maintain the

integrity of his subject. As he encounters misdirected

energy, the danger of the narrator dominating his subject

appears, and the subject working in his world can no longer

be equivalent to the narrator articulating the narrative.

The narrator's voice is in danger of turning one dimensional

as he privileges himself above his subject. Satire and

irony enter the narrative and the integration of narrator

and subject breaks apart, as in "The New Art Gallery

Society" or "The Saturday Route."10

In Kandy-Kolored Wolfe discovers two narrative

directions open to him--one, a dynamic narrative in which

subject and narrator are integrated in the narrative

articulation; the other, the narrative of satire in which

the narrator is privileged above his subject. The Kandy-

Kolored stories represent a narrative effort to enrich

narrativity through the relating of subject and narrator as

narrator responds to the subjects' energies and voices with

his own energies, discovering and using their combined

forces to encourage further growth, change, and possibility.

The major thrust of the Wolfe canon is in the first

direction, as will be demonstrated in my discussions of

Kandy-Kolored, Acid Test, Painted Word, and Right Stuff.

The narrator prominently appears in the narrative as

the first-person speaker Tom Wolfe, as a third-person

reference to Wolfe, or as an implied listener to quoted

dialogue of the subject, although the narrator assumes many

other voices as the narrative develops. Wolfe's first-

person narrator is instrumental in reinforcing the image of

a transformed narrative eye (I). The first-person narrator

implies a developing ego, distinct from but dependent on his

relationship to his subject for definition. Only through

interaction with his subject do the narrator's perceptions

deepen. For instance, in "Kandy-Kolored," the first

impressions of the first-person narrator are modified by his

experience--what he sees and the story told him by Barris

and Ronny.

I ran into a kid (. .) at Barris's {. .} Ronny Camp.
Ronny is twenty-two, but he looks about eighteen because
he has teen-age posture. Ronny is, in fact, a bright
and sensitive kid with an artistic eye, but at first
glance he seems always to have his feet propped up on a
table or something so you can't walk past, and you have
to kind of bat them down, and he then screws up his
mouth and withdraws his eyeballs to the optic chiasma

and glares at you with his red sulk. That was the
misleading first impression. (78)

As the narrative continues, Wolfe describes Ronny's trek to

California, the customizing of his car by Barris, and his

victory at Indianapolis and reported triumphant return to

Lafayette. Now Wolfe describes him no longer as "Ronny of

the Red Sulk" but as a knight coming back with the Holy

Grail. These narrative moves, in which the narrator's

perceptions are recorded, emphasize that here is a narrator

working with the concrete particulars of his subject and

through language creating a new way of looking.

Through the special relationship established with

his subject, Wolfe finds his voice.11 He is attracted by

the energy which puts the subject in motion in his world, an

energy expressed by what Wolfe sees. As he begins to

respond narratively to their energy, he activates and

defines a new dynamic relationship between subject and

narrator, and develops a narrative identity. As the

narrative progresses, the relationship changes according to

the energy exchanges between narrator and subject, and the

narrative identity is influenced by the permutations of

these exchanges.12 As the high-energy subjects function in

their worlds, Wolfe establishes the equivalence of the

narrator functioning in his. Wolfe remarkably demonstrates

the special relationship between narrator and subject

through the excitement his language conveys as he

articulates the subjects. His exclamatory expressions, use

of slang, dramatic punctuation, unusual vocabulary, and

creation of new usages all express the new energy born of

the narrator in synch with his subject.13 This new energy

explodes in the narrative through the voices Wolfe creates

in reaction to the voice and energy of his subject. The

first-person voice, the downstage voice, the third-person

voice from a character's possible perspective, and the

hectoring narrator are all influenced by the subject's

voice; the last three voices adopt the subject's language.

"Kandy-Kolored" and "The Last American Hero"

epitomize Wolfe working in synch with his subject. Barris

and Roth have both come to car customizing after having

driven hot rods; they have chosen form over power and

directed their energies toward expressing form. Junior

Johnson, in "Hero," represents power over form. The stock

car race driver is "one of the fastest automobile racing

drivers in history--yes! Junior Johnson" (106). These two

stories are the most developed narratives of the book, not

only in terms of length, but of the relationship between

narrator and subject. They present the necessary

requirements for Wolfe's articulation--power and form, that

is, power as a force of opening up possibilities and form as

a means of articulating growth and change. All of the

subjects in Kandy-Kolored focus on power or form, but the

emphases change. For instance, Baby Jane Holzer, in "The

Girl of the Year," and the teenagers in "Peppermint Lounge

Revisited" are fanatical about form. Murray the K, in "The

Fifth Beatle," and Cassius Clay {sic}, in "The Marvelous

Mouth," are interested in power. Both power and form are

necessary parts of Wolfe's narrative effort.

"The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby"

is the seminal story of Kandy-Kolored; the title of both

story and book refer to the car Barris customizes for

Ronny.14 Immediately striking is its "kurious {sic}"

spelling and grammatically correct but eye-catching

punctuation. It directs our attention to Wolfe's interests

and emerging values. "Kandy-kolored tangerine-flake" is a

warm color, both visually appealing and life enhancing,

suggesting an elemental force (sun, fire, heat). The "k's"

of "kandy-kolored" reflect George Barris's individual style

(expressed through language) of functioning in his world as

a custom car artist; "streamline" suggests that the car is

built for movement and will utilize its energy to the

utmost, and emphasizes Wolfe's interest in new forms; and,

"baby" pertains to birth and life (as does the color) but

also the integration of man and machine (the car is the

baby, as is Ronny Camp). Driving the car, Ronny, aided by

its streamlining, will direct its power, just as Wolfe,

utilizing his skills, will articulate "the real story" of

the hot rod and custom car show through language, "the real

story" being the narrator's integration with subject.

In "Kandy-Kolored," both Barris and Roth function as

storytellers who relate to Wolfe their early hotrodding and

involvement in car customizing. In this and other stories,

the subjects participate in the narrative directly quoted or

paraphrased, influencing the narrative voice which speaks

from their perspective. The incorporation into the

narrative of subject storytellers demonstrates the equal

footing of narrator and subject within the narrative. The

stories are included as part of the narrative development,

and the narrator uses them to activate his own stories. For

example, Wolfe remarks that Barris's description of his

career parallels the life of the artist; he is affected both

by Barris's words and what his eye takes in: "pretty soon

you realize you're in a gallery" (68). The integrity

maintained by both Barris and Roth is typical of the

subjects in other stories as well. Wolfe guarantees his

subjects' integrity by allowing them to say what they want

to say and moreover by perceiving what they are doing and

using that perception in the narrative.

Creating new designs ("sculptures," Wolfe calls

them) and utilizing their inspiration and creativity to do

so, Barris and Roth channel their high energy into the

on-going process of making new forms which Wolfe sets

against the backdrop of Detroit carmakers dedicated to

convention and stasis--uninspired, undaring, and complacent.

Process, or pursuit of new forms, makes the work of Barris

and Roth an endeavor emphasizing growth and change, not

stasis. Wolfe uses the quoted and paraphrased dialogue of

Barris and Roth to establish their milieu through language

(telling in one's own words, making them one's own)15--with

overtones of rebellion against the establishment.16 Roth's

exaggerated version of his dream house plays with the values

sacred to the establishment. And Barris's continued growth,

for instance, can be seen when he shows little interest in

older completed cars Wolfe asks about, or those adapted by

the Detroit carmakers. Barris is absorbed in what's new,

his current designs. Likewise, Wolfe's integration with

Barris and Roth, through language and perspective,

identifies him narratively with the values of growth and

change and rebelliousness against the status quo in his

experiments with language and narrative. Barris and Roth

shape metal into form; Wolfe develops the narrative through


Wolfe begins Kandy-Kolored with a description of a

California Teen Fair and then shifts to George Barris at

Kustom City. In both scenes Wolfe focuses on the concrete

particulars which incite narrativity. As Barris talks,

Wolfe listens and looks at "an old car stuck back in a

storeroom" which Barris did nine years prior, similar to the

then-current Saab Quantum, and which no longer attracts

Barris. Continually drawn to these created forms, the

first-person narrator visually takes them in, expresses the

urge to articulate what he sees, and then does so. "I want

to return to that subject in a minute, but first I want to

tell you about another car" (69) and "Barris and I were

walking around the side of Kustom City, through the parking

lot, when I saw an Avanti {. which) had paper mock-ups

added to the front and rear, and so I asked Barris about it"

(70). Wolfe's responsiveness to Barris's words and to the

cars, expressions of their subject's high energy and form,

trigger Wolfe's urge to articulate here, expressed by his

created voice, the voice concerned with articulation.

Concrete particulars, visual and verbal, help Wolfe direct

the narrative.

The power which Junior Johnson represents is implied

from the opening of "Hero," which begins with the visual

particulars which incite the narrative.

Ten o'clock Sunday morning in the hills of North
Carolina. Cars, miles of cars, in every direction,
millions of cars, pastel cars, aqua green, aqua blue,
aqua beige, aqua buff, aqua dawn, aqua dusk, aqua
Malacca, Malacca lacquer, Cloud lavender, Assassin pink,
Rake-a-Cheek raspberry, Nude Strand coral, Honest Thrill
orange, and Baby Fawn Lust cream-colored cars are all
going to the stock car races, and that old mothering

North Carolina sun keeps exploding off the windshields.

Johnson moves, and in a watered-down version, these cars and

Wolfe are moving, as Wolfe drives out Route 421 to the North

Wilkesboro Speedway. The sun is "exploding," and the radio

voices are "preaching" and "shouting" and "singing" (105-6).

Active verbs, especially using present participles here,

pervade this story, beginning with its opening scene. Just

as Wolfe physically moves, his narrative is constantly

moving, affected by Junior's energy and the energy of those

stimulated by him, and by the voices to which Wolfe listens.

The narrative shifts to the stories told Wolfe by

the "good old boys," a term widely used in the South, but

brought into popular language by Wolfe. The telling of

these "good old boy" stories stimulates Wolfe to narrate the

following little story.

It was Junior Johnson specifically, however, who was
famous for the "bootleg turn" or "about face," in
which, if the Alcohol Tax agents had a roadblock up
for you or were too close behind, you threw the
car up into second gear, cocked the wheel, stepped on
the accelerator and made the car's rear end skid
around in a complete 180-degree arc, a complete
about-face, and tore on back up the road exactly
the way you came from. God! The Alcohol Tax agents
used to burn over Junior Johnson. {. .} Finally, one
night they had Junior trapped on the road up toward the
bridge around Millersville, there's no way out of there,
they had the barricades up and they could hear this
souped-up car roaring around the bend, and here it
comes--but suddenly they can hear a siren and see a red
light flashing in the grille, so they think it's another
agent, and boy, they run out like ants and pull those
barrels and boards and sawhorses out of the way, and

again, it was him, Junior Johnson! with a gawdam
agent's si-reen and a red light in his grille! (107)

Wolfe relates this story chiefly through past tense active

verbs, which change to the present tense as Junior races

through the scene and overwhelms the narrative with

"Ggghhzzzzzzzhhhhhhgggggzzzzzzzeeeeeong!" the sound of his

power. From the stories told by the good old boys, to

Junior running bootleg whiskey, or qualifying at Wilkesboro

or Daytona, Wolfe perceives Junior as integrated with his

car, moving through its power, free. Wolfe's little story

concludes with Wolfe's language giving way to the language

of the "good old boys" and their reaction to Junior, and

connects Wolfe with the outlaw-rebel point of view.

As Wolfe encounters Junior's energy, he uses his own

to articulate their integration. A later passage from

"Hero" begins with Wolfe's observations about bootlegging,

which grows out of what he has already witnessed and through

his encounter with Junior himself--Junior's physical

activity as well as his Appalachian up-country accent and

remnants of Elizabethan English. The narrative change to

the use of present participles (compared to the past tense

verbs above) signals the narrative shift to Wolfe working

directly with Junior's energy. In this passage the

narrative comes full circle. The reader returns to the

"funny thing {that) was happening" (the narrative

engagement) as suggested through the "something else that

was happening." That is, "something else" suggests new

development. This "something else" is the integration of

the energies of narrator and subject in the process of a new

encounter, expressed through the use of present participles.

And it was a business, like any other business, just
like a milk route--but this funny thing was happening.
(. .) Well, the funny thing was, it got to be
competitive in an almost aesthetic, a pure sporting way.
{. .} Anyway, all these cars with the magnificent
engines were plain on the outside, so they wouldn't
attract attention, but they couldn't disguise them
altogether. They were jacked up a little in the back
and had 8.00 or 8.20 tires, for the heavy loads, and the
"They wasn't no way you could make it sound like an
ordinary car,"says Junior.
God-almighty, that sound in the middle of the night,
groaning, roaring, humming down into the hollows,
through the clay gulches--yes! And all over the rural
South, hell, all over the South, the legends of the
wild-driving whiskey running got started. And it wasn't
just the plain excitement of it. It was something
deeper, the symbolism. It brought into modern focus the
whole business, one and a half centuries old, of the
country people's rebellion against the Federals, against
the seaboard establishment, their independence, their
defiance of the outside world. And it was like a
mythology for that and for something else that was
happening, the whole wild thing of the car as the symbol
of liberation in the postwar South. (138-9)

The general observation leads to a direct quotation, but

very quickly gives way to the sound of these cars, at this

point in the narrative, the sound of the power within them.

The general observation could have been extended and

elaborated theoretically, but Wolfe uses Junior's voice,

directly quoted, to introduce the sound of power encroaching

on the narrative--not merely the narrator picking up the

slang sounds ("God-almighty"), but the sounds of the cars

themselves--through the use of present participles, active

ones ("groaning," "roaring," "humming"), emphasizing the

immediacy and activity, and the narrator's excitement as he

works with his subject ("hell" and "yes!"). The narrator

"moves" with the subject he gets off on.

"Hero" and "Kandy-Kolored," along with the other

high-energy stories, bring together power and form as

crucial elements of Wolfe's articulation. They are the

dynamo, the directed energy reserve, which produces the

current that connects with other energy sources in the two

other groups of stories, in both of which the alternate

energy sources are blocked or misdirected. The second group

of stories I've described include those in which obstacles

appear to the subjects using their energies. Rather than

focus on the obstacles, Wolfe concentrates on the potentials

of the subjects' energies and engages with them. The

obstacles, however, are not ignored but incorporated into

the narrative as the narrator works to maintain the

integrity of his subject and keep his narrative going.

"Peppermint Lounge Revisited" is a brief story which

focuses on New Jersey teenagers' energies, expressed through

their dress and dancing; their voices are generally mute.

Wolfe zeroes in on the concrete particulars of their dress

in the narrative opening. His eye responds to the exact

detailing of the teenagers' dress, recognized as they suit

up and move into Manhattan and then move on the dance floor.

This is the Peppermint Lounge "revisited," and Wolfe's eye

also notices the new dances which are in--no longer the

mashed potatoes, puppet, and twist, but the monkey and the

t-bird. The narrative thrives simply on the details of the

teenage netherworld. The teenagers, such strict adherents

to their styles, can be represented by one voice, that of

Marlene, one of the dancers, a typical Jersey teen, through

whose voice Wolfe perceives the obstacle to the teens using

their energies. Now two years on the scene, Marlene really

sees no future in the dance life. Marlene's goal is as

conventional as apple pie, or in Wolfe's terms, the

"Mom&Dad&Buddy&Sis" routine. "Marlene's goal! Marlene's

goal is. Marlene's answer should reassure a whole

generation of Jersey mothers about where the Jersey Teen-age

rebellion is heading, it and all its bouffant babies, nylon

stretch denims, Dick Tracy eyes, Nehru coats and Monkey

dancers" (46). The nemesis of change and growth, convention

and stasis, asserts itself in Marlene's goal, which is a

return to the life she had rejected. Wolfe incorporates the

obstacle, using it humorously, to culminate the narrative.

First with exclamation, then ellipsis, then an additional

paragraph, he postpones the revelation of Marlene's goal

until the end and lets it serve as a narrative end, which,

in effect it is--the end of narrativity, growth, and change.

Though the subjects of this second group of stories

use their energies to function in their world like the first

group, the former differ from the latter because their

energy is impeded. One such subject is record producer Phil

Spector, "The First Tycoon of Teen," who functions in all

areas of the recording business except manufacturing the

records. What especially attracts Wolfe to Spector is that

Spector, like Barris and Roth, like the Las Vegas

signmakers, has a vision to which he is committed, acts on

it exceptionally well, and enjoys what he is doing. Spector

is totally involved in the teenage music world. Spector's

energies activate Wolfe's narrative, "The Tycoon of Teen,"

which begins and ends in a third-person voice presented from

Spector's perspective and is influenced throughout by his

presence in language which comes directly from Spector's

milieu. Subject and narrator are integrated narratively, as

can be seen in the description of Spector's appearance on

the television program Open End.

And Susskind sits there on his show reading one of
Spector's songs out loud, no music, just reading the
words, from the Top Sixty or whatever it is, "Fine Fine
Boy," to show how banal rock and roll is. The song just
keeps repeating "He's a fine fine boy." So Spector
starts drumming on the big coffee table there with the
flat of his hands in time to Susskind's voice and says,
"What you're missing is the beat." Blam blam. (54-5)

The rhythm of the passage becomes the driving force

which here expresses Phil Spector's drive and mirrors the

song in a narrative moment of only four sentences. The

first lengthy sentence approximates the musical notes with

commas as musical rests. The second sentence is made of

extended notes with no rests. The third sentence, with one

rest, ends in staccato notes (Spector's quotation) following

the rest. The fourth sentence, two staccato notes, is

Wolfe's answer to Susskind as well as Spector's action.

Spector's literal drumming "blam blam" is also Wolfe's

narrative direction--his commitment to such energy and its

movement, rather than to the analytical direction taken by

Susskind. Wolfe's response to Susskind's analysis of the

song is "Blam blam." Susskind "just reads the words," his

voice deaf to the voice of the song, regarding words as mere

things, disregarding the rhythm, beat, repetitive emphasis,

and music which accompanies the lyrics and is a part of its

language. Wolfe, on the other hand, listens to his subject

speak, and through language portrays the struggle between

voices--Susskind's voice of authority, which treats words as

objects, and Spector's voice, alive to the reverberation of

language. Wolfe's voice echoes Spector's in his

perspective, and the echo continues as Wolfe uses Spector's

word "hip" to summarize. Spector, Wolfe concludes, "is

being more hip than Susskind or William B.

Williams" (55). The context of this reported scene in the

narrative puts Spector's energies in the forefront by

minimizing Susskind's voice.17 Wolfe's voice is "retelling

in one's own words" and has a mixed character, assimilating

Spector's words and perspective to develop his own.18

Like the narratives of the first group, "Teen" grows

out of the potential Wolfe perceives in Spector's energies;

unlike them, it incorporates obstacles to the ability of

Spector to use those energies in functioning in the rock and

roll milieu. Spector describes the record retailers as

being interested only in product; his joy, however, comes

from the process of record making, "the work and sweat you

put into a record" (58). Like Ed Roth of "Kandy-Kolored,"

Spector is a process-oriented man. But unlike Roth, who, in

his set of boiled shirt and tails, or his intentionally

ironic conventional dream house, can play with the product-

oriented establishment, Spector cannot play. As the first

tycoon of teen, he identifies with neither the record

establishment nor the teenagers who see him as a father

figure. Spector isn't sure who he is or where he fits.

Wolfe describes the narrative obstacle, Spector's paranoia,

as a "doldrum fury" as he "tamps his frontal lobes" in a

dark office or envisions the crash of the plane on which he

is a passenger (48, 50, 57, 61).

Wolfe, however, uses these obstacles not to

criticize Spector or even to provide a fully rounded

portrayal of him. Incorporating the obstacles into the

narrative as enlivened language, Wolfe uses them as contrast

to Spector's energies, as in the opening paranoid airplane

scene. The narrative describes the paranoia but

simultaneously articulates the energies through combining

slang, exclamation, and excitatory, emphasized language.

This impetus to articulate energies remains through the

narrative ending, which asks, "Who the hell is any body?"

(61). Narratively important is not who Spector is (the

issue which Spector turns into an obstacle), but what he is

doing with his energy, and it is this energy force which

activates and helps develop Wolfe's narrative.

Through this second group of stories, of which

"Teen" is representative, Wolfe works with the obstacles to

energy exchanges. He doesn't merely overcome

them--overcoming them would imply the imposition of the

narrator's view and his energies alone, against the subject

with which he interacts. Instead, the obstacles are

assimilated into the narrative as elements to be worked

with. The energies and obstacles are used to help direct

the narrative. Wolfe's direction of the narrative is

analogous to the direction of a contemporary movie director.

While movies may be recognized as belonging to a certain

director, through the use of favored actors and actresses,

camera movement, and kinds of stories, the director's vision

emerges from the orchestration of many forces, each affected

by but independent of the director's. The director is a

collaborator. He does not control the movie but keeps it

moving along a given line. He is not the writer of the

screenplay, and actors and actresses are living, breathing

physical beings whose energies he uses and to whom he must

be responsive. Likewise, Wolfe directs the energies of all

the elements of his narrative, including the obstacles. All

the elements form a greater energy source than each is

individually capable of producing.

Wolfe's narrative powers, his ability to relate to

his subject and trigger his articulation, are tested in

another way in the remaining group of stories in which the

subjects' energies are misdirected. Can he continue to

relate to a subject whose energies are misdirected? Will

the subjects maintain their narrative integrity? Again, as

in all the stories, these subjects function in their

respective worlds through energies which attract Wolfe, this

being the basic premise of the "something (that) was

beginning to happen." The stories of misdirected energy

share subjects whose energies are directed towards

functioning socially--either in a particularly defined

society or in a one-to-one relationship. Thus, Wolfe

encounters subjects who function in a social world, and an

emphasis on social standing is a characteristic of these

narratives. The social emphasis leads to four narrative

effects: narratives which begin and end the same, taking

the measure of their subjects; narratives of constant

movement through scene-by-scene construction19 and snatches

of conversation; narratives in which the subject prevails as

storyteller; and narratives in which the first-person

narrator blatantly interacts with social voices.

In the narratives which begin and end the same,

Wolfe depicts the subjects themselves as restricted, despite

their potential energies.20 Their limitations condition the

direction taken by the narrative. Wolfe works with the

subjects' energies, but his narrative growth cannot be open-

ended as in the early high-energy subject stories like

"Kandy-Kolored" and "Hero." Wolfe's underlying values of

growth and possibility,21 however, are apparent in his urge

to work with energies and in his incessant drive to keep the

narrative moving, even within the restricted narrative. In

"The Saturday Route" there are over forty narrative changes

and in "The New Art Gallery Society" over thirty, including

shifts from character to character, brief commentary, and

conversation. The commentary includes numerous detailed

references to dress, tastes, and material objects. The

quoted conversations are short phrases from interrupted,

disembodied voices. Wolfe's role in these stories often

seems that of a social gadfly, namedropping and

eavesdropping. While his narrative functioning mirrors the

socializing of his subjects, Wolfe's connection with his

subjects is superficial compared to narratives like "Kandy-

Kolored," "Hero," or "Tycoon." Wolf's urge is to use the

language and concrete particulars of these subjects to

direct the narrative, but in responding to the misdirected

energies of these subjects, little direction can be given

and the voices and details simply float through the


In these several essays Wolfe measures the mindless

social climbing of these subjects against his own values and

privileges himself above the subject. This narrative

superiority surfaces in the namedropping of "Route" and

"Society" and the narrative opening of "The Big League

Complex." Humor can turn to sarcasm; life, joy, and play

can be replaced by death, unpleasantness, and

intellectualization; laughing with a subject can deteriorate

into laughing at it. Unchecked, this privileging of

narrator over subject is disruptive to narrative growth and

leads to narratives of satire. Nevertheless, Wolfe's

narrative urge to relate to his subject is as apparent in

the final group of stories as in those of the first group as

Wolfe works to counteract restrictions or denial of

possibility. Ultimately Wolfe resolves the problem of a

monologic narrative. The urge to relate is especially

evident in two of the stories of the final group, "The Nanny

Mafia" and "Complex."

"Mafia" is a story of misdirected energy, in this

case the Nanny's control over children and parents in

creating the proper and perfect child. (The nannies are

product or goal oriented, just as Saturday-Routers are in

reaching Parke-Bernet.) "Mafia," a story about control,

tests Wolfe's narrative powers, tempting him to control the

narrative rather than direct it. Wolfe does not directly

confront the nannies and their authoritative discourse22 but

uses Charlotte (as a parent, a controlled object of the

nannies) as his storyteller. Through their relationship,

storyteller to listener, Wolfe incorporates the control

theme without losing his narrative direction to it. He can

write about control without imposing it. For instance,

Wolfe relates Charlotte's memory of the Indian Walk T-Strap

shoes (242). In this story the narrative illustrates the

control element of the nannies, but the real narrative power

derives from the narrator's direction of the narrative by

representing Charlotte's release from that control as a

storyteller who uses concrete particulars to describe the

episode. Narrative energy plus direction, not control,

allow the narrative to keep moving. Charlotte's voice as

storyteller struggles to liberate itself from nanny control,

to gain power from telling about it. Wolfe's use of

Charlotte's story (which grows out of the concrete

particulars of a poor little girl wearing the wrong shoes),

as well as Charlotte's quoted and paraphrased conversation,

incorporates her persuasive discourse into his narrative.23

The final story in Kandy-Kolored, "The Big League

Complex," is a story of misdirected energies, in this case

not only the subjects', but initially the narrator's. Where

is Wolfe's openness to his subjects' energies in this

narrative opening?

Hey! It's Jason! Star of stage, screen, and true
romance. Right now I could live without other people's
spectacular arrivals. Today one of my ships didn't come
in. I forget which one. Fame, Love, Last Week's Rent,
one of them sank without a bubble. So naturally this is
the night I start running into half the successful
hotshots in New York, none of whom I have ever laid eyes
on before in my life. (282)

In this story Wolfe describes New Yorkers as having a "big

league complex," that is, indulging in one-upmanship,

improving their status through verbally putting others down.

Similar to the narratives of "Route" and "Society," this

narrative constantly moves; in this story the first-person

narrator finds himself in front of the Dakota, a block from

Broadway, in an East Seventies apartment, in Greenwich

Village, or around Gramercy Park.24 As in the other

narratives, despite the unpromising opening, Wolfe becomes

attracted by the energies required for one-upmanship, and

his energies gather strength from the voices of New Yorkers

and the status details which attract Wolfe's eye.

As the encounters with various subjects' energies

continue, the narrative development of the subsequent

sequences becomes more complex and attuned to the language

of the subject. The brief initial encounter with Jason

Robards leads to the later more detailed encounter with

Ravenna Zenuf, in which Wolfe records the dress and the

conversation. Wolfe's listening to Ravenna's voice allows

him to play with Ravenna's language, and thus the whole

concept of one-upmanship. Ravenna's accent

("zenuf"/"enough") and attitude are miles apart from the

status she claims--supermodel looking down on reporter. In

this narrative moment and throughout the sequences, it is

through listening to the subjects' language that Wolfe

discovers energy, not in the put-down itself. Despite his

disappointments and exasperated mood, despite the denial of

possibility for others in the activity known as one-

upmanship, this is a narrator alive to potential energies.

Kandy-Kolored is Wolfe's narrative experimentation

with subjects which have in common energies that attract him

and incite narrativity. How these subjects use their

energies to function in their respective worlds ultimately

affects how Wolfe relates to them. His narrative powers are

tested in Kandy-Kolored's twenty-two narrative segments.

The high-energy subjects are the ones which the narrator

relates with well as he works in synch with their energies,

and what they are doing in their respective worlds parallels

what Wolfe is doing narratively. The practice in working

with narrative obstacles leads in two directions--Wolfe

assimilating the obstacles and using them to help direct it,

or Wolfe reflecting those obstacles in the narrative itself

in which the narrator privileges himself above a misdirected

subject. The urge in all stories, however, is to move with

the subjects' energies, as the "something was beginning to

happen" unfolds. Kandy-Kolored opens the way for Wolfe's

next narrative venture, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, in

which Wolfe relates to a high-energy subject but also

incorporates obstacles into the narrative and uses them for

direction, without privileging himself above his subject.


1For my use of the term "divided narrative," see Note
18, Chapter 1.

2In the essay "The Problem of the Text in
Linguistics, Philology, and the Human Sciences: An
Experiment in Philosophical Analysis," Bakhtin states:
"Dialogic relations are relations (semantic) among any
utterances in speech communication" (Mikhail Bakhtin, Speech
Genres and Other Late Essays, trans. Vern W. McGee, ed.
Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: U of Texas P,
1986) 1986).

3Because of Wolfe's unconventional use of ellipsis, I
distinguish his writing from my editing by using bracketed

ellipsis to represent my editing in the Wolfe passages
cited. All other ellipsis appear in the original Wolfe
narrative. I do not use bracketed ellipses in citing other
sources; those ellipses reflect my editing.

4Says Johnson: "The striking thing about his
{Wolfe's) break with traditional journalism was the
spontaneity of consciousness with which he began to deal
with details and to spin out their significance--that is one
of his talents as a writer" {Michael L. Johnson, The New
Journalism: The Underground Press, the Artists of
Nonfiction, and Changes in the Established Media (Lawrence:
UP of Kansas, 1971) 53).

5Bakhtin's description of Dostoevsky's relation to
his characters is likewise descriptive of Wolfe's relation
to his subjects and their voices within the encounter.
A plurality of independent and unmerged voices and
consciousness, a genuine polyphony of fully valid voices
is in fact the chief characteristic of Dostoevsky's
novels. What unfolds in his works is not a multitude of
characters and fates in a single objective world,
illuminated by a single authorial consciousness; rather
a plurality of consciousnesses, with equal rights and
each with its own world, combine but are not merged in
the unity of the event. Dostoevsky's major heroes are,
by the very nature of his design, not only objects of
authorial discourse but also subjects of their own
directly signifying discourse. A character's word
about himself and his world is just as fully weighted as
the author's word usually is it sounds, as it
were, alongside the author's word and in a special way
combines both with it and with the full and equally
valid voices of other characters. {Mikhail Bakhtin,
Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, trans. and ed. Caryl
Emerson (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984) 6-7)

6The high-energy subjects include: "The Kandy-Kolored
Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby," "The Last American Hero,"
"Las Vegas (What?) Las Vegas (Can't Hear You! Too Noisy)
Las Vegas!!!!," "Clean Fun at Riverhead," "The Fifth
Beatle," "The Girl of the Year," and "Why Doormen Hate VWs."
Also included in this grouping would be "A Sunday Kind of
Love" and "The Secret Vice." The energy of the subject in
"A Sunday Kind of Love" can be related to this group of
unimpeded energy, because its energy is also unimpeded. But
whereas the high energy level of these subjects would be at
78 rpm, the energy of "Sunday" would be at 33-1/3 rpm. The
resultant narrative moves in slow motion, in synch with the

ambiance of "a Sunday kind of love." "The Secret Vice"
describes another high-energy subject and one to which
narrator Wolfe personally relates, having identified himself
in other stories as a dresser. Wolfe appreciates the finer
points of men's tailoring but also recognizes its esoterica.
The narrative effect is humorous as Wolfe gets off on as
well as makes fun of his subject and himself.

7These stories include "The Peppermint Lounge
Revisited," "The First Tycoon of Teen," "The Marvelous
Mouth," "The Loverboy of the Bourgeoisie," and "The Purveyor
of the Public Life." "The Voices of Village Square" is
another story in this second grouping. The high energy of
the prison inmates is impeded by literal confinement, but
the power of their energy force is evident in their
exchanges with life on the outside.

8"The articles are not preachy, they do not intend to
have the only answer, they do not evaluate the material in
terms of right and wrong. The information is there for the
reader to look at, to mull over. In the end the reader can
make his own decision about it" {David McHam, "The Authentic
New Journalists," The Reporter as Artist: A Look at the New
Journalism Controversy, ed. Ronald Weber (New York: Hastings
House, 1974): 114}.

9In four of these stories, the energies which put the
subjects in functional relationships with their worlds
create worlds which are repetitious and deny growth and
change. These stories include "The Saturday Route," "The
Luther of Columbus Circle," "The New Art Gallery Society,"
and "The Woman Who Has Everything." The effect of these
stories on the narrative results in stories that begin and
end the same. Even so, Wolfe attempts to work with these
energies and narratively moves as much as he possibly can
within the confines of the subjects' world, working with
these obstacles to narrative progression. For example, in
both "The Saturday Route" and "The New Art Gallery Society,"
the narrative eye/I constantly moves. Also among the
stories of misdirected energy is "Putting Daddy On," in
which a once-available energy is depleted, and "The Big
League Complex," the opposite case, full of raw energy which
puts New Yorkers in functional relations to their environs
but denies life and possibility. Similarly, "The Nanny
Mafia" is a story about control and misdirected energy
through the smothering of spontaneity and openness in

100ne direction taken by Wolfe as evidenced in the
canon is the route of satire and irony. Radical Chic and
Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is perhaps the epitome of this
narrative direction, yet it can also be seen in some of the
stories in The Pump House Gang and Mauve Gloves & Madmen,
Clutter, & Vine and to some extent in From Bauhaus to Our
House and The Painted Word. In Painted Word, however,
narrator Wolfe works especially hard to maintain the
integrity of his subject to provide him with a useful energy
for dynamic narrative interaction.

11As noted in Chapter 1, other voices used by Wolfe
include the voice from the possible perspective of a
character, the downstage voice, the hectoring narrator,
stream-of-consciousness, the voice of
translator/interpreter, and the voice of articulation. See
Chapter 1, Note 22. All voices contribute to the emerging
narrative identity, established through the relating of
narrative and subject. Bakhtin comments in "From Notes Made
in 1970-71":
Everything that pertains to me enters my consciousness,
beginning with ny name, from the external world through
the mouths of others (my mother, and so forth), with
their intonation, in their emotional and value-assigning
tonality. I realize myself initially through others;
from them I receive words, forms, and tonalities for the
formation of my initial idea of myself. Just as a
body is formed initially in the mother's womb (body), a
person's consciousness awakens wrapped in another's
consciousness. (Bakhtin, Essays 138)
Wolfe's identity is formed through his language and the
language of others--the subject and implied reader.

12Wayne Booth summarizes Bakhtin's belief in a social
identity in his introduction to the Dostoevsky book:
We come into consciousness speaking a language already
permeated with many voices--a social, not a private
language. From the beginning, we are "polyglot,"
already in the process of mastering a variety of social
dialects derived from parents, clan, class, religion,
country. We grow in consciousness by taking in more
voices as "authoritatively persuasive" and then by
learning which to accept as "internally persuasive."
Finally we achieve, if we are lucky, a kind of
individuality, but it is never a private or autonomous
individuality in the Western sense; except when we maim
ourselves arbitrarily to monologue, we always speak a
chorus of languages. (Bakhtin, Dostoevsky's Poetics

13Wolfe has discussed his style of writing on several
I thought I've got to think of new ways to get
people to keep reading, to create an atmosphere right
away that would absorb them. I just had to grab them by
the lapels--when people wore lapels--and just hold them
there. So I started developing a style that would
capture the spontaneity of thought, not just speech.
(Quoted in Linda Kuehl, "Dazzle-Dust: A Wolfe in Chic
Clothing," Commonweal 7 May 1971: 213)
In interview Wolfe elaborated:
What I like is a tension going between colloquial speech
and precise and even scholarly ways of thinking. I'm
trying to restore punctuation to its rightful place.
Dots, dashes, exclamation points were dropped out of
prose because they "reeked of sentiment." But an is
someone getting carried away. Why not? The writer
carefully not using this punctuation doesn't bother to
convey what's exciting to the reader. Sure, dots and
dashes slow down the eye. That's good. That's the best
thing that can happen. It's reproducing the abruptness
that occurs in your mind when you're thinking.
People only write in careful, flowing sentences;
they don't think that way and they don't talk that way.
Take Hemingway. People always think that the reason
he's easy to read is that he's concise. He isn't. I
hate conciseness--it's too difficult. The reason
Hemingway is easy to read is that he repeats himself all
the time, using "and" for padding. I use expletives to
indicate an atmosphere in a nonliteral way. You get to
a point where you have to use a word with no literal
meaning to indicate an atmosphere. You can indicate a
lot that way. (Tom Wolfe, interview, "Tom Wolfe. .
But Exactly, Yes!" by Elaine Dundy, Vogue 15 Apr. 1966:
Thompson remarks, "As a phrasemaker, Wolfe is
nonpareil: 'Radical chic,' 'the right stuff,' 'the me
generation,' and other idiosyncratic designations have
entered the language" (Toby Thompson, "The Evolution of
Dandy Tom," Vanity Fair Oct. 1987: 121).

14Wolfe humorously describes this title as that "title
in alliterative trochaic pentameter that I am sure would
come to me if I dwelled on it" (Wolfe, "Why They Aren't
Writing the Great American Novel Anymore," Esquire Dec.
1972: 153).

15Bakhtin describes this as "double-voiced" narration,
belonging to both the other (subject) and the speaking
person (narrator):
The latter mode (retelling in one's own words) poses on
a small scale the task implicit to all prose stylistics:
retelling a text in one's own words is to a certain
extent a double-voiced narration of another's words, for
indeed "one's own words" must not completely dilute the
quality that makes another's words unique; a retelling
in one's own words should have a mixed character, able
when necessary to reproduce the style and the expression
of the transmitted text. {Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic
Imagination, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist,
ed. Michael Holquist (Austin: U of Texas P, 1981: 341)

16Bakhtin's comments on dialogue in the novel reflect
Wolfe's use of dialogue in his narratives: "Pure languages
in the novel, in the dialogues and monologues of novelistic
characters, are subordinated to the same task of creating
images of language" (Bakhtin, Dialogic 365). These images
of language establish the ideology of the group it
represents, in this case, the creativity and growth of
carmakers Barris and Roth versus the authority of stasis of

17Says Bakhtin in "Discourse in the Novel":
The speech of another, once enclosed in a context,
is--no matter how accurately transmitted--always subject
to certain semantic changes. The context embracing
another's word is responsible for its dialogizing
background, whose influence can be very great. Given
the appropriate methods of framing, one may bring about
fundamental changes even in another's utterance
accurately quoted. (Bakhtin, Dialogic 40)
Through his positioning of the Open End segment, Wolfe
transforms Susskind's speech and Spector's to Spector's

18See Bakhtin's "Discourse in the Novel" in Dialogic
341-2 for discussion of "retelling in one's own words" and
Note 15 above.

19Four of the stories in which the subjects' energies
are directed to enact their social standing include "The
Saturday Route," "The Luther of Columbus Circle," "The New
Art Gallery Society," and "The Woman Who Has Everything."
In "Route" energies are directed through walking towards
being seen and reaching the destination of Parke Bernet; in
"Luther," towards becoming dictator of the "modern" arts; in

"Society," being recognized at the gallery opening; and, in
"Woman," towards owning (marrying) Jamie. Wolfe is drawn to
the life force within these energies, yet also perceives how
the subjects use them as limited. The subjects' social
orientation has a definite effect on the narrative. In
these four stories the narratives begin and end the same.
In "Route," it is Joan Morse's wanting to find out and
finding out what happened to everybody during the warm
season in London (the reader never finds out). In "Luther,"
it is lines from Kipling's "When Earth's Last Picture Is
Painted." In "Society," Little Alexander hangs from
Picasso's Goat in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art.
And in "Woman," Helene ponders the "odd, nice, fey thing" of
the small of Jamie's back (262, 271).

20Based on Wolfe's choices of subjects, Hartshorne
describes Wolfe's "traditional" values: "Respect for
manliness in the most conventional sense, physical courage,
skill at one's chosen craft, devotion to the task at hand,
devotion to family ties and respect for family loyalties,
concern with and respect for nature, respect for country and
community" (Thomas L. Hartshorne, "Tom Wolfe on the 1960's,"
Midwest Quarterly 23 (1982): 162}.

21Wolfe describes scene-by-scene construction as a
device of New Journalism, "telling the story by moving from
scene to scene and resorting as little as possible to sheer
historical narrative" (Tom Wolfe, Novel 158).

22See Bakhtin's discussion of "internally persuasive
narrative" in "Discourse in the Novel," in Dialogic 342-4.

23See Bakhtin's discussion of "authoritative
discourse" in "Discourse in the Novel," in Dialogic 344-5.

24The first-person narrator is constantly on the move.
He walks, sees, visits an acquaintance's apartment,
interviews a police inspector, and recalls past encounters
with one-upmanship.


The narrative experimentation Wolfe conducted in The

Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby serves as a

springboard for the narrative development in The Electric

Kool-Aid Acid Test. Having worked through problems of

impeded or misdirected energies in the divided narrative,

Wolfe emerges stronger and more confident than before, ready

to develop an integrated narrative with a high-energy

subject and prepared to work with any obstacles to that

energy. The Acid Test narrative grows out of Wolfe's

attraction to a high-energy subject, Ken Kesey and the Merry

Pranksters, and the relating of his energies to theirs. In

the "Author's Note" to Acid Test, Wolfe tells us that "For

all the Pranksters, as I have tried to show, the events

described in this book were both a group adventure and a

personal exploration" (371). While the events led to the

Pranksters' "personal exploration," the narrative serves as

Wolfe's personal exploration, for as he draws strength from

Kesey's and the Pranksters' energies, he further develops

his own imaginative powers.

Wolfe's dedication to possibility, growth, and

change presents itself in his pursuit of Kesey and the

Pranksters as a subject, because their impulses epitomize

those values. Kesey and the Pranksters thrive on the

concrete particulars of their world, which include Can't

Bust 'Em overalls with American flags, day-glo paints, the

music of Bob Dylan, and LSD. Prankster dress, with its

bright, glowing colors, reflects the vibrancy of the

Pranksters; Wolfe describes their appearance in detail not

merely for realistic effect, but to connect with the energy

which underlies it.1 Kesey is described as coming on "with

a lot of vital energy {. .) and the power was with Kesey"

(41). Prankster spontaneity (Mountain Girl's "don't explain

it, do it!") and openness (being "out front") are

unadulterated expressions of that energy; their ability to

use whatever comes their way ("wail with it," "go with the

flow"), whether an experience, individual, confrontation, or

technology, is that energy channelled (167, 171, 74, 75).

The Pranksters' words also epitomize their energy. Their

specialized language, consisting of slang, Kesey's

aphorisms, and phrases adapted form the books they read and

other sources, is revitalized language, representing both

their energy and their energy directed. Their words are

intimately connected with what they are doing.

Whether through writing, acid, the bus trip, the

movie, the acid tests, or the move "beyond acid," Kesey

directs his energies towards moving on into new territory.

This pursuit suggests Kesey's refusal to accept stasis and

his commitment to process. For example, the bus trip, its

destination furtherr (sic}," "in fact the whole deal, was a

risk-all balls-out plunge into the unknown" (78). Ronald

Weber says that

Wolfe seems to view Kesey and the Pranksters as only the
latest and most bizarre figures in a long and honorable
procession of American experimenters heading out toward
the "Edge City" of human experience, fleeing from the
limitations of history in search of the totally
experienced present. Kesey becomes that classic
American figure, plunging recklessly into the future
toward some long-sought "Edge City" of the American
imagination. (Literature 97, 90)

Literally, Kesey is physically moving throughout the

narrative, from coast to coast and into Mexico and back,

among numerous groups of people (Pranksters, Angels,

Unitarians), and at the various gatherings described in

detail (Beatles concert, Trips Festival, Acid Graduation

Test). This physical movement parallels his creative

movement. He does not settle for the complacency of the

Perry Lane intellectuals, nor the success of his two novels,

but pushes on to La Honda and a form of expression beyond

writing. Furthermore, Kesey serves as a catalyst which

activates the energies of the others, and it is then up to

them to put their energies to use--and the Pranksters do

this most effectively.

Kesey and the Pranksters are a high-energy dynamo

which Wolfe plugs into. Their energies activate him to use

his narrative energies. The narrative is the result of

Wolfe relating to Kesey and the Pranksters, discovering that

what they actively pursue in their world corresponds to what

he wants to do narratively.2 The narrative does not merely

tell the story of Kesey and the Pranksters, but articulates

a narrative identity in relation to them. Stimulated by

their energies, Wolfe, as Bredahl says, explores new

possibilities of narrative ("Exploration" 71). This

exploration can take place, however, only through Wolfe's

openness to the possibilities of his subject, and his

continued dialogic exchange with their energies leading to a

dynamic narrative. That this exchange is underway is

evident from the opening of Acid Test, and the narrative

grows as a series of "happenings" in which narrator and

subject "relate." By following the progression of the

narrative, and being open to the conversation between Wolfe

and Kesey and the Pranksters as the narrative develops, we

can see how Wolfe directs the narrative in response to the

on-going conversation. Wolfe "listens" to the

Pranksters--observing the details of their appearance and

activity, and listening to their words. As he listens to

them "speak," he internalizes their "internally persuasive"

conversation, and incorporates it into his own.3 Wolfe's

"conversation," therefore, depends not only on his skills as

a writer, but on the excitement with which he responds to

his subjects. The conversation Wolfe "speaks" as the

narrative consists of the internally persuasive words of the

subject and his own. (This conversation parallels the

narrative force which drives the narrative as the combined

energies of subject and narrator.)

As Wolfe "speaks," he directs the narrative by

responding to a high-energy subject and using its energy to

activate his own, orchestrating their combined energy to

tell the new story of the integrated subject and narrator.

To understand how Wolfe directs the narrative, I will

examine the general narrative movement, starting with the

opening and moving into the narrative center and out from

it. Furthermore, I will concentrate on narrative moments in

which the effect of the subject on the narrator can be seen.

The Acid Test narrative begins in medias res, with

the narrator responding to Cool Breeze. The reader is

invited into the midst of a "happening," as the narrator

relates to Cool Breeze's dress and conversation.4 The

narrator's opening comment, "That's good thinking there,

Cool Breeze" is double-edged. One, it reflects the

perspective of the reporter Tom Wolfe, who appears as a

character in the narrative and responds ironically to Cool

Breeze's outrageous dress despite his wish to maintain a low

profile. Two, the comment emphasizes "good," the kind of

thinking being done, and directs the reader to the

narrator's perspective, incorporating a Prankster phrase

into his own conversation. The distinction between

character Wolfe (reporter) and narrator is alluded to

throughout the narrative to emphasize the narrator's working

with his subject (in contrast to the reporter's working at


Just as character Wolfe is bounced along in the

pickup truck, driven by a Prankster, the narrator in these

early chapters is stimulated by the Prankster experience,

less directing the narrative than being directed by it. The

narrator's early dialogic interactions grow out of his

openness to whatever his subject has to offer him and his

readiness to move with it.5 Bredahl comments that in the

early chapters Wolfe moves enthusiastically but without much

control, gaining control as he develops the narrative

("Exploration" 83, 70). The reporter introduced by the

opening comment represents Wolfe's former perspective, the

reporter capable of writing only a "totem story," the story

of the past, about Ken Kesey--"Young Novelist Real-Life

Fugitive" (5). The narrator begins "about all I knew about

Kesey at this point was" (3). The shift to past tense

suggests that what he knows now is more than what he knew

then, as he witnesses "the happening" and opens himself up

to it. Acid Test is a present-tense narrative, a story of

the now. During his ten-minute interview with Kesey in

jail, the note-taking reporter with his preconceived notions

discovers, "to be frank, I didn't know what the hell it was

all about. {. .} The ten minutes are up and I was out of

there. I had gotten nothing, except my first brush with a

strange phenomenon {. .} the Kesey presence" (7-8). Wolfe

does not get the "totem story" he came for, but through his

openness to the subject realizes that there is an energy

here which has been conducted to him.6

The result is that, even though separate from Kesey

and the Pranksters, Wolfe begins to respond to their


I was starting to get the trend of all this heaving and
convulsing in the bohemian world of San Francisco.
{. .} Suddenly it hits me that for the Pranksters,
this is permanent. (. .) Slowly I am getting more and
more of a strange feeling. (9, 16)

Sudden revelations and gradual dawnings emerge as Wolfe's

visual perception is transformed into a creative

perception.8 Inspired by the very concrete world and

conversation which is the source of the Prankster's

spontaneity and power, Wolfe verbally responds with acute

perception, precision, concrete visualization, and, most

importantly, a sensitivity to and exchange of energies.

"Despite the skepticism I brought here, I am suddenly

experiencing their feeling. I feel like I am in on

something the outside world, the world I came from, could

not possibly comprehend" (25). His awakening comprehension,

taking in and embracing his subject, leads to creative

understanding. And the process of creative understanding

hinges on Wolfe's narrative articulation, a concern raised

almost immediately and repeated throughout the narrative:

"But how to tell it?" (29). Wolfe's created narrative

voice, the voice concerned with articulation, depicts his

relationship to the Pranksters in contrast to the voice of

the reporter-character. This voice of articulation has

already connected with the subject and works to express that

connection narratively.

Wolfe directs the narrative largely through

flashback, which occupies a good three-quarters of the book,

in which the narrator explores Kesey's and the Pranksters'

usable energies as they work with what their environment

offers them--acid, the bus (and the experience of the bus

trip), a movie camera ("recording all now, in the

moment")--all means for spontaneous bursts of their energies

and ways of channeling them. As the narrator begins to

articulate their experience, he also works with what Kesey

and the Pranksters offer him--a means of discovering his

powers and directing his energies to tell the new story.

The flashback technique also allows him to keep the Wolfe

reporter-character who occasionally appears as a figure

eager to relate to the Pranksters, yet not quite doing it,

to emphasize the contrast of the narrator integrated with

his subject.

Wolfe's burgeoning powers are apparent in the

chapters devoted to dropping acid and the bus trip, from

"What Do You Think of My Buddha?" through "Dream Wars."

From constant changes in voice and perspective to shifts

from poetry to prose, the narrative keeps moving. Wolfe

incorporates an array of the voices from his repertoire,

sometimes even changing voices in mid-sentence.9 Prominent

voices include a third-person voice filtered through Kesey

or other Pranksters, a translator/interpreter/historian, and

quoted conversation. Wolfe also uses many of the methods

which have already defined his style in Kandy-Kolored:

exclamation points, italics, slang, exaggeration, and

unusual punctuation. The bizarre vocabulary of Kandy-

Kolored, bizarre because of its use in an unusual context

(medical terminology, esoteric language) is less evident in

these chapters. Instead, Wolfe's language here is

influenced by the Pranksters and Kesey; its arrangement is

directed by Wolfe towards moving the narrative furtherr


For instance, in describing Kesey's experience with

the doctors at Menlo Park, a voice comments, "You said it,

bub, but like a lot of other people, you don't even

know" (39). This statement is not directly attributed to

Kesey (not quoted), but reflects his manner of speaking

("bub") and his perspective; simultaneously, it reflects

Wolfe's attitude towards the sterile kind of investigation

of the doctors and his siding with Kesey.10 Wolfe uses this

discourse as a springboard for what follows, beginning with

"LSD; how can--now that those big fat letters are babbling

out on coated stock from every newsstand ." (39). The

voice of articulation emerges as Wolfe is stimulated to

relate what Kesey already knows and what Wolfe is learning.

It includes a minimal history of LSD and proceeds with

Kesey's perceptions of the power of LSD set against the

doctor's more clinical analyses, and concludes with a

specific and universal experience:

Or can you remember when you were a child watching
someone put a pencil to a sheet of paper for the first
time, to draw a picture and the line begins to
grow--into a nose! and it is not just a pattern of
graphite line on a sheet of paper but the very miracle
of creation itself and your own dreams flowed into that
magical growing line, and it was not a
picture but a miracle an experience and now
that you're soaring on LSD that feeling is coming on
again--only now the creation is of the entire universe--

One passage among many, this narrative moment illustrates

the on-going encounter between Wolfe and his subject. What

Kesey literally knows (his pulse beats 75 beats a minute)

and the doctor does not know (Kesey has his finger on his

pulse) translates into what Kesey knows about acid and the

doctors do not. Stimulated by Kesey's awareness, the

narrator works to find some means of making that awareness

his own by putting it into words.

Changes in language and voices in these early

flashback chapters contribute to the life of the narrative.

The narrative shifts from prose to poetry and back again,

drawing poetic lines into the prose narrative and moving

with them. Another narrative shift is from quoted

conversation to a prose rap which grows out of a line of the

conversation, similar to the way in which the Pranksters rap

off each other in their free association conversations or

off variable lag tapes. Once again, the narrative is

affected by the conversation of the Pranksters, not merely

picking up their phrases but altering the very structure of

syntax and paragraph development. There are also narrative

shifts from detailed close-ups of individuals and events to

panoramic discussions of the LSD scene. Wolfe even exploits

the arrangement and spacing of words on the page, as in the

soaring on acid passage (42). The poetry, prose raps, and

visual articulations are all effects of Wolfe utilizing his

narrative powers, not merely recreating the world of Kesey

and the Pranksters, but creating his own narrative identity,

an identity dependent on his relationship to his subject.11

What is happening in these chapters is one energy force

reacting to the other, with narrative movement as the

result. Both forces are working with their environments,

the Pranksters via the bus, acid, technology, and their

argot, Wolfe through words.

Wolfe's drive towards narrative articulation, moving

the narrative further, can be seen not only by examining

narrative shifts, but by noting the careful structure of the

narrative. When the flashback technique begins, Wolfe moves

chronologically, from Kesey's early days on Perry Lane and

his first acid experimentation, to La Honda and his

refinements of the acid experience (human tapes, music,

pranks, the Big Rap, etc.), to enlarging the acid experience

on the bus trip.12 Underlying this chronological

presentation is Wolfe's exploration of Kesey's connection

with energy and how Wolfe develops it; first focusing on the

energies of Kesey and the Pranksters, the narrator's

subsequent interaction with them is expressed narratively.

In the flashback Kesey's earliest association with energy is

introduced in his memory of "the radio tower of station KORE

with a red light blinking on top" (34). It represents the

energy core to be respected ("prayed to") and utilized, yet

if misunderstood it can have disastrous effects:

And the old highway used to take a bend right around
here, and it seemed like there was always somebody
driving about three or four in the morning, half asleep,
and they would see the lights over there in town where
it was getting built up and they'd think the road headed
straight for the lights and they'd run off the bend.

Wolfe first presents the promise and danger of energy. That

presentation is followed by Kesey's discovery of the energy

released through LSD, and leads to the challenges of using

energy met on the bus trip--the Pranksters' "competence"

(88). Analogously, Wolfe has tapped into a conductor, Kesey

and the Pranksters, through which he can release his powers

of articulation as he begins to meet the challenges of using

those powers. For the narrator as well, as he uses his

powers there is the danger of not working with his subject,

of controlling it rather than directing it.

The narrative center is "The Unspoken Thing."13 In

this chapter Kesey and the Pranksters are an integrated

force, living in "Edge City," channelling their energies and

challenging themselves to push furtherr (sic}," enlarging

their "script," making their lives a "little bigger movie."

Wolfe refers to "the mental atmosphere they shared after the

bus trip" (111). Likewise, narrator Wolfe, responding to

his subjects' energies, expands the scope of the narrative

as he paradoxically articulates "the unspoken thing," the

integration of Kesey and the Pranksters, and by extension,

the integration of narrator and subject, and possible

integration of narrative with reader.

This chapter reveals the importance of the encounter

between the energy forces of narrator and subject, the

encounter which makes integration possible and which

continues the narrative (the series of happenings). Ever

sensitive to his subjects' energies, Wolfe works in synch

with the Pranksters to articulate "the unspoken thing"

through multiple perspectives. The narrative development of

"The Unspoken Thing" includes a dazzling array of Kesey's

revelations, Prankster spontaneity, reexperiencings of the

synchronicity the group experienced, focus on individual

Prankster "movies" and creative exposition. Wolfe invents

voices, introduces and combines perspectives, exclaims,

proclaims, and pushes furtherr {sic)." He accomplishes the

articulation through a combination of methods precisely

directed towards speaking what cannot be spoken (by the


The narrative movement of "The Unspoken Thing"

remains open to the Prankster moment, but it is also

carefully orchestrated. As in the initial encounter of all

Wolfe narratives, this chapter begins with the world of

concrete particulars, in this case two concrete examples of

"the unspoken thing," the red marked map of the route just

taken by the Pranksters, and the Chevron tanker appearing

out of nowhere to "refuel" the bus in the High Sierras.

More details support the narrative movement, from the

incorporation of Kesey's aphorisms and the movie, to Babbs's

day-glo colors and the woods wired for sound. The narrative

shifts as Wolfe includes another perspective, citations from

Joachim Wach and Max Weber describing religious ecstasy, and

paraphrases from books on Kesey's bookshelf, including

Stranger in a Strange Land and Journey to the East, voices

of authority that are internally persuasive.14 That Wolfe

is utilizing his powers is underscored by his remark "after

I got to know the Pranksters, I went back and read Joachim

Wach's paradigm," which emphasizes the nature of the

encounter--stimulated by the Pranksters, the narrative

"movie" is enlarged (114). What Wolfe has imaginatively

discovered he subsequently clarifies and solidifies by

exercising his intellectual powers, but these are useful

only as they supplement the imaginative creation--this is

Wolfe's "good thinking."

Wolfe draws strength from the Pranksters' experience

of concrete particulars, quoting from the tapes while

describing Prankster experience of the synch, a narrative

moment of the happening as Wolfe is integrated with the

Pranksters through language.

They turn on the picture on the TV, the Ed Sullivan
Show, say, but they turn off the sound and play a tape,
say, Babbs and somebody else rapping off each other's

words. But the voice that comes out is saying to Ella
Fitzgerald--in perfect synch--"The lumps in your
mattress are carnivore spores, venereal butterflies sent
by the Combine to mothproof your brain, a pro-kit in
every light socket--Ladies and gentlemen, Plug up the
light sockets! Plug up the light sockets! The cougar
microbes are marching in. ."
Perfect! The true message!-- (124-5)

"Perfect! The true message!" cannot be identified as solely

Wolfe's words or the Pranksters. What has been dialogically

and imaginatively created now sustains more intellectual

development, as Wolfe once more incorporates the voice of

authority in Jung's theory of synchronicity, only to return

to the energy of individual Pranksters. The chapter

narratively closes on the "larger script" of four

Pranksters' movies, Kesey's being the last and preparing for

the next narrative move--"to extend the message to all

people--" 9132). Wolfe's description of how the Pranksters

feel the synch is also descriptive of the narrator's

narrative direction here.

But one could see the larger pattern and move with
it--Go with the flow--and accept it and rise above one's
immediate environment and even alter it by accepting the
larger pattern and grooving with it--Put your good where
it will do the most! (127)15

Wolfe puts his good--his imaginative and intellectual

powers, in relation to the Pranksters--into service here.

As narrator and subject continue the dialogic

exchange, the narrative becomes a repetition of their

initial exchange with a difference--each repetition of their

initial encounter builds upon what has preceded it and what

will follow.16 "The Unspoken Thing" articulates the

integration of energies between Kesey and the Pranksters,

and Wolfe and his subject. In the chapters which follow,

those powers are tested.17 In "The Bust," "The Hell's

Angels," and "A Miracle in Seven Days," the powers of Kesey

and the Pranksters are tested by an antagonistic

establishment force (the cops), a probable violent and alien

force (the Angels), and the outside unknown forces

(Unitarians). In all three instances, Kesey and the

Pranksters are able to incorporate these outside energies

into their dialogue, channelling them furtherr (sic}."

"It's like all the Pranksters' theories and professed

beliefs have been put to a test in the outside world, away

from La Honda, and they're working now, and they have .

Control" (170).

Wolfe continues to work in synch with the

possibilities of furtherr (sic)" brought to life through

Kesey's and the Pranksters' integration with their world,

and most completely developed in "The Unspoken Thing," but

it is also in these three chapters that his separateness

from them is more apparent as Kesey becomes more and more

obsessed with control, intellectualizing about it rather

than doing it.18 Furthermore, instead of making what Kesey

says and does their own, the Pranksters look to him as their

leader, the controller.

For example--well, it always seems like there's no
dissension around here, no arguments, no conflict, in
spite of all these different and in some cases weird
personalities ricocheting around and rapping and
carrying on. Yet that is only an illusion. It is just
that they don't have it out with one another. Instead,
they take it to Kesey, all of them forever waiting for
Kesey, circling around him. (149)19

Kesey inevitably becomes a voice of the past, a voice of

established authority, rather than a voice of the present,

the now, to be utilized in the development of one's own

voice. The narrator keeps creating the story of the new

rather than revert to the story of the old. He doesn't talk

about controlling his material, but does it--through being

sensitive to the energies of those with whom he interacts

and articulating them. The narrator continues the dialogic

exchange while Kesey turns a deaf ear, hearing only his own


Instead of using energies as the narrator continues

to do, Kesey prefers to analyze them.

Kesey has done a lot of talking, on stage, off stage,
down by the bus, and things had gotten to the point
where people might start saying, well, for a guy who
says talking won't get the job done, he has done an
awful lot of talking. (170)20

"A Miracle in Seven Days" concludes with a haunting image of

a possessed Kesey: "Sandy saw him and one eye seemed to be

aimed one way and one the other, as if there had been a

horrible wrench" (173). Kesey takes 1500 micrograms of acid

(as compared to the normal 100 to 250 microgram dosage) and

the narrative slips into Kesey's consciousness as he

hallucinates. "This movie is big enough to include the

world, a cast of millions, the castoff billions .

Control Tower to Orbiter One/CONTROL" (175). Kesey's

obsession with control, alluded to in these chapters, will

begin to mark the separation between Kesey's control and

Wolfe's direction. Kesey's language is becoming less

internally persuasive and more the voice of authority

against which Wolfe continues to develop the narrative.

The following three chapters begin to develop the

separation of the powers of narrator and subject, as Kesey

and the Pranksters are further tested. Despite the ominous

overtones of "Control" in the chapters devoted to the first

bust, the Hell's Angels, and the Unitarians, Kesey and the

Pranksters do pass the tests. But in the chapters which

follow, "Cloud" and "The Frozen Jug Band," they do not. The

once-channelled energy of "The Hell's Angels" becomes the

uncontrollable energy of the Beatles concert in "Cloud."21

That the integration of Kesey and the Pranksters is also

breaking apart is apparent in the ominous overtones of the

concert scene and the Pranksters' response.

Suddenly it seemed like the Pranksters could draw the
whole universe into the movie .

And then, curiously, being as it is, so freaking
high out here--Mountain Girl thinks what the fuck is
this. It looks like a slaughterhouse. In fact, it is
the Cow Palace. She can't even focus on the big hulking
building itself for the miles and endless rings of
slaughterhouse fences around it, fences and barbed wire
and a million cars jamming in being jammed in in the
cold fag end of the dusk. Curiously, it isn't
terrifying to Mountain Girl, however. It is just a
slaughterhouse, that's all.
But to other Pranksters--a concentration camp.

Invited to participate in the Berkeley anti-war rally

sponsored by the Vietnam Day Committee, Kesey, instead of

directing the energy of the crowd, simply saps it. The

final frozen image of Country Joe and the Fish at the end of

the chapter represents this sapped power. While Kesey's

powers are diminishing, the narrator's energies are very

much alive and directed toward contrasting the misdirected

energies of the Pranksters and Kesey with the former

synchronicity between themselves and their working with

their environment.

The Acid Test chapters which follow, and in which

Kesey is often absent, further chronicle the deteriorating

energies of the Pranksters as they attempt to function

without Kesey. What Wolfe can do--use the energies of

others to incite his own energies and then direct them as

"happenings" continue--the Pranksters have difficulty doing.

They haven't learned from Kesey how to do it for themselves.

They had hardly gotten there (Los Angeles) before the
soft rumblings started--"certainty and unity no longer