December 17, 2004

Tom Wolfe's Portrait of the President as a Young Frat Guy

The main villain in Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons" is a fraternity brother named Hoyt Thorpe, whose depiction offers a lot of insights into the molding of George W. Bush. Which is interesting because Wolfe voted for Bush. He may be a jerk, but when foreigners are out to kill you, you just might want to be led by a jerk, assumes Wolfe.

More roman a clef aspects of "Charlotte Simmons:" The family background of the President of Dupont, Frederick Cutler III, from an ultra-assimilated Jewish family in the diplomatic corps, appears modeled on John Kerry.

Dupont basketball coach / demigod Buster Roth, whom the Jewish faculty members, such as Jerry Quat, quickly determine is German, not Jewish, would be modeled on Polish Catholic Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K).

JoJo Johansen, the only white starter on the Dupont team, is probably inspired by Duke's JJ Redick, although Redick's skills as a shooting guard are closer to JoJo's white roommate Mike.

Also, I'm surprised by how many people don't figure out that the college in "I Am Charlotte Simmons" is obviously primarily Duke, where Wolfe's daugther Alexandra graduated in 2002. Are there any other schools with 1490 average SATs and national championship basketball teams and a social scene dominated by fraternities and sororities? Here's a Duke geology professor listing 14 similarities. I was also struck by his response to the denunciations of the realism of Wolfe's portrayal of elite college students:

How real is Wolfe's Duke? For that slice of the Duke undergraduate body that is represented by Wolfe, I'd say it's very real. I've been at Duke for 14 years now. This is my last year. Every year for the last several years, I've gone on a week-long field trip with Duke students. I've gotten to know Duke students pretty damn well. And about 30 percent of them bear an uncanny resemblance to Wolfe's Duke. The language that they use fits Wolfe's dialogue to a T. The ugly attitudes expressed by them in conversation fit the attitudes described by Wolfe. Wolfe's Duke is a dead on accurate description of about one-third of Duke's student population.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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