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Written by Helen Smith
Allegory of Space Program
The American space program, as shown in The Right Stuff, functions as an allegory for American exceptionalism in the mid-twentieth century. American culture was focused on the concept of American dominance, from lessons in school upholding capitalism to the spirit of dancing and music of the time. Tom Wolfe uses the space program to show both the history of humanity's attempt to get to the moon and also a more general view of the prevailing American ethos of the time.
Motif of Daring
By tracking the development of air travel to the Apollo missions, Wolfe includes moments of decision about who is to be allowed to assume such a difficult role. These reference the concept of bravery, and the men who are selected wish to emphasize this trait within themselves. Wolfe draws the motif of daring into play to show how it interacts with the concept of choice in the dangerous mission.
Motif of Female Support
The book shows the wives of the Mercury 7 as they struggle to support their husbands through dangerous missions and decisions which put the emotional welfare of the marriage at risk. The motif of female support allows Wolfe to characterize the time in which the book's action occurs beyond only demonstrating unique marital interactions.
Symbol of Alcohol
One component of the ethos of the ideal astronaut is to be social, but not too much; alcohol serves as a connection between individuals, including those who push to let loose through intoxication, but also as an indicator of whether or not an individual is letting go of the dream. The presence of alcohol and a character's written awareness of it tracks the likelihood that they are trusted with time in the air.
Symbol of Personal Fitness
Potential astronauts are examined both directly and indirectly, via observation and statistics about strength, agility, and size. These pieces of data symbolize the ability to achieve their dream as a risk-taker to the astronauts themselves, but they take on other symbolism to those who choose the logistics of the mission. The object of this symbolism is the lack of control humans have over themselves - someone cannot choose to be taller or less tall - but also the recognition of individuals in a militaristic sense of characteristics rather than full humanity outside of the symbolic representations of virility.
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