How does the image of a series of openings in "The Truest Sport" in Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, by Tom Wolfe, relate to Wolfe's theme of chivalric courage?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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This is a confusing question that doesn't make it clear what your instructor is really requiring of you thus what you need help with understanding. First: there is no recognizable "series of openings" in "The Truest Sport." Second: Wolfe's idea was not "chivalric courage," but courage of men with "the right stuff" (from his later book of the same name, The Right Stuff) that was not chivalric but rather the exact opposite: their courage was recklessness and abandon and their courage fit with "having the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness" to go up in fighter planes as pilots "again the next day, and the next day, and every next day, even if the series should prove infinite."

"The Truest Sport" is about Dowd, a fighter pilot, who is on an aircraft carrier flying missions over Hanoi-Haiphong in the Vietnam War. Wolfe makes many digressions from Dowd's story into how the war was fought, but none of these can be called "a series of openings." Dowd's story progresses through a combination of present moment vignettes and flashbacks, illustrated in a brief Yale flashback: 

The Navy had no such [war] designs for him, either. Quite the contrary. All they asked was that he keep playing basketball [for the Navy]! At Yale, Dowd had been an aggressive player ...

In between the flashbacks, Wolfe's central discussion (though a digression from Dowd's story) of the nature and characteristics of SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) continues since it is the main threat to Dowd's life, after the threat of correctly launching and landing on the aircraft carrier that is:

the ship up ahead somehow turns at the wrong angle ... and the whole fifteen tons of thrust from his F-4, and the man ... and the ship are blown off the deck like a candy wrapper ... just like that.

It's possible the "series of openings" refers to Wolfe's discussion of Dowd's "100 missions." In this case, this can be related to Wolfe's understanding of fighter pilots' courage, which, unfortunately, connects to "chivalry" only as a negation: chivalry is not a characteristic of fighter pilot's courage even though Dowd (through Wolfe) likens piloting fighter planes to jousting:

Jousting is jousting, and a knight's a knight. [...] In Vietnam, however, the jousting was of a kind [an earlier war] colonel and his knights never dreamed of.

Wolfe describes the pilots' courage as something else. It was courage that "was like trying to fly through a rainstorm without hitting a drop." It was courage that could not admit that wife and children were meaningful enough to step out of the "inner chamber" for. It was courage that stepped forward day after day to offer "themselves as living SAM bait" in "the ultimate game of radar chess."

Compare this to chivalry's courage. This was courage that put wife and children in the forefront of the knight's march to victory with "m'lady's" token in plain sight as motivation behind great deeds of glory and honor. This was courage that threw down the gauntlet of honorable challenge and faced the enemy head on.

While Dowd's career relates to Wolfe's theme of the courage behind "the right stuff," Wolfe deliberately defines and describes this courage as being antithetical to chivalric courage. That "The Truest Sport" (1967) mirrors the concepts further defined in The Right Stuff (1979) is proven by the several passages that appear in both, such as the one illustrated by the following quote:

This is a skillet!--a frying pan!--a short-order grill!--not gray but black, smeared with skid marks ...

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