Wolfe's double viewpoint in "The Commercial" transforms one's first impression of the athlete. What is the truth about his pride in his "cobra" neck in Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine...

Wolfe's double viewpoint in "The Commercial" transforms one's first impression of the athlete. What is the truth about his pride in his "cobra" neck in Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine by Tom Wolfe?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question assumes a number of things that might be contested: (1) one's impression of Willie Hammer is transformed; (2) Foley and Lane perceive the "truth" about Willie prior to his on-camera moment; (3) that the "pride" Willie thinks and talks about from beginning to end is pride in his neck. Each of these assumptions merit the benefit of close textual analysis before they are taken for accurate representations of Wolfe's essay, written according to the style of New Journalism.

Willie Hammer is being wined and dined by top advertising agents for the first time. He is reserved yet realizes that his athletic physique is attracting envious stares from other male diners, in a manner similar to, though different from, that in which a beautiful woman attracts admiring stares as she walks into an upscale restaurant.

If you're a professional athlete in top condition ... [to] ordinary men, it's like you're built in neon ... It's in the way you carry yourself. It's in your neck and the set of your jaw. Your power shows through.

Willie explains that an athlete with a large, muscular neck can arrange his physique to make the muscles in his neck stand out to look even more impressive (in the viewpoint of an athlete): "then they really check you out!" Willie's point of view is that expanding his neck is adding special memorability for the ordinary men in the restaurant who are already dumbfounded with his form and power, "like ... built in neon."

When Foley takes over the narration, he says several times that he might be wrong in his perceptions and later he misrepresents the incident on the stairs: neither he nor Norm can say exactly how Foley hit Willie so as to knock him out yet they contend that he must have been hit by "fist, or ... forearm" because, there he was,  knocked out. So how credulous do you suppose Wolfe expects us to think Foley's representation of events in Palm restaurant is meant to be?

Foley states that the reports of Willie are that he is a gentleman who lives elegantly and fashionably. Yet upon first meeting William, he calls him a "stiff!" meaning that Willie has nothing to say for himself, a first impression further dramatized by the idea that "Eastern [airways] had checked his head through to Montreal," meaning Foley thought Willie a little short on brain power. At Palm restaurant, Foley confirms that Willie looks "like a million dollars."

Foley does not see Willie's physique as "built in neon"; he just sees him as an external total package. When he sees Willie expanding his neck, it only puzzles him as it doesn't fit with the external package he sees. To Foley, this is "some kind of weird trick" that has people staring (to Willie, it is a masculine treat for those who are already staring). To Foley, this is nothing short of a foolish exercise in weirdness. Only a third point of view from a restaurant customer could add confirmation of Wolfe's slant toward Willlie's credibility and set to rights the conflict in perception: Did they stare because Willie was a mountain of a man "built in neon" or because he was persisting in doing an unaccountable "weird trick" with his neck.

Wolfe seems to slant credibility toward Willie's perception because Willie's other perceptions are accurate, including his perception of the conversation between Foley and Norm into which it was impossible to interject any comment except the lowest and cheapest kind because the conversation was the lowest and cheapest as Willie proves through reiterated dialogue.

"Look around some time. Without Jewish girls there wouldn't be any women's liberation. The peep show is just to give you a ... little uppie ..."