“That unmentionable stuff, after all, involved a man hanging his hide out over the edge in a hurtling piece of machinery. And such unmentionable payoffs it brought you! One, which he had started receiving even before this morning, was a look. It was a look of fraternal awe, of awe in the presence of manly honor, that came over the faces of other men at a base when a test pilot or combat pilot headed for the aircraft for a mission when the odds were known to be evil.” (p. 197)
I found this excerpt from the book to be a very good representation of Wolfe’s overall theme of this “unmentionable stuff.” It resonated with me because what it seems like most of the men (be it the test pilots or the astronauts) were working for during their careers was this “look.” The power and glory that Shepard felt at this moment in the book is what all of them men were searching for throughout the whole process. Wolfe’s use of italics helps to emphasize what truly makes this look so special. He describes it as a “look of fraternal awe” and of “manly honor,” something that makes an individual feel special and important. When I was reading the book I kept thinking to myself what would be the true benefits out of participating in such a risky endevor, and this description made it very clear to me. Wolfe dicusses how there is a pact of sorts between the men that links them together. No one besides a real pilot could really begin to understand the feeling of power and greatness that flying provides. Wolfe is able to convey this feeling so well through this passage.
“The very top pilots, with the most righteous stuff, were content to recieve that unmentionable glistening look from aviators and support personal at their own base. Shepard had already had it beamed upon him by every sort of congressman, canned-food distributor, Associated florists board chairman, and urban-renewal speculator…He had already accepted the payment…up front!– and millions of wide-open humid eyes were now upon him.” (p. 198)
Wolfe continues on to describe why this look is so special to Shepard. He describes this look as the astronaut’s “payment.” Out of all of the benefits that becoming the first person into space provides, Shepard feels fulfilled and as though he has earned it just by seeing all of those people looking at him and respecting him. This respect is all that he seems to need in order to feel content. Wolfe’s use of punctuation adds to the emotion involved in this feeling. He uses exclamation marks after the italicized “up front” in order to show the excitement and awe that Shepard feels. I loved this portion of the book because it describes a true and relatable feeling that made all of the fears and uncertainties about their lifestyle worth it.