The mouths of college students are full of things. Four-letter words, beer and cheap liquor, Cosmo or Esquire’s sex tips, but definitely nothing about the philosophies of Socrates. At least this is the picture drawn in Tom Wolfe’s recent novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. Wolfe, 74, researched the lives of college students at over a dozen campuses, including the University of Michigan, to help him narrate the first year of college as seen by Charlotte Simmons, a quiet, bright southern girl attending college at a prestigious, fictitious university. Charlotte is first shocked by foul language of her peers, their non-stop partying, and sexual escapades and chooses to find a life within her studies and books. Charlotte decides to throw these ideals to the wayside when she finds a boyfriend in a pampered basketball player. However, is Wolfe’s depiction correct? Are all college students really swearing, partying, sex obsessed animals? This might be a bit of a broad generalization.
“The people I know are actually are actually trying to expand their vocabulary,” English major Megan Brown said.
Wolfe reveals a world where students only speak in the “prevailing college creole: Fuck Patois.” Sprinkling the foulest expletive, and others, randomly throughout the college student speak. While many college students may swear occasionally, many would agree that since they are in college to learn they are learning to broaden their diction. In classrooms, Linguistics Professor Denise Troutman agrees, students are more prone to watch their language, especially the female students.
“Women have a tendency not to speak that way because of this code of politeness [women follow],” Troutman said.
In the novel Charlotte seems to have more of a prudish view toward other students’ partying antics, rather than a polite, feminine outlook. “[Wolfe] makes her out to be a willfully naïve goody two-shoes. . . as if this Miss Smartypants had never watched television or read a magazine in her life,” Michiko Kakutani wrote in his New York Times review of the novel. Standing next to fellow students in her matching plaid pajamas, slippers and robe, or her high-waisted jeans Charlotte does seem different. Going through college without drinking or partying is fine, many students do. But does that mean it is not acceptable to strike a balance between studies and parties? Wolfe implies just that with Charlotte’s appalled attitude.
“There is a middle ground, but I think it’s hard to find. Kids that party do party a lot and kids that study do study a lot,” said Psychology major Kristen Capps said.
“[D]id anybody ever tell you about being sexiled? About being marooned in a public lounge in the middle of the night so that your roommate, so-called, can rut like a pig with some guy she just picked up?” OK, college students have sex. They have sex in their lofts with their roommate in the one next to theirs or will even kick their roommate out. But sex on the floor as your roommate comes in and you aren’t embarrassed at all, in fact you introduce your roommate to your new “friend”, if you can remember their name at all? This is what is described in one scene of I Am Charlotte Simmons in the dorm of two basketball players. Are college students really that shameless? Do the loins of college students stir as much as they do in Wolfe’s novel? That much stirring seems nearly impossible.
Wolfe’s depiction of a typical college student may be overly stereotypical, but I Am Charlotte Simmons does have moments of glory. Especially its description of the library with its “rustle of many people in motion” and the speed walk battle for the last computer available. Nonetheless, Wolfe’s research seems to be inaccurate in his glimpse of college life, creating stereotypical characters rather than complex ones.
“There are some students who may fit these stereotypical images, but unfortunately we get the perpetuated myths of college students,” Troutman said.
While giving readers a glimpse into the life of a college student, those who have been in Charlotte’s shoes will know what is on point and what isn’t. Those who haven’t might think I am Charlotte Simmons is who college students are.

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