What is the thesis statement of Me Talk Pretty One Day?

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sedaris's anecdotal style seems to avoid the need for a thesis statement, at least in the classic sense. If you read the essay looking for a sentence that declares what his piece will "prove," you are likely to be disappointed. I suppose you could consider the first line‚—"At the age of forty-one, I am returning to school and have to think of myself as what my French textbook calls 'a true debutant'"—as a thesis of sorts. But that does not quite get at what his essay is about.

Sedaris's argument is about the nature of education, and how, even as an adult, the dynamics of the classroom remain the same. He writes about how learning is hard, and not knowing the answer to a question can be shameful. His teacher is abusive and insulting, but as a student he found himself nevertheless working very hard to please her. In a way, her abuse made his learning possible, because it forced him to think creatively about ways he could prove to her that he was a good student. Her abuse also became a thing all the students had to endure together, a kind of shared experience through which they supported one another. 

More than that, however, Sedaris is writing about the process of understanding. When his teacher tells him that teaching him is like having "a Caesarian section," rather than taking offense, he becomes elated, because he could understand what she said. Maybe the best thesis statement comes at the end of the piece:

Understanding doesn’t mean that you can suddenly speak the language. Far from it. It’s a small step, nothing more, yet its rewards are intoxicating and deceptive.

Learning anything is complex and difficult, but when you find that you actually are beginning to understand, the experience is euphoric, no matter what age you might be.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this essay, Sedaris explains what it is like for him to enroll in an intensive French class at age 41. The thesis statement of the essay is that learning makes people, particularly adults, feel vulnerable because they are reduced to a child-like state. When Sedaris starts the class, he feels decidedly uncomfortable, and he says that at this point in his life he expected he would be spared insecurity. However, the feeling has returned in full force as he faces a French teacher who is incredibly intimidating and insulting. Sedaris realizes that he does not even know the alphabet in French, and he does not understand a great deal of what his teacher says (he renders these words as nonsense words in his account of the story). In the end, when he finally develops some fluency in French, he even enjoys his nasty teacher's insults, feeling a bit more at home with the language. It is only after a long period of struggle that some of his insecurity in French lessens.

mdelmuro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his "Me Talk Pretty One Day" essay, David Sedaris explores his feelings of alienation that come from his attempt to learn a foreign language while living in a foreign land. He explains this feeling early on when he is awed by the students at the school whose French was spoken with "ease and confidence [he] felt intimidating" and how they were "all young, attractive and well dressed, causing me to feel not like Pa Kettle trapped backstage after a fashion show."

Throughout the essay, Sedaris explores this idea through humor, whether it's through the opening paragraph in which he describes how he would rather use his student ID to get a discount at an odd amusement park, or how his French teacher's abusive tactics, although funny in their descriptions, created "fear and discomfort" in Sedaris, which "crept beyond the borders of the classroom and accompanied me out onto the wide boulevards."