Me Talk Pretty One Day Analysis
In his very first piece, “Go, Carolina,” Sedaris sets up several of the major conflicts that will inform the majority of the essays in Me Talk Pretty One Day. The audience, ostensibly knowing nothing, first meets the young Sedaris as a person who is guilty, both by the judgment of the “agent” who comes for him and by his own admission. Readers are told immediately that he is guilty of something, and yet neither readers nor the young Sedaris know just what it is he is guilty of. This vague sense of delinquency, established in the first few paragraphs, pervades and informs much of Sedaris’s writing throughout this collection.
In “Go Carolina,” it is slowly revealed that Sedaris is not truly guilty of a crime. Instead, he has a lisp: a speech affectation that, as we come to find out, does not actually prevent him from making himself understood but is nonetheless labeled an aberration to be corrected. His speech therapist, a relentless person who has clearly judged Sedaris as problematic, does not succeed in “correcting” anything and instead makes Sedaris deeply insecure about his voice. Unable to fix it, Sedaris attempts to hide his lisp, humorously trying to circumvent the problem altogether by never using s words. It is finally revealed that his speech impediment, while genuine, also serves as a symbol for his homosexuality—and, more importantly, for every aspect of his personhood for which he is made to feel judged, insecure, and guilty. Sedaris carries these feelings into his adult life as well, and though his issues with language barriers, money, illicit substances, and geographical location may at first seem unrelated, they all form a part of a larger quest for self-acceptance in a world where he feels rejected.
Although these symbolic elements stand out in his work, Sedaris’s meticulously well-crafted story structures are also worthy of note, as they are often filled with many jokes and humorous details that range from self-deprecating to simply absurd. Most of the essays begin with a “hook” that consists of a hyperbolic or humorously dramatic reimagining of an otherwise fairly normal life event. From here, Sedaris often transitions into a secondary, yet related, narrative that he uses as a second act to ramp up tension, often employing elaborate and cartoonish examples to illustrate his points. Finally, he will stitch the two narratives back together, usually culminating in a larger joke, rather like a punch line. In this way, Sedaris can be humorous while also earning deep, emotional payoffs that imbue each piece with memorable authenticity.
Sedaris’s dry, deadpan style lends itself well to this structure, as he develops his themes with a great deal of candor. He is curmudgeonly and yet open-minded, often leaning hard on criticisms throughout a piece and then coming to a more gentle understanding by its end. Afraid of neither self-deprecation nor blatant, outward complaints, he achieves an honesty that helps to both pull the audience and help them see the truth and humanity behind his hyperbole and occasionally scathing criticism.
Sedaris tackles more serious issues in an intriguingly selective way. Although he will readily use his homosexuality (and its inherent controversy, especially given the era and location of his upbringing) as a premise, Sedaris sometimes purposely evades depth when engaging with the sorts of accompanying themes one might expect. Exceptions to this tendency may be found in pieces like “Go, Carolina,” “Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities,” and “The Late Show,” the latter two of which engage with both genetic privilege and homophobia as powerful examples of larger conflicts. On multiple occasions, Sedaris defiantly expresses his disdain for the more superficial aspects of the modern Pride movement (he believes the rainbow flag to be rather gauche, for example), as well as with the very concept of “coming out,” which he views as a gesture that should never have been...
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