“You Can’t Kill the Rooster” Summary
When he is young, Sedaris’s family moves from New York to Raleigh, North Carolina, where they experience various cultural contrasts. The family’s northern sensibilities put them somewhat at odds with the people in the South, and Sedaris’s parents are adamant that their children should never say “y’all” or chew tobacco. The children’s speech is policed for any hint of a Raleigh accent, and most Southern activities and customs are looked down on by the Sedaris family.
This all changes in 1968, when Sedaris’s younger brother, Paul, is born. Unlike the other members of the family, Paul is born and raised completely in North Carolina. Paul is quick to unconsciously adopt the local accent; by the second grade, he speaks “much like the toothless fishermen casting their nets into Albemarle Sound.”
Sedaris shares an unusual, high-pitched voice with Paul, though he calls Paul’s voice a “hybrid” that combines the local Raleigh twang with what he picks up from his exposure to “deep-country” work crews and rap music. Given this combination of influences, Paul’s speech is difficult to follow and distinguished mostly by swear words (uttered often) and to a sentence that has become a sort of catchphrase of his: “You can’t kill the Rooster.” This phrase, according to Paul, is an expression of his indomitable nature: “the Rooster”—Paul’s nickname for himself—may be trifled with, even beaten badly, but he can never be defeated.
Despite sharing the same parents, Sedaris feels that he and Paul were effectively raised in different homes. While Sedaris got in trouble for saying the words “shut up,” Paul is able to get away with lengthy strings of curse words. Similarly, while marijuana was illicit and unacceptable when Sedaris was young, Paul’s use of the drug, even in the house, is more or less tolerated.
Sedaris’s mother and father are very accepting of Paul and his various quirks, saying, “He’s a free spirit, and we’re lucky to have him.” Despite their unrealistically high standards for all their children, Sedaris’s parents don’t seem to mind when Paul bucks convention. While Sedaris’s middle-of-the-road grades were met with disappointment, Paul’s utter lack of interest in school is accepted for what it is, and their parents support Paul’s other interests instead.
Despite their differences, Paul forms a strong connection with Sedaris’s parents. Vulgar yet good-natured imperatives directed toward their straitlaced father, for example, are met with equally good-natured responses....
(The entire section is 648 words.)