Me Talk Pretty One Day Themes
The main themes in Me Talk Pretty One Day are individuality and authenticity, belonging and self-acceptance, and the endurance of family ties.
- Individuality and authenticity: Sedaris’s essays fully develop not only his own individuality but also that of his family members and friends.
- Belonging and self-acceptance: Many of the pieces in this collection revolve around the idea of fitting in and, when that isn’t possible, accepting and enjoying oneself anyway.
- The endurance of family ties: Through the various trials and stories Sedaris recounts in the book, his family is a consistent source of support, humor, and love.
Individuality and Authenticity
Sedaris begins developing the theme of individuality from the very first essay, “Go, Carolina,” in which the fact that Sedaris stands out from the crowd is the root of the conflict. A perpetual outsider, the young Sedaris of this essay is convinced from the start that he has done something wrong and is unsurprised to be called out of class under vague circumstances. The identification of his lisp as something that needs to be corrected is also a factor that guarantees his never being able to fit in with his classmates, as his teachers have constantly ensured that everyone knows he is different. But Sedaris knows better than anyone that he is different by virtue of being gay as well, a stereotype he later works to reject in favor of the idea that he is representative of no one but himself.
Sedaris’s sexuality forms part of the conflict in the first several essays, but he does not imply that his problems stem from a generalized homophobia: rather, he roots each essay’s conflict in the complexity of his personality, which defies stereotype. In “Genetic Engineering,” for example, Sedaris examines the difficulty he has relating to his father; the young Sedaris prefers to tan in the sun instead of fishing or discussing scientific explanations. This disconnect is only subtextually related to sexual orientation, and Sedaris focuses instead on the complex and sometimes conflicting personalities within the family unit. To illuminate the relationships between his family members, Sedaris draws nuanced and intimate portraits of his family members as well as himself.
In “Smart Guy,” Sedaris humorously tackles his insecurities about intelligence by repeating Hugh’s suggestion that Sedaris simply doesn’t think in the sorts of ways that Mensa tests for. Despite his jokes on the subject, the truth of Hugh’s observation is evident in the very content and structure of the book in which it appears. The uniqueness of Sedaris’s perspective is indeed part of what drives his writing. Furthermore, the need not to fit a mold is evident in Sedaris’s artistic style, particularly in “Twelve Moments in the Life of the Artist,” where the ironic conclusion is that his drug-induced absurdities constitute neither art nor personality, and he has to reject this particular form of “individuality” in order to achieve actual authenticity.
Though Sedaris’s characterization is important, the breadth of Me Talk Pretty One Day ensures that his uniqueness is not presented as uncommon: Sedaris makes great effort to portray the full individuality of his family members and friends. Once again relying on depth of characterization to defy stereotyping, Sedaris creates vivid portraits of those close to him, personifies inanimate objects, and even profiles entire nations, such as the United States and France, in a manner that is both generous and self-aware. His focus on individuality, rather than on basic character types, allows Sedaris to overcome conflicts in a manner that is heartfelt and complex, rather than superficial.
Belonging and Self-Acceptance
The need to belong drives much of the conflict in Sedaris’s writing. Set up as an outsider in “Go, Carolina,” Sedaris is driven almost to hopelessness by Mr. Mancini in “Giant Dreams, Midget Abilities,” when he identifies the...
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