Me Talk Pretty One Day Themes
Language The title of Sedaris’s book, Me Talk Pretty One Day, with its grammatically incorrect phrasing suggests an emphasis on the importance of language and fluency in his life. Specifically, it applies to the time when he was taking a French class in Paris and struggling through his language lessons. In France, he gains a hyper-awareness of his relationship to language as a non-French speaker. His awkwardness prompts him to pursue fluency in French despite many hiccups, and he realizes eventually that memorization of vocabulary alone is not sufficient for true fluency in another language.
However, his attempts at learning the language remind him of play, possibility, and entry into French life. While Sedaris is notoriously obstinate in his ways, his first breakthrough in his French class leads him to demonstrate his excitement to his teacher: “Talk more, you, plus, please, plus” (173). While the phrasing is clumsy, Sedaris expresses that his language acquisition is a work in progress, one from which he is learning to draw joy. Sedaris’s relationship to the French language is also derived from early fascination with English.
As a young child with a speech impediment struggling through speech therapy sessions, he discovers the playfulness of language by accident. He acquires new vocabulary in an attempt to thwart suspicion of his lack of progress in speech therapy, establishing a lifelong relationship with language, experimentation, and challenge to the expectations of authority. Imagination and Reality Sedaris’s rich fantasy life is a recurring theme of Me Talk Pretty One Day.
From the very first chapter, Sedaris sets the stage for how his fantasy life permits him escape from his troubles and allows him to become someone greater and more significant. In the first chapter, a spy fantasy allows him to imagine himself as a spy being extracted from his classroom to attend speech therapy with Agent Chrissy Samson whose line of questioning seems to mirror interrogation tactics. His childhood fantasies extend well into adulthood as an insomniac who needs his fantasies to make the night pass more easily. In these fantasies, he imagines himself fulfilling his dreams of genius, fame, and remarkable ability.
He says, “Nobody dreams of the things he already has” (263), suggesting that these fantasies fill a personal lack and validate his shortcomings. Self-Identity and Sexuality Sedaris demonstrates an awareness of his sexuality at an early young age. In his recollections of his childhood, he often points out the irony behind other people’s delayed recognition of his sexuality. His speech therapist fails to make the connection between his lisp and stereotypical gay speech patterns, which is one of Sedaris’s humorous observations.
As a result, her insistent effort to cure Sedaris of his “lazy tongue” (6) seems to double as an effort to eradicate his unique personality of which his sexuality is very much a part. As he grows older, Sedaris’s interests veer from what is expected of heterosexual adolescence, preferring singing along to commercial jingles and Billie Holiday to fantasies of being a womanizing guitarist. Throughout the book, Sedaris’s references to his sexuality often occur through discussion of his non-traditional habits and interests.
He brings up other people’s adverse reactions to these habits and interests as a way of expressing their disdain or confusion over his sexuality. This is the case when Sedaris takes a leap of faith to share his singing ambitions with his guitar instructor. While Sedaris never explicitly comes out to Mister Mancini, his guitar instructor codes his student’s behavior as queer. He tells Sedaris, “I don’t swing that way” (29), expressing discomfort in being in the presence of a gay boy and what Sedaris’s behavior might threaten in him.
While Sedaris’s sexuality is problematic for Mister Mancini, the subject is primarily part of the background or source of humor in narrative accounts of his life and relationships. Class Difference and France’s Perception of America/Americans Sedaris’s recollections of his past often include commentary on American social life and perception of the U. S. while abroad in France. Growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, he is acutely aware of class differences, noting that his parents are strict about assuming a class status distinct from what constitutes Raleigh working class.
When he grows older and begins living in New York City, he notices the stark differences in wealth across the city through the lens of his own poverty. As a mover, he dreams of owning a townhouse in New York City, a dream that he knows is far-reaching as the city “inspires fantasies of wealth and power so profound that even our communists are temporarily rendered speechless” (118). The oppressive quality of these fantasies seems to keep those less privileged in a binding relationship with the city, a realization that eventually prompts Sedaris to move to France with his partner, Hugh.
Abroad in France, Sedaris becomes aware of the social and cultural differences between the U. S. and the rest of the world. Noting American exceptionalism and optimism as oppressive traits that other countries in the world critique, he evaluates his own system of beliefs forged from his American identity. His pursuit of the French language stems from this desire to upend what he knows as an American, and through the process, he expresses a transformed knowledge of the world and its relations.