The purpose of this assignment is to introduce you to the literary genre of humorous memoir and provide you with an opportunity to learn the terms we use when we analyze this genre. You will also recognize that a non-fiction memoir and a fictional short story share some elements. Providing textual support for your ideas is an important component in analyzing literature. Learning to read carefully to identify those elements helps you become a more critical reader.
- Read the linked essay and then listen to David Sedaris read the essay.
- “Youth in Asia” essay by David Sedaris
- "The Youth In Asia by David Sedaris - In the early 1960s, during what my mother referred to as "the tail end of the Lassie years," my parents were given two collies, which they named Rastus and Duchess. We were living then in New York State, out in the country, and the dogs were free to race through the forest. They napped in meadows and stood knee- deep in frigid streams, costars in their own private dog food commercial.
- Late one January evening, while lying on a blanket in the garage, Duchess gave birth to a litter of slick, potato-sized puppies. When it looked as though one of them had died, our mother placed the creature in a casserole dish and popped it into the oven, like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.
- "Oh, keep your shirts on," she said. "It's only set on 150. I'm not baking anyone. This is just to keep it warm."The heat revived the sick puppy and left us believing that our mother was capable of resurrecting the dead. Faced with the responsibilities of fatherhood, Rastus took off. The puppies were given away, and we moved south, where the heat and humidity worked against the best interests of a collie. Duchess's once beautiful coat now hung in ragged patches. When finally, full of worms, she collapsed in the ravine beside our house, we reevaluated our mother's healing powers. The entire animal kingdom was beyond her scope. She could only resurrect the cute dead.The oven trick was performed on half a dozen dazed and chubby hamsters, but failed to work on my first guinea pig, who died after eating four cigarettes and an entire pack of matches.
"Don't take it too hard," my mother said, removing her oven mitts. "The world is full of guinea pigs. You can get another one tomorrow."Eulogies tended to be brief, our motto being, there's always more where this one came from.
A short time after Duchess died, our father came home with a German Shepherd puppy. For reasons that were never fully explained, the privilege of naming the dog went to a friend of my older sister's, a 14-year-old girl named Cindy. She was studying German at the time, and after carefully examining the puppy and weighing it with their hands, she announced that it would be called Maedchen, which apparently meant "girl" in what she referred to as "Deutsch."When she was six months old, Maedchen was hit and killed by a car. Her food was still in the bowl when our father brought home an identical German Shepherd, the same Cindy christened as Maedchen Two. This tag-teamprogression was disconcerting, especially for the new dog, who was expected to possess both the knowledge and the personality of her predecessor. "Maedchen One would never have wet on the floor like that," my father would scold. And the dog would sigh, knowing she was the canine equivalent of a rebound.Maedchen Two never accompanied us to the beach and rarely posed in any of the family photographs. Once her puppyhood was spent, we more or less lost interest. "We ought to get a dog," we'd sometimes say, completely forgetting that we already had one.During the era of the Maedchens, we had a succession of drowsy, secretive cats who seemed to share a unique bond with our mother. "It's because I open their cans," she said, though we all knew it ran deeper than that. What they had in common were their claws. That and a deep-seated need to destroy my father's golf bags. The first cat passed into a disagreeable old age and died hissing at the kitten who had prematurely arrived to replace her. When, at the age of nine, the second cat was diagnosed with feline leukemia, my mother was devastated."I'm going to have Sadie put to sleep," she said. "It's for her own good, and I don't want to hear a word about it from any of you. This is hard enough as it is."The cat was put down, and then came the anonymous postcards and phone calls orchestrated by my sisters and I. The cards announced a miraculous new cure for feline leukemia, while the callers identified themselves as representatives of Cat Fancy magazine. "We'd like to use Sadie as our cover story and we're hoping to schedule a photo shoot. Is tomorrow possible?"After spending a petless year with only one child still living at home, my parents visited a breeder and returned with a Great Dane they named Melina. They loved this dog in proportion to its size, and soon their hearts had no room for anyone else. In terms of family, their six children had been nothing more than a failed experiment. Melina was the real thing. The dog was their first true common interest. And they loved it equally, each in their own way.Our mother's love tended towards the horizontal, a pet being little more than a napping companion, something she could look at and say, "That looks like a good idea. Scoot over, why don't you." A stranger peeking through the window might think that the two of them had entered a suicide pact. She and the dog sprawled like corpses, their limbs arranged into an eternal embrace.My father loved the Great Dane for its size, and frequently took her on long, aimless drives, during which she'd stick her heavy, anvil-sized head out the window and leak great quantities of foamy saliva. Other drivers pointed and stared, rolling down their windows to shout, "Hey, you got a saddle for thatthing?" When out for a walk there was the inevitable, "Are you walking her, or is it the other way 'round?"Our father always laughed, is if this were the first time he'd heard it. The attention was addictive, and he enjoyed a pride of accomplishment he'd never felt with any of us. It was as if he were somehow responsible for her size and stature, as if he'd personally designed her spots and trained her to grow to the size of a pony. When out with the dog, he carried a leash in one hand and a shovel in the other. "Just in case," he said."Just in case, what, she dies, and you need to bury her?" I didn't get it. "No," he'd say. "It's for, you know, it's for her business."
My father was retired, but the dog had business.I was living in Chicago when they first got Melina, and every time I came home, the animal was bigger. Every time, there were more Marmaduke cartoons displayed upon the refrigerator, and every time, my voice grew louder as I asked myself, "Who are these people?""Down, girl," my parents would chuckle as the puppy jumped up, panting for my attention. Her great padded paws reached my waist, then my chest and shoulders, until eventually, her arms wrapped around my neck and her head towering above my own, she came to resemble a dance partner scouting the room for a better offer."That's just her way of saying hello," my mother would say, handing me the towel used to wipe up the dog's bubbling seepage. "Here, you missed a spot on the back of your head."The dog's growth was monitored on a daily basis, and every small accomplishment was documented for later generations. One can find few pictures of my sister Tiffany, while Melina has entire volumes devoted to her terrible twos."Hit me," my mother said on one of my returns home from Chicago. "No, wait, let me go get my camera." She left the room and returned a few moments later. "OK," she said. "Now hit me. Better yet, why don't you just pretend to hit me."I raised my hand, and my mother cried out in pain. "Ow!" She yelled. "Somebody help me. This stranger is trying to hurt me, and I don't know why."I caught an advancing blur moving in from the left, and the next thing I knew I was down on the ground, the Great Dane tearing holes in the neck of my sweater.The camera flashed, and my mother squealed with delight. "God, I love that trick."
I rolled over to protect my face. "This isn't a trick."My mother snapped another picture. "Oh, don't be so critical. It's close enough."With us grown and out of the house, my sisters and I foolishly expected our parents' lives to stand still. They were supposed to stagnate and live in the past, but instead, they constructed a new "we," consisting of Melina and the founding members of her fan club. Someone who obviously didn't know her too well had given my mother a cheerful stuffed bear with a calico heart stitched onto its chest. According to the manufacturer, the bear's name was Mumbles, and all it needed in order to thrive were two AA batteries and a regular diet of hugs.
"Where's Mumbles?" my mother would ask, and the dog would jump up and snatch the bear from its hiding place on top of the refrigerator, yanking it this way and that in hopes of breaking its neck."That's my girl," my mother would say. "We don't like Mumbles, do we?" I learned that we liked Morley Safer, but not Mike Wallace, that we didn't like Mumbles or thunder, but were crazy about Stan Getz records and the Iranian couple who'd moved in up the street. It was difficult to keep straight, but having known these people all my life, I didn't want to be left out of the "we."During the final years of Maedchen Two and the first half of the Melina epic, I lived with a female cat named Neil. My mother looked after the cat when I moved from Raleigh, and flew her to Chicago once I'd found a place and settled in.Neil was old when she moved to Chicago, and then she got older. She started leaving teeth in her bowl and developed the sort of breath that could remove paint. When she stopped cleaning herself, I took to bathing her in the sink, and she'd stand still, too weak to resist the humiliation of shampoo. Soaking wet, I could see just how thin and brittle she really was. Almost comic, like one of those cartoon cats checking her fur coat at the cloak room of the seafood restaurant. Her kidneys shrank to the size of raisins, and though I loved her very much, I assumed the vet was joking when he suggested dialysis.I took her for a second opinion. Vet number two tested her blood and phoned me at home, saying, "Perhaps you should think about euthanasia."I hadn't heard that word in a while and pictured scores of happy Japanese children spilling from the front door of their elementary school. "Are you thinking about it?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "As a matter of fact, I am."In the end, I returned to the animal hospital and had her put to sleep. When the vet injected the sodium phenobarbital, Neil fluttered her eyes, assumed the nap position, and died.
A week after putting her to sleep, I received Neil's ashes in a forest green can. She'd never expressed any great interest in the outdoors, so I scattered her remains on the carpet and then vacuumed her back up. The cat's death struck me as the end of an era. It was, of course, the end of her era, but with the death of a pet, there's always that urge to crowd the parentheses and string black crepe over an entire 10- or 20-year period. The end of my safe college life, the last of my 30- inch waist, my faltering relationship with my first real boyfriend. I cried for it all and spent the next several months wondering why so few songs were written about cats.My mother sent a consoling letter along with a check to cover the cost of the cremation. In the left-hand corner, under the heading marked Memo, she'd written, "Pet Burning." I had it coming.When my mother died, Melina took over her side of the bed. Due to their size, Great Danes generally don't live very long. My father massaged her arthritic legs, carried her up the stairs, and lifted her into bed. He treated her the way that men in movies treat their ailing wives, the way he would have treated my mother had she allowed such naked displays of affection. Melina's parentheses contained the final 10 years of his married life. She'd attended my father's retirement, lived through my sister's wedding, and knew who everyone was talking about when they mentioned the "M" words, Mom, Mumbles, and Morley Safer.Regardless of her pain, my father could not bear to let her go. The youth in Asia begged him to end her life. "Onegai desu," they said, "sugu." But he held out until the last minute.A month after Melina died, my father returned to the breeder and came home with another Great Dane, a female like Melina, gray spots like Melina, only this one is named Sophie. He tries to love her, but readily admits that he may have made a mistake. She's a nice enough dog, but the timing is off.When walking the puppy through the neighborhood, my father feels not unlike the foolish widower stumbling behind his energetic young bride. Her stamina embarrasses him, as does her interest in younger men. The passing drivers slow to a stop and roll down their windows, "Hey," they yell, "Are you walking her, or is it the other way 'round?" Their words remind him of happier times, of milder forces straining against the well-worn leash. He still gets the attention, but now, in response, he just lifts his shovel and groans.Ira GlassDavid Sedaris's story "The Youth in Asia" appears in his book, Me Talk Pretty One Day. A version of this story also appeared in Esquire magazine.
- "Youth in Asia" audio reading by David Sedaris. The reading is Act I of the episode called "In Dog We Trust" from the This American Life website. Click on "The Youth in Asia" title in red.
- Write a paragraph on reading vs. listening. Answer the following question:
- How did the meaning change or become more clear through his reading?
- Find specific quotations from the story that exemplify literary terms.
- Find quotations that represent Plot and Structure, Point of View, Character, Setting, Imagery, and Theme.
- Write a sentence explaining how the quotation demonstrates that element.
Plot-- "As I moved my chair a little nearer suddenly with one catlike movement both her hands clawed instinctively for my eyes and she almost reached them too." This quotation demonstrates plot because it develops the action of the story and advances toward the climax.
- Find a different quotation for each element, six total.
- Post your quotations and sentences
The purpose of this assignment is to experiment with finding the theme in a work of non-fiction and practice writing that theme in a one sentence observation or recommendation. By relating one of the elements to theme, you will reinforce your understanding of how the elements work together to help discover themes. Note that there is not usually one specific theme of a work; there may be dozens of themes, depending upon the reader and the reading situation or context.
- Re-examine the quotation that you chose to demonstrate theme in "Youth in Asia" by David Sedaris (Note: Refer back to activity 6.2). For your reference, the resources are provided again below.
- “Youth in Asia” essay by David Sedaris
- "Youth in Asia" audio reading by David Sedaris. The reading is Act I of the episode called "In Dog We Trust" from the This American Life website. Click on the red title "The Youth in Asia."
- Write your own sentence in which you state that theme in your own words.
- Check your work based on the following questions:
- Is the theme an observation about a particular human characteristic (not only about the characters)?
- Is the theme a recommendation about how to live one’s life?
- Choose one other element from the essay, such as character.
- Think about how that one element relates to the theme that you just wrote.
- Write two paragraphs in which you examine how your one chosen element relates to the theme.
- Ask the question: Does the element I chose support the theme or contrast the theme?
- Post your paragraph