Vocal Vowell

There is a whole lot of rule-breaking going in the Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates. First and foremost she starts the book off by basically saying that she learned nothing in history class in school. Instead, she learned the majority of her historical knowledge from watching American sitcoms and cartoons. She gives many examples including The Brady Bunch, Bewitched, Mr. Ed, and The Simpsons. My favorite was when she talked about an episode of The Happy Days in which she reveals that in reality, the Fonz was the person who gave us the great American tradition of Thanksgiving. I think that this is what sets her essay part from others because she applies “modern” examples to “old” history. The author uses the sitcoms and in another part she uses her real life experiences to relate it back to history. At one point she talks about the song “Ten Little Indians” and when she first realized what it actually meant. I think examples like those really stuck with the reader. Also, I just think it’s really cool because people always say that history repeats itself and everything is connected and this is made clear through her examples. I had some, “well whatd’ya know?!” moments, which is always nice.

I also enjoy her use of sarcasm and humor. It makes the topic of history, which at times can be dry and boring, interesting and fun. I liked the part when she was described the Massachusetts Bay Colony Official Seal. The seal shows a Native American sporting a loincloth and holding a bow and arrows, and it reads, “Come over and help us”. I never knew this before reading the essay and Vogel talks about how the seal has also been used throughout history since then. Her tone is super sarcastic and therefore fantastic. I like that the author does not seem afraid to hold back, she simply tells history as see views it and, at least for me, it does not come off as too much.

Vowell uses a lot of quotes and references, which is good because it makes her seem like she actually knows what she talking about. I’m no history buff, so for all I know she could have been making up that episode about Pilgrim Fonzie on The Happy Days and I would never know. But the fact that she uses quotes and references to back up her work makes me not question her, and I can happily envision the Fonz in a pilgrim outfit with little difficulty.

Another rule that I think the author breaks in this essay is the traditional essay flow. This essay flows, but it is not a clear path. It’s more like your windy country crick. I feel as though she uses the same references a lot and pulls from many different sources at different times. I don’t know…it just feels really jumpy to me. As a reader the jumps kept me on my toes, but I think I would have enjoyed even more of her great examples. I don’t know if I would aim to use this type of flow in my own essay, but I can still appreciate the creativity. We need to shake things up and break the rules everyone once in a while or else all our essays be would be boring and fun-sucking.


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