David Sedaris is an essayist who writes from personal experience. In this piece, however, he had more of a point than his other pieces perhaps have; and this point was well chosen because it pertains to something that effects all of us, which makes it more interesting to the reader so that we have more of an investment and interest in his story. Sedaris begins “Dentists Without Borders” with his antithesis about government healthcare plans; how the main argument with American healthcare was its effectiveness, claiming that European and Canadian healthcare systems were extremely unsatisfactory, to say the least. However, Sedaris refutes that argument with an anecdote about his life in Paris, where the healthcare was genuinely phenomenal.
There is a flip side to this serious note on healthcare; Sedaris seems to love to entertain; and I personally think he’s a very funny man, but that’s just my opinion, as well as the opinion of millions of other readers. This entertainment comes from his personality and his portrayal of other characters, or at least that is what I chose to track as I read “Dentists Without Borders.”
Firstly, Sedaris’ personality shines through with his exaggeration. He states that people seem to believe that Canadian healthcare is “genocide” and that European healthcare patients “languish on cots waiting for aspirin to be invented.” This can only be seen as exaggeration. As an American, I don’t think that Europeans wait for aspirin to be reinvented. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate that Sedaris is trying to be funny, and at least in my mind he certainly succeeds. Additionally, Sedaris states that he wishes for his medical tests to have more gravity so that “for [his] fifty dollars, [he] wants to leave the doctor’s office in tears.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to cry at the doctor’s office. I’d rather be assured that I’m healthy. Therefore we know that once again Sedaris is joshing us, and once again we cannot help but laugh, at least a little.
Another point of Sedaris’ personality is revealed through his own thoughts and opinions. In the story, Sedaris becomes worried that a benign fatty tumor is really serious cancer. I know we’ve all had that feeling. Where there’s a slight discoloration on our upper lip and we automatically think it’s cancer, just like George from Seinfeld. This makes the piece a little more relatable to a wider audience, because we all know the feeling of when we think we have cancer even though it’s really nothing malignant. Also it’s a little funny to see in someone else the reactions we have to certain things, something slightly satirical. At another point in the piece, Sedaris questions if he saw “a diploma on his wall,” referring to his doctor whose first name might be “Doctor.” This sort of paranoia is a little more grounded because there’s been an unlicensed doctor taking care of him, and that’s the sort of thing that undermines his argument a little. Therefore, one might argue that his argument is more about the success of France’s dental healthcare and not just medical healthcare, but that’s left open to the reader, because you could also argue that Sedaris is alive today, so who can say that European healthcare is all that bad after all?
Finally, Sedaris establishes humor through his interpretation of other people. He gives his doctor something of a blasé attitude, for example his doctor says, “I don’t know. Why don’t trees touch the sky” in response to Sedaris asking him if his tumor will grow much bigger. That isn’t something you would want to hear from your doctor, but the way Sedaris presents it makes it humorous. Sedaris also gives his periodontist’s assistant Dr. Barras an interesting attitude. When Sedaris complains about the gaps in his teeth, Dr. Barras tells him he just has “Good-time teeth.” Dr. Barras kind of brushes him off, while normally in an American facility the doctor might try to take care of that because they would get paid more. But in Europe the medical profession seems to be a bit more carefree. This plays right into Sedaris’ hands. He tells us what people think about European healthcare, and he even gives it some validity, but by the end Sedaris tells us that he wants to go back to his doctors even if he doesn’t need anything done. Yes, medical professionals in Europe might not be as professional as they are in America, but they still get the job done without you having to pay $300, and their attitudes are fun.
In conclusion, there are many things to be gleaned from this fantastic piece. First we learned that a nonfiction piece can have a political point and that we shouldn’t be afraid to speak our minds based on our own opinions and stories, so long as they’re truly founded and aren’t just for the sake of chaos. Then we learned the importance of characterization and its key role in creating an interest for the reader. A plot can be interesting, but a lot of the time it’s the character that makes the story. If this piece were written by some journalist it might not be so interesting, but with Sedaris’ personality in it the story became extremely interesting and a good read. Additionally we learned how to properly balance the serious point of the story and the jocular way in which it is submitted to us. Finally, we learned that this sort of interesting story makes it have the capacity to make more change. Why would a person read a story if it’s uninteresting? Therefore any story that’s trying to make a point about society should be interesting, and that way people will want to read it and might take heed.