In “A Shiner Like a Diamond” David Sedaris satirically portrays the dysfunctional relationship between his father and his sister Amy. Throughout Amy’s life her father relentlessly monitors her physical appearance with the “intensity of a pimp” (26); he believes that a woman’s physical beauty is her greatest asset.
Amy is naturally a strong independent woman and in response to her father’s “vigilance and pressure” (26) she decides not to be angry with her father, but simply to get even. Her methods of getting even focus on her weight and physical appearance; Amy is naturally beautiful and she pretends to have gained weight and wears make-up to appear as a battered woman in a magazine photo shoot. Amy also subjects her father to practical jokes attempting to make him look like a fool. Sedaris uses irony and sarcasm throughout this dark essay; Amy emerges as a complex and obscure character who endlessly manipulates her well-meaning father, thus the reader sympathizes greatly with him and not with her.
Amy’s father had always placed a great deal of importance on the physical beauty of his daughters; however, his sons were “free to grow as ugly and plump as [they] liked (26). Being a traditional man, the father believed that a woman’s only chance at happiness was to marry. The father believed that to marry you must be physically beautiful. He constantly reminds his daughters to be conscious of their weight: “Jesus, Flossie, what are we running here, a dairy farm? Look at you, you’re the size of a house. Two more pounds and you won’t be able to cross state lines without a trucking license” (26).
The father’s comments about his daughter’s weight were frequent, whenever they stopped by for a visit, he would greet them with “Is it just my imagination, or have you put on a few pounds?” (30). The tone used here by Sedaris is very sarcastic, allowing the reader to find the situation humourous rather than cruel and oppressive. Although the father is completely unable to relate to his daughters, he truly believes by reminding them to be aware of their appearance he is helping to secure their only opportunity at happiness: marriage.
Amy spends her life impersonating others; she is a natural role player and has a “fondness for transformation that began at an early age” (27). At school she would pretend to be her teachers; she failed first grade by pretending to be stupid; for Christmas she would request “wigs and makeup, hospital gowns, and uniforms. Amy became [her] mother, and then [her] mother’s friends” (27). When her mother would ask who she was today Amy would reply “Who don’t you want me to be?” (27). Amy always felt the need to be someone else. Amy impersonates a family friend convincing her father this woman is romantically interested in him; Amy’s brother witnesses the impersonation:
“I walked into the kitchen late one afternoon and came upon my twelve year-old-sister propositioning our father with lines she’d collected from Guiding Light. I think we’ve both seen this coming for a longtime. The only question left iswhat are we going to do about it? Oh, baby, let’s run wild”. (28)
Amy attempts to trick her father into revealing a romantic interest in Penny Midland (the family friend she is impersonating); she is unsuccessful in her attempts as he denies her advances. The reader feels sympathy for the father as Amy heartlessly tries to make him look like a fool; if he admitted to any romantic interest it would have destroyed his life. Amy’s personality is progressively developing into something “closely resembling a multiple personality disorder (27).
Sedaris’ style of writing and his choice of words appear to the reader to be despicable; however, his use of irony actually lets the reader sympathize with the father. The reader would expect to want to criticize the father for his treatment of Amy, but because of the humourous tone the reader does not view the father as sexist and horrible as one might expect. Sedaris’ satirical delivery softens the father’s harsh words allowing the reader to not judge the father even though he says such oppressive words about his daughter.
The father comments to the son about seeing Amy after he believes she has gained a lot of weight: “Her what? Go ahead and say it: her big, fat ass You could land a chopper on an ass like thatWho’s going to love her, who’s going to marry her with an ass like that?”(31). The father’s words to his son, taken literally, are very rude and disrespectful; however, the satirical tone of delivery allows the reader to sympathize with the father as he is truly concerned for his daughters happiness.
The father observes Amy opening the refrigerator door and his reaction is distasteful, but the reader still laughs: “When she turned to open the refrigerator door, he acted as though she were tossing a lit match into the gas tank of his Porsche. What in God’s name are you doing? Look at you- you’re killing yourself “(31). The choice of words here is comical, and the reaction extreme and exaggerated, allowing the reader to laugh and not feel any bitterness towards the father.
Sedaris’ portrayal of the dysfunctional relationship between Amy and her father is extreme; however, it illustrates the dynamics of many families today. Power struggles often occur in families, especially between fathers and daughters. From a very young age, Amy plays cruel jokes on her father and taunts him endlessly attempting to make him appear a fool. The father uses many harsh words towards Amy, but the sarcastic and ironic tone of the essay removes any bitterness the reader may feel towards the father.
The reader sympathizes with the father instead of disliking him for treating Amy in such a seemingly oppressive manner because the reader knows the father’s intentions are good. Sedaris satirically portrays this ironic relationship between Amy and her father leaving us to sympathize greatly with the father and feel little sympathy for the dark, manipulative Amy.