Discussion: “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” George Saunders

Please use the following questions as a starting point for your response to the George Saunders story “The Semplica Girl Diaries”. You don’t need to answer all of the questions, or even answer any of them in full, but please keep your response focused and relevant.

  • How does Saunders create this narrator’s voice? What, especially at the sentence level, is Saunders doing to create a precise, idiosyncratic voice?
  • How is humor operating in this piece? How is it achieved, and what effect does it have?
  • How does Saunders introduce us to the unreal elements of this piece? How do we come to understand that the world of the story is not quite our own world? Where are these “clues” and how are they deployed?

2 thoughts on “Discussion: “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” George Saunders

  1. Right away I was able to acknowledge that I was reading something written by someone who’s first language is not English. The development of this character is so strong from the beginning. There is the personality development that comes from the determination in her writing, and also the educational development that shows through in the language and also in the things she thinks about. The way she dreams about the future and all of the possibilities it holds really speaks to who she is. Through her language and ideas is how the writer developed an effective and working idiosyncratic voice for this character. I loved this collection because it doesn’t sound like fiction. It sounds like a real person keeping a real journal and that is what we all want our readers to get from our writing. I think this speaks to the skill of Saunders and I would like to read more of his work.


  2. The writing style in “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” by George Saunders is unconventional yet also follows a particular pattern. The narrator in this piece, the unnamed father of three children, writes about his life through his diary, and since the writing is more for himself than for anything else, he writes in a simple, almost short-hand style that communicates what he means without him having to write all the extra words to make it grammatically plausible. For example, he never uses “is” and he usually uses the “=” sign instead, or in place of any form of “to be.” He also omits verbs in some cases, and the dialogue seems catered to his perception of the person. For example, the only explicit dialogue from Leslie’s mother are sentences that sound very condescending, because her wealth makes the narrator feel inferior as a person and therefore he perceives anything she says as haughty. “We don’t, as we already have, many times, dear, but you perhaps would like to? Perhaps this is all very new and exciting to you?” Leslie’s mother says to Lilly, who is eyeing the family’s expansive collection of Semplica Girls. Her words seem to imply that she is aware of Lilly’s social class, and therefore her lack of her own Semplica Girls, and so she seems to be talking down to the whole family in this way, which is exactly how the narrator feels. Moreover on the narrator’s use of language/style in the piece, he uses a few shorthand terms that are never explained; it’s just taken as a given that the reader will know, such as “SGs” for Semplica Girls, “re” for regarding, and an exclamation point (!) for anything that he seems to think is interesting or alarming. At first, this style of narration threw me off, but it wasn’t hard to get used to reading it, and it made reading this story a different experience than reading a usual story. I think the style suited well the satirical and dark messages that simmered underneath this story: one, that shockingly unethical practices such as hanging live girls up by their heads as decorations for money is commonplace in this world, and two that some people, given the chance to overcome their financial troubles, squander their opportunity. The first message was disturbing because the implications it had on the exploitation of the poor can also be seen in today’s society: poor people, and also immigrants who are far from their family, are often hired by the wealthier to do menial and degrading tasks – not quite hanging by their heads, but these tasks do include things like cleaning toilets, doing someone’s laundry, etc. The SGs were willing to do their duty, but just because they are willing to doesn’t make it right. For example, poor people may be willing to donate a kidney to the organ market in exchange for money, but should we, ethically, allow them to do this? (this issue is actually currently being debated as there has been a move to legalize an organ market) The second message is depressing in a different way, that perhaps some people are doomed to have financial troubles no matter what, because they aren’t smart in the way they handle money; so even if you give them $10,000 or $200,000 to help them, they will waste it all on assets that won’t return/make more money, and they will in financial trouble very soon once again, just as the narrator’s family wasted all his 10 grand from the scratch ticket on lawn modifications, SGs, and trivial possessions for Lilly.


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