In this passage from Kiss and Tell, Alain de Botton tells the story of a young man and his new girlfriend, Isabel, on a date, who discovers that Isabel’s parents are in the theater with them. By using tone, dialogue, first person narrative, anticipation, embarrassment, and a relatable event and feeling, the author produces a comic effect in the passage.
The tone and dialogue of the passage are used to be funny and to convey jokes. The tone is an overall comical one with repeated references to a cruise ship as the father waves and the mother shouts, calling the dad a maniac, and describing the parents as careless, almost clumsy, beings. The dialogue, which makes up most of the passage, makes it comical. Isabel makes fun of the mother’s dress, saying it looks like a willow tree, and comments on the father sneezing with “Look, there we go, aaahhtchooo” (15). The mother comments on her daughter’s lack of a cleavage in front of her boyfriend, and Isabel talks about her mom’s “gentlemen friends” (7).
The dialogue also shows that Isabel is a lot like her mother, and the first person narrative adds a view of the scene from the boyfriend’s perspective and to add a much more comical feeling to certain comments made in the dialogue. Although Isabel makes her parents seem like bad, clumsy people, she makes comments, such as the willow tree one, that are a bit rude herself. She doesn’t like that her mother comments on her dress and cleavage, yet she comments on her mother’s dress, making her a bit of a hypocrite a lot like her mother; the whole scenario is dramatic irony. The reader sees a level of irony in Isabel’s words that Isabel herself doesn’t see, as well as an innocent, childish hypocrisy of which any of us could be equally guilty. Her actions are ordinary human tendencies that the reader also does, making him or her laugh. The first person narrative makes it all come together in a comical way because not only does it give a unique perspective from the boyfriend upon his girlfriend and her family, it also makes what the mother says much funnier. For example, the mother says “she’s a lovely girl really” (73) which, with the added “really,” makes it seem as if she might not act so lovely and he has come to the conclusion that she is not lovely, and the author uses the first person narrative to report on, and comment on, comments made by the mother. The boyfriend can see the embarrassment of Isabel caused by her parents and puts the reader in a position observing Isabel’s odd family dynamics.
The anticipation is a way to make fun of the parents through the passage; while the feeling of embarrassment and relatable events make it more personal for the readers, who will understand the daughter’s feeling through the passage, and that it is a bit of a funny situation. The daughter anticipates exactly what the parents will do: the sneeze, the dad losing the parking ticket, the argument about the loss of the ticket, and the embarrassment they’ll cause. The sneeze, as mentioned before, adds a funny note by the way it is described, but the parking ticket story encloses most of the passage as she anticipates it at line 19 and the reader finds out the father did lose the ticket at the end of the passage, making it one of the most comical characteristics of the Kiss and Tell passage. The daughter’s comment “Dad! You haven’t?” (84) adds a funny “really? I knew this was going to happen…” note. If seeing her parents, who had not already been introduced to the boyfriend, while going out on a date is not embarrassing enough, they, although not meaning to, embarrass Isabel even more by waving and shouting in a theater full of hundreds of people, commenting on her cleavage, saying the “lovely girl” comment, and arguing about the parking ticket. No one would want to see his or her parents in a movie theater or have any of the previously listed events happen to him or her, therefore making the reader feel bad for Isabel and the boyfriend; however, because it is a funny situation and put together with funny dialogue, it also makes the reader laugh.
The author produces a comic effect by using a funny tone and dialogue full of jokes and comical references, a first person narrative for a unique perspective, anticipation with hilarious comments, and embarrassment, along with relatable events, to ensure that the reader focuses on the passage, as well as laughs at the thought of this awkward but comical situation.
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