Fictional text (2)
Read the text carefully. Describe the encounter between the narrator and her customer.
Can I Help You?
By Sam B.
Her thin lips spread to reveal white teeth, too white. Or maybe it’s not that her teeth are too white, maybe it’s the contrast created by the pink, diseased, old-lady gums that makes her smile seem unnatural. Her eyes don’t help – they are far too squinty and sparkling, and day-old mascara clings to the inside corners. She wears a crisp white pantsuit. Expensive and appropriate. She smells of perfume and old money. A printed silk shirt hangs loosely off her frail shoulders. The baubles on her spider-fingers tap against the glass bakery counter, a call to attention for my co-workers and me.
I stop stacking the bread shelf and turn to the counter where she stands, impatient. We make eye contact. Realizing my mistake, I shift my eyes and look pleadingly at Cassandra, my co-worker. She returns my gaze with a look that seems to say, you saw her first. You deal with her. James, the other cashier, is elbow-deep in dishes at the sink.
Sighing, I brush the breadcrumbs from my hands and step up to the counter.
“Can I help you?” I return her saccharine stare with one of my own. She begins to speak so rapidly and without pause that I can’t help wondering if she practices strategic breathing exercises.
“Hello dear how are you oh wonderful I will take three of your plain croissants and oh no dear not that one it looks overdone yes those ones to the left and also two of these delicious looking scones oh they are just to die for dear me you’re so thin if I worked here well I would never be able to these wonderful treats would all be too hard to resist I need some bread what would you recommend never mind I will take a baguette – are the ones over here on this rack fresher than the ones you just gave me?”
It takes me a couple of seconds to realize she has stopped talking. I blink. “Actually, ma’am, they’re all from the same batch, we just haven’t had a chance to put those loaves on display.”
“Oh well those look better than the ones you’ve got there so would you be a dear and put those back and give me the new ones oh thank you dear.”
I do as she asks. I’ve worked at this bakery for four years, and in that time have learned that for our affluent customers, the concepts of logic and sincerity are as foreign as the cleaning ladies they employ. It seems that reason and compassion are qualities reserved for the working class.
I ring up her order at the register, and she walks out, high heels clicking. The stench of her perfume lingers. I turn to face Cassandra. We both smile. “Can you believe some of the people who come in here?”
“I know, seriously.” [...]
(© Reprinted with permission by Teen Ink magazine and TeenInk.com.)
The narrator, an assistant in a baker’s shop, relates a typical encounter with a certain customer. She is not exactly fond of this rich lady and nor are the other assistants in the shop. She dislikes her outward appearance as much as the way she talks. The lady talks without pauses and is never content with the things the assistant gives her. The narrator concludes that her behaviour is typical of people from a higher social class.
Analyse in detail what makes the lady so repugnang to the narrator.
- Character’s outward appearance
- Her way of speaking
- Her actions
- What she says
- What others say/do
- Character’s outward appearance: thin lips, white teeth, too white; pink, diseased, old-lady gums; unnatural smile; eyes too squinty and sparkling; day-old mascara clings; expensive pantsuit; smells of perfume and old money; silk shirt; frail shoulders; baubles; spider-fingers; saccharine stare; high heels clicking; stench of her perfume.
- Her way of speaking: speaks rapidly, repeats the same phrases: “Hello dear how are you oh wonderful …”, “… be a dear, oh thank you dear.”
- Her actions: taps against the glass counter; annoying fussiness; discontented and hard to please; orders the narrator around; exchanges all the goods
- What she says: “… they are just to die for”; “… dear me, you’re so thin if I worked here well I would never be able to these wonderful treats would all be too hard to resist …” comments and value judgments; false impression of friendliness
- What others say/do: … you saw her first, you deal with her; sighing
Now write an analysis.
The assistants in the shop do not really want to serve the lady (“you saw her first, you deal with her” and the narrator turns to her with a sigh.
The narrator’s dislike of the lady becomes apparent in the choice of words when she describes her appearance and behaviour. She wears expensive clothes but her look seems overdone. Her teeth are “too white”, her smile “unnatural” and her eyes “too squinty and sparkling” with a “saccharine stare”, her hands adorned with “baubles” rather than jewellery. All this gives her an artificial appearance. Expensive clothes, a silk shirt, a white pantsuit and high heels add to this impression.
Moreover, the narrator uses a large number of words with negative connotations: “Thin lips”, “pink, diseased old-lady gums”, a smell of “perfume and old money”, later even the “stench” of her perfume, “day-old mascara”, which “clings” in the lady’s eyes, “frail shoulders” and “spider-fingers” suggest a rather repugnant appearance.
The lady’s behaviour when she taps against the glass bakery counter reveals her impatience and suggests that she is used to commanding. She is discontented and hard to please, despite her air of friendliness, and takes it as her right to order the narrator around, making her exchange all the goods. The way the lady speaks is annoying. She speaks rapidly, without pauses. She uses the word “dear” constantly, interjections like “oh”, and words like “wonderful” and “delicious”, which reveal that her language is as false and overdone as her appearance.
In this context, even her compliments and value judgments (“they are just to die for”, … “you are so thin” …., “wonderful treats”, … “too hard to resist”) are simply a way of showing off her sense of arrogant superiority.
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