“The Semplica- Girl Diaries” by George Saunders

“The Semplica- Girl Diaries” by George Saunders is a telling-tale about a devoted father who has insecurities about his image within the community but will go above and beyond to please his wife and children. The format of the story showcases this family who are borderline poverty with an optimistic father who wants his family at all times to believe that everything will be alright. To make matters worse his older child Lily has a rich friend and a looming birthday which puts pressure on the family. I have choose the following passage below because I feel that this is a pivotal moment in the story where after receiving Lilly’s expensive birthday list of possible gifts she wants to receive her father is put into a predicament to have to way out his options.

“But problem remains: Visa full. Also AmEx full and Discover nearly full. Called Discover: $200 avail.If we transfer $200 from checking (once paycheck comes in), would then have $400 avail. on Discover, could get cheetah. Although timing problematic. Currently, checking at zero. Paycheck must come, must put paycheck in checking pronto, hope paycheck clears quickly. And then, when doing bills, pick bills totalling $200 to not pay.To defer paying.

Stretched a bit thin these days.” (Page 8)

The following passage in my personal opinion shows how much debt this family is in, although at all times he wants his children to believe they are living alright they are not. The emphasis on “once paycheck comes in” showcases how this family is living paycheck to paycheck. But this passage also shows how much love and devotion Lilly’s father has in terms of wanting to do anything possible to make his family happy, even if in the long haul he’ll have to pay the consequences later. I also believe that actions like this might give an insight on why the family is living at a poverty level, by not properly spending money and wanting to please everyone ultimately puts a strain on him financially as well as mentally.

-Nicole Crippen

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17 thoughts on ““The Semplica- Girl Diaries” by George Saunders

  1. Your notion that the father’s actions give insight as to why his family is in the financial situation it is in is definitely a good observation. This observation can be further expanded upon by looking at the passage where Pam receives the email from her father, “Farmer Rich”. He berates both his daughter and the narrator by telling them that they dug their own hole that they need to get out of. The narrator however disregards the message because he believes Farmer Rich thinks any semblance of consumerism comes off as “show-offy”, and he does not agree with this notion because he is merely trying to make his family happy.

    -Matthew Berns

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  2. I agree that the father’s actions is the reason as to why the family is in their financial state, but I can’t help but wonder if it was influenced by his upbringing. The narrator’s mother left his father and his father struggled to keep a sufficient job. In one instance, the narrator says that his Dad “could not afford rental tux for prom but had to wear Dad’s old tux, which did not fit. Still no need to be rude” (p.9). This to me, says that the narrator lived the point of view of a child whose father could not provide him with the things he desired. He probably never wanted his children to feel ashamed and embarrassed by him like he was of his father, so he did all in his power to provide them with things even if his financial state did not really allow for it.

    -Serina Thomas

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  3. I agree that the father’s love for his family and his wanting to make them happy is one of the main reasons that the family is struggling financially. Rather than saving the money he wins on the scratch-off, he spends it all on his daughter’s birthday. At one point the narrator says, “Nine days to Lilly’s b-day. Kind of dread this. Too much Pressure. Do not want to have bad party” (p. 6). This sort of confession gives the reader insight onto how much the narrator stresses over not impressing his family. He puts his family before his own needs and this is what unfortunately leads to a major rift in the family.
    -Jillian Valdes

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  4. I agree with you saying that the father is very worried about his image within the community. That was one of the first things I noticed when reading this story. In everything that he does, he somehow connects it to money, or thinks about money. For example, when they are at their friends house, they are opening presents and the father has to make comments about how their gift isn’t the worst of the gifts, but that it is the least expensive. In a time like that, he shouldn’t be concerned with how much his gift costs because it’s the thought that counts. I think this is interesting that he wrote this article “for the future people” because it speaks to how people today act. Everyone is obsessed with money and making sure that they have a good social status in their communities. It will be interesting to see how people in the future react to this type of mindset.

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  5. While I agree that the narrator spends his money unwisely and that his actions have resulted in the financial trouble that the family finds themselves in at the end of the story, I am curious as to whether his actions were more motivated by his desire to see his family happy or his own self-pity. The narrator takes time in his writing to mention that what he is doing would make his eldest daughter happy, however he also mentions that having the lavish landscaping has made him appear to be among the more affluent members of his neighborhood, which made him feel better. He even makes a point to bring pictures of his yard into work and to post them on the walls of his cubicle, inviting others to be impressed by his purchase. Based upon the narrator’s reaction to being recognized for his yard I believe that the main motivation for his actions was to relieve himself of the self-pity he felt as a result of his family’s financial state, rather than to make his daughter happy.

    -Justin Wright

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  6. I think the important thing the author wanted to point out in that passage, and the story as a whole was the inherent problems with consumerism today. The father, throughout the story, was obsessed with keeping his children happy and trying to make sure they didn’t feel inadequate when they compared themselves to their more wealthy peers. In addition, this family wasn’t the only group facing financial trouble in the story. The SGs hired by families also face extreme financial hardship, which is why their role in this society even exists. Even though the narrator in the story caught a lucky break with his lottery winnings and was able to do something for his family, it ultimately ended up costing him more because of Eva releasing the SGs. The father spent so much time obsessing over things that ultimately didn’t matter that he failed to actually provide for his family’s financial security and pay off credit cards and other bills.

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  7. I agree with you, the father is willing to go above and beyond for his daughter’s birthday. However; he is not spending his money wisely. Any family that is literally living paycheck to paycheck should tell their children the reality of it. He does not need to make them how extreme their living situation is, but he should tell his child he cannot afford expensive gifts. Since the family was going through such tough times, he should have invested the lottery money into something better and more necessary. The father meant well while spending money on redoing their yard and nice birthday gifts, but in the long run having nice gifts and a nice yard isn’t going to get them anywhere.

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  8. The father of the story undoubtedly struggles with his financial state and his persona. He constantly thinks of how his emotional conditions will affect his family and those in his life. As evidence, he expresses to himself, “Why sad? Don’t be sad. If sad, will make everyone sad.” He also continuously dreams of wealth and how he would love to have money. That being said, I do agree with your last statement how the family is in a state of poverty due to the father not handling his finances right. The whole “obsession over wealth” is something faced today. Very few individuals in today’s society are comfortable in their current financial situation. They also want something more and envy other people’s possessions. People still strive to achieve the “American Dream”. He wanted his daughter to have the things she wanted because we live in an environment that stresses materialism over vital needs. People will their paychecks on brand new cars rather than food. I also agree with what Serina said about how the narrator’s actions is due to his upbringing. His diction and syntax throughout the entire story is full of grammatical errors. He says “Stood up looking at home, sad.” This implies that the father does not have an adequate education. Inadequate eduction strongly correlates to poverty, as many impoverished people do not have proper eduction. Thus, the narrator probably wanted to give Lilly the gifts she wanted because he never had these things growing up.

    -Nicole Schmalz

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  9. I found myself getting frustrated while reading this story for the same reason that Nicole mentions as an implication of the passage she cited. While the parents, particularly the father, both seem to be focused on the happiness of their children, their priorities are clearly not straight. Instead of providing for their children in ways that would ensure their long term happiness (i.e. saving money for things like education, food, clothes) they tend to care more about the material aspect of their children’s happiness. Also, the fact that Lilly asks for only two gifts, both of which are extremely pricey, shows the importance of appearances and material goods that the people of this community has. It also makes me feel that these parents aren’t trying to instill financial awareness into their children either. It is one thing to hide from your children the fact that you are financially struggling, it is another to give them a false sense of wealth.

    -Siri Nesheim

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  10. I agree that this quote shows how much debt the family has. Also note that when the narrator won money in the lottery, he “flushed those valuable seeds (dollars) away. And for what? A display some find pretty” (Saunders, 24). The narrator has decided to put short-term happiness ahead of long-term survival. As you have said, he is trying to please his family but it results in more financial strain on them. What’s interesting to me is the language used by the narrator. When describing how he wants to decorate the yard he writes “ten rosebushes + cedar pathway + pond+… four-SG arrangement” (Saunders, 17), as if he is texting instead of speaking. I also find the title to be misleading. The focus of the story is the narrator and his family, the SG girls seem to be side characters.
    -Jiapeng Zhao

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  11. Although I understand the father’s need to please Lilly and make her happy for her birthday, I feel like as a thirteen your old Lilly should also be more aware of her family’s financial situation and realize that her gift recommendations were very inappropriate. We were all thirteen at one point ( during the grades 7th and 8th) and by then most kids knew what was expensive and what wasn’t for their family, but I feel as though Lilly is always confused as to what she can expect from her family since she is friends with a girl who comes from a very wealthy family. I also was very shocked as to why the father was so stressed out on her daughters gift. He should be instilling the idea in Lilly that it doesn’t matter how expensive the gift is, and that it’s the thought that really matters. Him and Pam also focus on the short term instead of the long term ( such as spending their money on the backyard instead of saving it for rent or college money)which makes it very difficult for me to sympathize for the family.

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  12. I must question your analysis here:
    “I also believe that actions like this might give an insight on why the family is living at a poverty level, by not properly spending money and wanting to please everyone ultimately puts a strain on him financially as well as mentally.”

    We have seen very little evidence that the family got into debt through irresponsible spending. In fact, it seems they are generally quite frugal–their yard is plain and pragmatic, their car a junker which the narrator doesn’t seem intent upon replacing any time soon. It seems our narrator’s greatest indulgence is spending no more than $6 a week on candy and lottery tickets. In general, I am quite surprised by the willingness in this comment section to indict the narrator for his family’s debt at the story’s outset, when the author has made no indication to this effect, and in fact seems to go to pains to show the contrary.

    Extending the close reading a bit further, it is interesting to note the way in which this paragraph conveys the crushing enormity of the narrator’s debt, and the way in which it controls his life. This is a heavy, long, and dizzying paragraph, just as is the actual management of a tremendous and ever-increasing amount of credit card debt.

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    • I feel like the author has been indicating that the narrator spends his money unwisely. When he won the lotto ticket, he said it didn’t feel right to spend it on his bills. Yes, he might not spend all his money on extravagant things-or have any to begin with-but he does not spend his money to pay off his debts. Even when presented with a chance to do so-the lotto ticket- he still does not think of the long-term. Also, the fact that he used his credit card on items that he could not afford and pay back shows his financial mishandling. That’s just my opinion.

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  13. I think the quote you chose highlights the general motif of the story very well, and it seems to underline the core concept of the story. Through the comments i have noticed somewhat of a rift- whether the father is spending his spending his money in a proper manner or not. On the one hand, we do see that he is clearly concerned with how he is perceived by the community and that he wants to be able to buy expensive things for his daughter (his daughter’s wealthy friend simply adds pressure to his insecurity.) On the other hand, it seems as though he should be spending his money in more simple and practical manners, such as using his lottery ticket to pay off some of his debts. It’s complicated- does it make more sense for him to just live modestly or to present a facade of financial stability?
    -Jimmy Nolan

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  14. I want to add an observation to the form of the selected passage. In the form and structure of the sentences we see the anxiety created by his debt. There is a brevity in each line. It makes readers feel as though the narrator’s thoughts are clearly racing. Saunder’s’s writing choice here easily side lays desperation. “Stretched a bit thin these days” is a simple sentence which then has a large impact with what was previously illustrated. The fragments do a lot to add impact and overall set the motif that relays the core of the story.

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  15. I agree with the fact that the father really does want the best for his family, but his motives are overshadowed by his naiveté. Instead of enjoying the life that he does have with his family, he is always striving for more, never living in the moment. He clearly does not have the financial means to be throwing parties and buy expensive things but the pressure to compete with neighbors and “rich people” influences him. I think the “Semplica Girls” are meant to represent possessions that are unnecessary status symbols (in an overtly ridiculous way). They literally have no use. Strung up on a wire, to do nothing but be acknowledged by passer-by’s as a symbol of wealth. The narrator speaks in sentence fragments and seems to be emotionless and stupid, possibly a slam at American society? The story ends in a bizarre, static way with no feeling of resolve, only frustration with the narrators in ability to understand anything other than possessions.

    – John Sieg

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