Monday, March 27, 2017

Negativity and Humor

Bill Bryson uses humor in a way we have not yet seen this semester. His self-deprecation and overall negativity are apt ways of catching the reader’s attention in short bursts, such as a newspaper column that is a few pages long at most. However, this method of employing humor leaves something to be desired when the short chapters are collected in a longer novel. The negativity based humor becomes increasingly annoying the longer one reads. It no longer resembles a funny quip coming from an outsider experiencing another culture for the first time in twenty years. Instead, it reads as a series of increasingly ridiculous complaints.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love provides an excellent comparison to Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself. The two authors employ seemingly opposite approaches to books written in similar styles that fall under the same genre, Travel. While both books feature many short chapters that serve to keep the reader engaged and reading at a fast pace, the authors use different methods of humor to relate to their readers. Gilbert chooses to gloss over the negative aspects of her travels, only focusing on the positive and inspiring points in her journey. This use of humor makes her more relatable to her readership—people going through hard times and looking for hope. Bryson revels in the negative experiences that befall him. He devotes entire chapters to travel mishaps and technology nightmares. While this might alienate him from the modern American readership who think he should know better than to make these silly mistakes, they are not his intended audience. Bryson’s novel was originally written as a series of newspaper columns in a British newspaper.  His negativity was only meant to be taken in small doses, once a week, and by people who could appreciate someone poking fun at a country which is not their own. Therefore, taking his intended audience into account makes Bryson’s form of humor much more palatable and understandable to the modern American reader.

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