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Shooting Dad by Sarah Vowell

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Kelly Pearce

on 13 March 2014

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Transcript of Shooting Dad by Sarah Vowell

Shooting Dad by Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell, author of “Shooting Dad’, was only a little girl, around six years old, when she decided that she didn’t like guns. Her opinions were strong enough that she would always end up arguing with her dad, whom is a gunsmith. Sarah didn’t partake in family events for example, hunting, because she didn’t feel comfortable with holding guns or using them, leaving her feeling left out. When her father first let the twins shoot for their first time, Amy had liked it, whereas Sarah hadn't enjoyed a moment of it. Sarah Vowell mentions that she felt “small” while holding the pistol and mentions in her essay that she also felt as if the pistol was a bully that she just avoided. Her twin sister, Amy, had an interest in guns almost instantly, a passion just like their fathers’, which didn’t help her much since Amy was another person that she could not really talk to. Because Amy would complain that since Sarah would not join them in their passion for guns she is “the loneliest twin in history.” Vowell would always end up arguing with her father because she believed they were so different. Little did she realize in the beginning how much they had in common. Her dad was interested guns and she enjoyed art, he was a conservative, she was a liberal. But she then realized that her dad was doing art- making a cannon was his version of creativity. Her father and her both had this passion that involved “goofy projects.” She was able to have a relationship with her father in her later years because of the common ground they shared. Even though Sarah and her father’s personalities and views are so different, she can now see the similarities between them through the interests they have.
Discussion Questions
1) Out of all the major conflicts children and their parents can have (differences in culture, religion, politics, or anything else), which do you think would have the greatest influence in families? Or, what kind of problems/behaviors does each difference lead to? An example from the essay would be that since Sarah votes the opposite party than her father, he calls her to tell her each time that he’s cancelled her vote.

2) Although the essay itself is humorous, as is Vowells way of writing in many of her essays, she makes sure to add serious aspects of her story that are specifically relatable to a wide audience. Were there any parts of her stories, or realizations that you connected your own experiences too? Was there a family member or friend that you suddenly found common ground with?

3) In paragraph three, Vowell states that “ I had to move revolvers out of my way to make room for a bowl of Rice Krispies on the kitchen table.” Knowing that she grew up in a home literally filled with guns and history lessons about ancestral moonshiners and confederates, how do you think it affected Vowell’s attitude toward those opposite of her family? Could her love for music and art be derived from those activities being the polar opposite of what she grew up around? Does family and the culture we have in our childhoods make a difference in what we chose to love, hate, and think?
Connection to Real World
In American society, there are two extremes to how people feel about guns and gun control. In light of the Sandy Hook shooting, many are calling for stricter gun control laws. While defenders of gun rights are the exact opposite; they believe if citizens were allowed to carry guns, criminals would be less likely to commit crimes. This connects to Sarah Vowells ‘Shooting Dad” essay because her dad believes “shooting crows is a national pastime, like baseball and apple pie”; guns are a huge part of his life and he would no doubt be against stricter gun laws. In contrast, Sarah was terrified of using a gun, and she decided very early on that guns were not for her.
Another connection in current events, is the divide between democrats and republicans in the government. Like the politicians, Sarah and her father were constantly arguing about everything. They had little common ground because of that, and soon it caused a rift in her family. She a democrat and her father a republican. Just like in politics, where the constant arguing leads to bigger problems.
“Sarah Vowell-IMDb” IMDb. International Movie Database,
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1102970/ March 6, 2014

“Sarah Vowell” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. February 25, 2014 21:41
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Vowell March 6, 2014

“Sarah Vowell family cannon” Google Images. Google.
https://www.google.com/search?q=sarah+vowell+family+cannon&safe=off&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=NHgeU_brFYPloAT0g4KoAQ&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1024&bih=653 March 10th, 2014
Background Information
Sarah Vowell, born 1969, was only eleven when she moved from Muskogee, Oklahoma to Bozeman Montana- the town that she refers to in her essay “Shooting Dad”. She has a fraternal twin sister (who ironically calls herself “the loneliest twin in history” due to their difference in personality), and a gunsmith father, the focal point of her essay. Now forty four, she is known as an essayist, social commentator, radio voice, journalist and the author of six novels. These novels are centered around American history and some deal with it’s connection to the modern age topics, like pop culture idols and music. She has been a huge fan of music and art ever since she was young. Though she is most well known for her lectures on famous presidential assassinations, appearances in multiple documentaries, and essays probing american society ‘then and now’- she is also an ameteur actor. She’s appeared in several small roles, in “Six Degrees”, “Please Give” and “Bored to Death”, and has one MTV Music Award nomination. Violet Parr, the teenage Incredibles character, was voiced by Vowell. Vowell now runs a nonprofit tutoring and writing program in Brooklyn for youth and teenagers.
“Our house was partitioned off into territories. While the kitchen and living room were well within the DMZ, the respective work spaces governed by my father and me were jealously guarded totalitarian states in which each of us declared ourselves dictator. Dad’s shop was a messy disaster are, a labyrinth of lathes. Its walls were hung with the mounted antlers of deer he’d bagged, forming a makeshift museum of death. The available flat surfaces were buried under a million scraps of paper on which he sketched his mechanical inventions in blue ballpoint pen. And the floor, carpeted with spiky metal shavings, was a tetanus shot waiting to happen.”(Page 414, Paragraph 1, Lines 1-11 )
In this excerpt, Sarah uses the rhetorical device analogy, a comparison between two things typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification, in which she compares two territories to her relationship with her father. Her use of the device gives a feel like there is a war waging between between her and her father. This contributes to the overall theme that they are very different people and leads to a divide in the family. The analogy is also relatable as many people feel the difference between their parents viewpoints and themselves.
“The cannon was so loud and so painful, I had to touch my head to make sure my skull hadn’t cracked open. One thing that my dad and I shared is that we’re both a little hard of hearing - me from Aerosmith, him from gunsmith.
He lights the fuse again. The bullet knocks over the log he was aiming at. I instantly utter a sentence I never in my entire life thought I would say. I tell him, “Good shot, Dad.”
Just as I’m wondering what’s coming over me, two hikers walk by. Apparently, they have never seen a man set off a homemade cannon in the middle of the wilderness while his daughter holds a foot-long microphone up into the air recording its terrorist boom. One hiker gives me a puzzled look and asks, “So you work for the radio and that’s your dad?”
Dad shoots the cannon again so they can see how it works. The other Hiker says, “That’s quite a machine you got there.” But he isn't talking about the cannon. He’s talking about my tape recorder and my microphone- which is called shotgun mike. I stare back at him, then look over at my father’s cannon, then down on my microphone, and I think, oh. My. God. My dad and I are the same person. We’re both smart-alecky loners with goofy projects and weird equipment. And since this whole target practice outing was my idea, I was no longer his adversary. I was his accomplice. What’s worse, I was liking it. …..
I love noise. As a music fan, I’m always waiting for that moment in a song when something just flies out of it and explodes in the air. My dad is a one-man garage band, the kind of rock n roller who slaves away his art for no reason other than to make his own sound. My dad is an artist - a pretty driven, idiosyncratic one, too. He’s got his last Gesamtkunstwerk all planned out. It’s a performance piece. We’re all in it - my mom, the loneliest twin in history, and me.” (50 Essays, ‘Shooting Dad’ by Sarah Vowell, pgs. 417-418)

Paragraph #10, Page 415, Line 4-10
“It felt like it just went on by itself, as if I had no say in the matter; as if the gun has this need. The sound it made was as big as God. It kicked little me back to the ground like a bully. like a foe. It hurt. I don’t know if I dropped it or just handed it back to my Dad, but I do know that I never wanted to touch another one again.”
In this segment of text, Vowell uses personification; the act of giving unliving/inanimate objects humanlike qualities. When retelling the story of the first time she used a firearm, Vowell gives the object a harsh tone, inciting a vulnerable feeling within herself by comparing the gun to a bully who pushes the younger her down. Saying the gun felt like it had a ‘need’ to go off almost casts a sinister, or at least uncontrolled, mood to the situation. Reading about such events implants the idea that all guns can be dangerous, especially when in the hands of an impressionable younger child who later ‘rebukes;’ the sensation of shooting a gun because she views it as an evil presence. Though Vowell’s main point is not to say guns are dangerous, it does help readers of her essay see from her point of view clearer. Giving the gun qualities like evil, bully, and ‘big as God’ all connect to her opinions about firearm-involved activities- and give reasoning as to why she did not grow up loving to hunt and shoot. Each characteristic Vowell gives is tied to unlikable actions (bullying, being kicked down, etc.) and ultimately builds upon her story by giving a relatable and easy to understand anecdote.

Vowell uses paradox, in the second to last page of her essay. She wrote about how much her father and her were so different. That a difference such as this could not ever be ignored or resolved. It took years and a couple of strangers to let her realize how such differences can also have lots of similarities. She lets us into her state of shock and understanding as she is wrapping her head around the truth. Vowell also reminds us that ‘sometimes the truth is not what we want to believe, but what we were too blind to see.’ Paradox basically means that two things that are so different end up being truly the same thing. You can basically sum up everything that’s going on in those paragraphs to that one word. When you think of guns your mind automatically thinks violence. When you say art you mean paintings of expressionistic paintings or pottery or even graffiti. But art can also be recycling or making something from scratch. For example Vowells’ fathers homemade cannon. To be an artist you have to have a vision. Her father had one, but it was different than any of her own. So different that she didn't, at first, recognize it as such. You can say that art can vary greatly and so can perspective and understanding.
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