Travelers: Fantasists, Conjurers, and Seers of the World
What makes traveling to foreign lands such a coveted and memorable experience? What does one get out of exploring new cultures and atmospheres? In “The Shock of Teapots,” by Cynthia Ozick, the quality and nature of traveling and travelers themselves is explored. Within this work of creative nonfiction, Ozick strategically uses genre, diction, and exemplification to effectively emphasize that travelers see ordinary things in a new light when visiting other places and countries. She starts off by discussing a morning during a Swedish autumn. She describes the morning using a lot of imagery, saying things such as that it is enveloped in “a mysteriously translucent shadow” and it’s “as if a faintly luminous river ran overhead” (pg. 68). Ozick looks at the sun in a new light, being in country that is foreign to her. She does this throughout the rest of the essay, too, speaking of the wonder of seeing and experiencing everyday things in new places. Ozick goes on to say that travel causes people to be more attuned to their surroundings–they notice more and are intrigued by more. She says this is because they have “cut themselves loose” from their own society (pg. 69). She expresses that in doing this, travelers are so encompassed in new, foreign experiences.
And since new things are basically the norm in traveling, it makes ordinary things similar to what we experience at home become so much more noticeable and even remarkable. She expands on this idea by describing the red bus she traveled on from the airport in Edinburgh. She says, “It was the bus, not the phantasmagorical castle, that clouded over and bewildered our reasoned humanity. The red bus was what I intimately knew: only I had never seen it before,” (pg. 70). Even a teapot shocks when one is a traveler. As previously stated, the most conspicuous rhetorical strategies used in this short story are genre, diction, and exemplification. Genre is the particular category that a composition falls into. In this case, for example, the short story is considered creative nonfiction. Diction is described as an author’s choice and use of phrases in their writing; it helps emphasize the main theme of a piece of literature. Exemplification is simply the use of examples in order to support a point an author wishes to communicate. All of these are especially important in Ozick’s short story. The genre of this piece is particularly significant in relaying the intended message to its full extent. This short story comes from the book, In Short, a compilation of brief creative nonfiction. Creative nonfiction is a category of writing that creates a true story using literary techniques. Without this nonfiction genre, the story would lose the essence that makes it convincing to the reader. If it was a piece of fiction instead, the message, however potent it may be, might tend to make the audience feel less inclined to value the main point of the story– it could lose credibility.
For example, if Ozick said, “I, under the electrified rays of my whitening hair, stand drawn upward to the startling sky, restored to the clarity of childhood,” during her talk of Stockholm’s autumn sunshine in a fictional story, it wouldn’t have the effect of truthfulness to support it (pg. 69). Because this piece is a personal essay and therefore a personal experience of Ozick’s life, it allows her to take the reader on a journey with her, in a sense. If it had been written in strictly third person point of view, the reader wouldn’t be able to recognize the same solidity and trustworthiness that first person offers. Referencing when she says that natives had experienced a Swedish autumn before and she hadn’t, “I have not.” could become “He had not.” and lose this trust (pg. 69). The audience would also not feel as connected to the writer and their experiences because of this, and the main point of the work would lose its strength. In this specific instance, the author’s diction offers insight into her main focus. It is as if she is attempting to take the audience through the journey to Stockholm and Edinburgh along with her, so they can experience being a traveler themselves. The diction of her descriptions does make the reader feel as if they are there, such as when she says, “I landed in Edinburgh with the roaring of the plane’s four mammoth propellers for days afterward embedded in my ears,” (pg. 69). The word “roaring” causes the reader to imagine that hateful sound, and the word “mammoth” evokes sensory imagery to describe the seemingly overwhelmingly large plane. It’s as if they can actually hear and see the plane themselves because of these words. She uses phrases and words such as “minutely idiosyncratic,” “vagabond,” and
“like gold leaf beaten gossamer as tissue,” creating a fantastical atmosphere for the reader as they travel through the story (pg. 68-71). Just like she says travelers gain new perspective in different lands, it’s as if she herself is trying to get the reader to gain new perspectives on how one can use the English language.
Lastly, Ozick’s use of exemplification further emphasizes her main reason for writing this piece. In “The Shock of Teapots,” she says that “Travel returns us…to sharpness of notice,” (pg. 69). She follows this up by suggesting the example of “the sun at an unaccustomed slope” in Stockholm that she experienced (pg. 68). She then even goes further to say that to recognize that is to be returned to childhood, when everything was so new and clear because one is experiencing it for the first time. Referring back to the red bus mentioned earlier, she also uses that as an example–while she has definitely seen and been on buses before, this one is still new and extraordinary to her. All of these support her main focus: traveling brings everything into a new perspective, even things that seem mundane in your own land. Conclusively, “The Shock of Teapots,” while not explicitly a persuasive piece, very effectively communicates its point. Travelers have the ability to see so many new and exciting things when exploring different countries and continents; the differences can be overwhelming. But what’s really remarkable is the opportunity and ability they have to find similarities between their own and a foreign land extraordinary.
The choice of genre for this work of literature, along with Cynthia Ozick’s diction and use of exemplification, greatly contribute to its inherent effectiveness. Without them, this essay would not be nearly as inspirational and interesting. One can be confident that anyone who reads this work will be subconsciously influenced into taking a journey on their own, beyond the adventure found in the essay’s pages.