A Short Story That Takes on Big Issues: “The Semplica Girls Diaries”

Every society has its symbol of wealth.  But in George Saunders’ short story, “The Semplica Girl Diaries”, this symbolic wealth is far more gruesome than a fancy car.

“The Semplica Girl Diaries” takes an epistolary format, as the anonymous narrator chronicles the life of his family in the events leading up to his daughter Lilly’s birthday.

The syntax of the narrator’s diary gives the short story a sense of urgency, as it is composed entirely in sentence fragments.  While this choice might seem annoying to some, it actually contributes to the illusion of someone’s stream of consciousness.

Though the story takes place in an alternate universe, the narrator’s family faces some of the same struggles of any other contemporary family: sibling rivalry, jealousy and, most notably, money problems.  The family is friends with several, wealthier families, discouraging the narrator and his family’s more meager means.

One day, while the family is driving through the neighborhood, Lilly points a family’s display of “Semplica Girls”, which are a characteristic symbol of wealth.  While Lilly and the narrator see them simply as that, Lilly’s younger sister Eva has a more in-depth perception of the cruel practice.

This cruel practice includes taking girls in undesirable situations from third-world countries and having them hang by their heads in wealthy people’s front yards, essentially degrading them into human lawn decorations.

Eva’s father justifies this violent practice by saying that everyone in society does it.  But from the mouth of babes come gems, and Eva rebukes him by sarcastically saying, “So just because everyone is doing it, that makes it right.”

The narrator understands Eva’s concerns, and even notes that her sensitivity toward this issue could be a sign of genius, but after he strikes it rich, he immediately searches for a way to display it.  And he sees no better way to do so than to buy a Semplica Girls display for his front lawn as a birthday gift to Lilly.

Lilly is, of course, ecstatic, but Eva is absolutely horrified during the installation of the display on the front lawn.  This leads her to take a bold course of action which has unforeseen consequences for the family.

“The Semplica Girl Diaries” is an apt text to read, especially in the context of today’s political climate.  There is a particular emphasis on one’s image, rather than what is inside.  What is posted on someone’s Instagram page is not necessarily what is going on under the surface, just as Semplica Girls are used as a status symbol when, behind closed doors, some families are actually impoverished.

Furthermore, the story serves as a reminder of wealthy countries’ continued exploitation of other, poorer countries.  While Americans do not necessarily abduct girls from developing countries, drill holes in their heads and hang them in front of their houses, they do continually perpetuate abuses toward them.

Between the broken immigration system, racist policies such as “the wall” and “the Muslim ban” and other, horrific practices such as sex trafficking, Americans continue to do so for no other reason other than their popularity, as well as a lack of initiative from the opponents of such policies.

But, as Eva points out in “The Semplica Girl Diaries”, popularity does not necessarily entail morality.  While potential popularity is enticing, it should not come at the cost of one’s integrity.