Study Guide

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things French

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"Did you know that 'fat' in French is 'gros'? If I didn't hate French enough already, I hate it even more now" (5.109), Virginia writes in an email to Shannon. Not only does Virginia loathe French because it brings down her GPA, she resents even having to take it in the first place.

"I really wanted to take Chinese," she tells us. "I thought it would be fun to be able to tell peole off in Chinese. Unless you're in Chinatown, no one will know what you're saying. But Mom insisted that I have to take French because every other Shreves converses fluently in it" (10.27).

Are you thinking what we're thinking, Shmoopers? Yup—Virginia's dislike of French is just another way that she doesn't quite fit into the Shreves family mold, another thing marking her as different from her parents and siblings.

Then there's the matter of Virginia's name. While it might make you think of a state, Mademoiselle Kiefer, her evil French teacher, uses it to humiliate her, calling her la vierge (the virgin) in class (10.69). And guess who's Mademoiselle Kiefer's pet? Why, it's Brie Newhart, of course, who wears her signature purple boots, purchased on a Parisian vacation, to school every day, and whose ringtone is the French National Anthem. In other words, just like at home, at school, French is a source of alienation for our main girl. Ugh.

French is a wedge not only between Virginia and her parents, but Virginia and her peers. It's one more thing the beautiful people can do well and she can't, a reminder of just how much she doesn't fit in, to both herself and others. And here we thought French was the language of love…

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