The Seam of the Snail by Cynthia Ozick

The intention of the essay is to compare and contrast the styles of excellence between the author and her mother.

Imagery: The author of “The Seam of the Snail” uses strong imagery throughout the essay to provide visuals for the audience and to invoke emotion in the reader. She compares herself to the snail, oozing her very essence away in pursuit of perfectionism. This is the primary metaphor in the essay and the reason for the title. The author describes her mother, however, as “lavish as nature” and “endlessly leafy and flowering.” The mother works to create imperfect abundance rather than the author, a “pinched perfectionist.” The mother is like the seam in the dresses she used to sew: perfect on the outside, but with many hidden flaws when you flipped up the seam.

Pathos: The author uses personal anecdotes to invoke emotion in the reader. She tells stories of her mother trying to plant corn in rows, sewing the author dresses, and struggling to pronounce words like “violinist” and “ventriloquist” with her thick Russian accent. The mother is endearing to the reader, a woman who can–and even tries to–do everything and anything. The author also gives examples of her own perfectionism, like making sure to cross her t’s and dot her i’s in her writing, to invoke pity in the reader. The author wishes she was more like her mother, and the audience feels bad for the author and her inability to produce the abundance her mother does.

Arrangement: The piece is arranged chronologically, for the most part. The author’s anecdotes begin when she is a young girl during the Great Depression. The author slowly ages through her story, moving from child, to young adult, to teenager. This gives the reader the feeling of traveling through her life story, watching the author grow in her perfectionism. She never, even as an adult, achieves the flowering abundance of her mother, even in adulthood.

–Tay Sauer


Tone- The tone of this essay is very self-aware. Ozick’s self awareness of her own flaws and struggles for perfection makes her character endearing. This self-aware tone is very evident in Ozick’s description of her mother as, “endlessly leafy and flowering,” and in her description of herself as, “a pinched perfectionist.” The word pinched is very powerful and gives a great image of a flower cut off to avoid growing out of control, as opposed to her mother’s “endlessly leafy” flower. The harsher words Ozick uses in her description of herself show how aware she is of her flaws.

Metaphor- Ozick uses the metaphor of the snail in order to accurately describe herself and her personality. She references that ancient people believed that snails worked so hard that they eventually wore themselves away. Ozick’s comparison of herself to the snail shows the extent that Ozick is willing to go to in order to achieve perfection. Her mother, however, is not compared to the snail, further showing the divide between Ozick and her mother.

Quote- “I measure my life in sentences pressed out, line by line, like the lustrous ooze on the underside of the snail, the snail’s secret open seam, its wound, leaking attar.” This quote stuck out to me because it describes the way Ozick approaches her life, Most people say they would measure their life in the friendships they’ve made, or the fun that they had. Ozick, however, measures her life in sentences. Though unusual, this actually makes sense after knowing Ozick’s personality. She is a hard-working perfectionist who wants the best quality and quantity of work possible.

–Katie Tegenkamp


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