Richard Selzer's "The Knife" Richard Selzer's Ability Essay

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Richard Selzer's "The Knife"

Richard Selzer's ability to juxtapose real life step-by-step surgical procedures with metaphor, irony, similes, personification and abstract language shows that not only does he fully understand the delicate, dangerous work of a surgeon, but also he gully grasps the art of descriptive narrative.

Embracing reality, spicing reality up a bit with metaphors is always a good idea for an essayist. "One holds the knife as one holds the bow of a cello or tulip -- by the stem," he writes to open the essay. Certainly when an alert reader is confronted with a metaphoric comparison of a tulip or cello bow with a razor sharp surgeon's knife -- one smells good, another makes music and the third slices into human skin -- Selzer's artistry is in full bloom.

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Reading Selzer's "The Knife" is more than a trip into some great literature by a brilliant writer -- it is also an education. Mixed seamlessly into Selzer's narrative are specific tasks that a surgeon must perfect in order to get the patient fixed and sewn back up. Readers learn about colors that are seen on the inside of a live human body. But first Selzer takes us there, into the "pink and gleaming membranous" of the "peritoneum" and finally there it is, the cavity, a "primitive place." There is an irony in the use of "primitive place" where the surgeon expects to "find drawings of buffalo on the walls." So what -- why is he writing about ancient cave pictographs? Here he is cutting into the flesh of a human with a very sharp knife, and yet he calls the cavity of that human "primitive." Look who's calling the kettle black. And by the way for that reader who is fascinated with the idea of becoming a surgeon, the organs in that open body are "maroon and salmon and yellow."

TOPIC: Essay on Richard Selzer's "The Knife" Richard Selzer's Ability Assignment

Selzer jumps around like a jackrabbit from metaphor to metaphor in succeeding paragraphs, and it works well to keep the imagery fresh in the mind of the reader. In paragraph #4 he is a trespassing time traveler discovering the Lascaux Cave Paintings in France;… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Richard Selzer's "The Knife" Richard Selzer's Ability.  (2010, February 11).  Retrieved September 24, 2021, from

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"Richard Selzer's "The Knife" Richard Selzer's Ability."  11 February 2010.  Web.  24 September 2021. <>.

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"Richard Selzer's "The Knife" Richard Selzer's Ability."  February 11, 2010.  Accessed September 24, 2021.