In the 1900 bestselling novel The Redemption of David Corson by Charles Frederic Goss, which I reviewed over on GreatPenformances blog, one funny scene presents a patent-medicine salesman’s sales pitch for worthless cures.
The snake oil salesman has gathered a clutch of people around and is reading testimonials from satisfied customers:
‘Dear Sir: I was wounded in the Mexican war. I have been unable to walk without crutches for many years; but after using your liniment, I ran for office!’ Think of it, gentlemen, the day of miracles has not passed. ‘I lost my eyesight four years ago, but used a bottle of your “wash” and saw wood.’ Saw wood, gentlemen, what do you think of that? He saw wood! ‘Some time ago I lost the use of both arms; but a kind friend furnished me with a box of your pills, and the next day I struck a man for ten dollars.’ There is a triumph of the medical art, my friends. And yet even this is surpassed by the following: ‘I had been deaf for many years, stone deaf; but after using your ointment, I heard that my aunt had died and left me ten thousand dollars.’ Think of it, gentlemen, ten thousand dollars! And a written guarantee goes with every bottle, that the first thing a stone-deaf man will hear after using this medicine will be that his aunt has died and left him ten thousand dollars.
If I were to use this, I’d probably have students read it and then pose some informal writing questions about the text:
- When you read the paragraph, what do you visualize the speaker doing? How does the salesman act?
- What would you say is the salesman’s attitude toward his audience? On what do you base your impression?
- How would you describe the audience? Is your attitude the same as the salesman’s?
- The text doesn’t tell you how the audience responds. What you do think their response would be?
- How would you describe this passage : descriptive? expository? persuasive? comic? serious? sad? Why did you choose that description?
I think it would be fun to have the class ham¹ act the role of the salesman, maybe shoot a video of the re-enactment.
The Redemption of David Corson is available as Project Gutenberg eBook #14730. The paragraph quoted above is in chapter 12.
¹ ham is a word with a double meaning.