Often readers pick up a book and automatically believe everything that the narrator is telling them. However, narrators are not always to be trusted. A prime example of an unreliable narrator is in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In Frankenstein, the narrator is believed to be a sailor who saved Dr.Frankenstein. The sailor listens to the doctor and writes down his story. However, it is later revealed that Dr.Frankenstein had taken the sailor’s journal and manipulated it to fit the narrative that he sought to tell. By revealing that the journal is tainted, the reader could no longer trust the book’s narration by the sailor. I have this same suspicion in Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Potier. At the beginning of the story, our protagonist and narrator is a young Not Sidney Potier. Not Sidney sees the world through a very interesting lens. Not Sidney often describes his story in ways that seem rather far fetched and occasionally unbelievable. So the question that I ask is: Can we believe Not Sidney?
A major issue with Not Sidney’s narration is that a lot of it comes from memory. Memory in literature is known for being misconstrued by the person remembering and maybe even exaggerated in some aspects. Maybe a person ran from the police for a mile but their memory told them it was several miles because of the heat in the moment. Not Sidney recalled that girls would kiss him in order to understand his name. They would in turn beat him for not holding up his end of the bargain. Not Sidney had said that “There was some upside, as some of the looser girls would offer to kiss me if I told them my name” (29). On the surface this seems like something plausible until the reader remembers that he is a thirteen year old boy who may exaggerate situations like these. It seems more likely that this happened to him once, maybe even twice. This statement by Not Sidney is certainly enough to at least question his credibility.
Another instance of utilizing memory is when Not Sidney explains the story of his birth. The story of his birth obviously needed to be told to him by someone and that someone was his mother. This is where the credibility of he and his mother gets extremely shaky. Not Sidney’s mother was asked how long she had been pregnant for and she responded with “Stand back, girls! Two years he’s been forming and now he’s coming!” (4). The whole idea of Not Sidney being in the womb for two years would be a scientific phenomenon if true. The longest recorded pregnancy in history was approximately 375 days; which would 355 days less than his Not Sidney’s mother’s pregnancy. Either Not Sidney’s birth was amazing or the length of the pregnancy was lied about by someone.
Not Sidney’s age plays a big part in his lack of validity as a narrator. Being a young narrator is not Not Sidney’s fault but kids can stretch the truth even if they are unaware. Not Sidney began his narration in the book as a preteen who believes he has a superpower that is known to him as “fesmerizing”. One of his first uses of his fesmerization power was when he asked Wanda Fonda to snatch Jane’s bikini top while they were riding on Ted’s boat. To Not Sidney’s satisfaction, the fesmerization seemingly worked. Not Sidney said “two success in a row, scared me greatly” (27) which shows his deep belief in his own super powered ability. The fesmerization instances in the book seem pretty unbelievable, similarly to the nonsense about him being in the womb for two years. Not Sidney may not be dishonest as a narrator. However, he may just be arrogant as to what is actually happening.
In “The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms” by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, the word narrator is defined as “a speaker through whom an author presents a narrative” (282). This quote shows that Percival Everett may have intended for No Sidney to be unbelievable. I think from the beginning of the book Everett attempted to make Not Sidney seem unrealistic and for his mere existence to be preposterous. Murfin and Ray also state in the glossary that “the type of narrator used is intertwined with point of view, the vantage point from which the narrative is told” (282). This quote supports that Not Sidney may be a reliable narrator from his point of view, but through the lens of the reader he seems awfully ridiculous.
Ultimately Not Sidney cannot be believed as a narrator because of the earlier stated factors. Not Sidney narration often reflects memories of himself and other people who may have not gotten the story right. Not Sidney’s age and maturity also play a major role in his illegitimacy as a narrator. Not Sidney may not have been trying to deceive the reader through his telling of the story, but it is fair to question him before believing everything that he says.