That Not Sidney Sure is Something

While supporting characters within the world of I Am Not Sidney Poitier, are flat caricatures, Not Sidney is characterized as being made real through a combination of story, dream, history, and his own lived reality. Supporting characters in the novel serve as conceptual backdrops, Not Sidney alone experiencing the world through the modes of reality, unreality, and hyperreality. I Am Not Sidney Poitier therefore creates verisimilitude for Not Sidney and for the audience.

In I Am Not Sidney Poitier, characters that act as allusions to Sidney Poitier’s film, The Defiant Ones, are turned into caricatures in order to emphasize Not Sidney’s reaction to nonsense. I Am Not Sidney Poitier exaggerates Patrice’s southern dialect, which is written phonetically, in order to represent reality for Not Sidney. Not Sidney speaks in standard English (“Your back is hurt,” (Everett 57)), while Patrice’s replies (“Naw, I ain’t fallin’ fer it (Everett 57)), are just as absurd as Not Sidney’s situation. The Defiant Ones portrays Jackson, Patrice’s cinematic equivalent, as handsome and charismatic, while at the same time being racist, treating Cullen as if he is inferior. Ultimately, he accepts Cullen as his equal, and Cullen accepts him in turn, giving up his place on the train to the north in order to stay by his side. I Am Not Sidney Poitier satirizes The Defiant Ones by exaggerating the Southern characters’ features. Patrice, Jackson’s equivalent, is described as being unwilling to accept Not Sidney as an equal, when Not Sidney is in fact Patrice’s superior in terms of tactical knowledge and general intelligence, and is described by other characters as being handsome. Not Sidney is able to save Patrice and himself by figuring out where the train is and how to get out of the pit. After leaving the pit, Not Sidney continues to be more of a savior for the white Southern characters than they could be for him. Sis and Bobo, whose home Not Sidney temporarily stays in, are described as being ugly and tragic figures, Sis being blind due to her mother’s abuse. The white Southern characters are ultimately not able to leave the rural south, and therefore are unable to break from their roles. These static characters serve the purpose of establishing Not Sidney’s inner struggle. Although the events described in the parts of I Am Not Sidney Poitier are preposterous, they are ultimately more truthful than those of The Defiant Ones. Not Sidney is a rational human being in a world full of nonsensical societal standards, which is a subversion of the stereotypical narrative wherein the white characters display the greatest humanity and get a non-static character arc. In leaving on the train alone, Not Sidney establishes his own humanity that is distinguishable from that of those who represent uneducated hatred.

Not Sidney also experiences reality through dreams which rely upon collective or individual memory. He recalls slavery and his heritage when he confronts Samantha Moon, a character of his dream who has been sold into sexual slavery, but believes that she is loved by the man her bought her. Not Sidney, named “Raz-ru” in his dream, tells her that she feels connected to himself because “here I am, waiting to reconnect you to your blood, ready to infuse you with your history, sad and ugly though it may be” (Everett 70-71). Not Sidney cannot truly speak to Samantha Moon, not only because she is an invention of his mind, but because the dream is set during multiple parts of the past. In experiencing this dream, however, Not Sidney is relating to the past and connecting to it. In my conversation with Claire about Not Sidney’s dream, she suggested that time is a construct, and that by accessing the past in his dream, Not Sidney experiences a “cyclical representation of time.” Not Sidney’s reality is recursive: his mindset in the face of oppression relates to collective memory. 

I Am Not Sidney Poitier incorporates characters with the names and basic features of real celebrities. However, I Am Not Sidney Poitier characterizes these figures as being shallow and exaggerated versions of themselves. I cannot, however, dispute these characterizations on a genuine level, as I do not personally know these celebrities. Not Sidney experiences public figures as caricatures similarly to how I do. I know the general concepts associated with celebrities, like how Jane Fonda is associated with exercise (Everett 8) but I, like Not Sidney, do not know these people as more than names and concepts. Like Not Sidney sees Jane Fonda “perform[ing] her disco exercises by the pool” (Everett 8), I watch celebrities perform for my benefit without the interaction being reciprocated. Percival Everett creates a representation of media-based reality in I Am Not Sidney Poitier by expressing both that Not Sidney is influenced by media personalities, but also that they are not as “real” as he is. Not Sidney can interact with these figures, but Not Sidney himself is written as being a realistic and emotive character, whereas the general audience can interact with celebrities as much as they could in the reality outside the text. Not Sidney’s perception of reality is therefore not distant from our own, even though most people have not been taken in by rich celebrities. Our concept of reality is influenced by an illusion of closeness to public figures who are more like representations of relevant societal concepts than they are people from the public perspective.

Not Sidney’s life exists in context; he could not have his present reality without his own imagination, past, and societal constructions. His reality is, however, not presented from the perspective of the outside world, but from his own, flat perception of those he interacts with. While Not Sidney may not be “[him]self” today” (Everett 234), he is the only character in the narrative with a personality that deviates from a static self, ironically making him the sole human character in I Am Not Sidney Poitier.

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