The Power of Labeling

Last week, I wrote a collaborative blog post with Kevin, Molly, Hailey, and Shelagh focusing on how names can sometimes be misinterpreted, and often lead to labeling. Our main point of this post was that names may not always represent who you are as an individual. Sometimes names can reflect people perfectly whereas other times they may misrepresent someone. As said in our post, the saintly origin of the names given to the nuns in the novel I am Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett, did not represent who they were. I decided to write a follow-up post using intertextuality to further my understanding of labeling and identity in other pieces we have done such as Frenzy

Intertextuality, as defined by The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, says it is “The condition of interconnectedness among texts, or the concept that any text is an amalgam of others, either because… and so forth” (215). As Beth said when giving me feedback from our collaborative post, in Frenzy, Dionysos was known by many different names. The first sentence of this novel says, “Dionysos was Bakkhos was Iakkhos was Bromius was Dithyrambos was Evius” (Everett 1). Dionysos is a God, the God of wine and fertility. He is highly worshipped by people called maenads. You would think that because he is a God, he would represent that label the way you would expect. When I think of a “God” I think of someone who is exceptionally praised, powerful, and overall a decent individual. Dionysos may be powerful and very well liked but I would not consider him “good”. As I said in my blog post “Power and Manipulation”, Dionysos took advantage of his aid, Vlepo, and, in my opinion, he even sometimes verbally abused him. It got to a point where Vlepo even wanted him dead. He states “I was furious with him, wanted to kill him…” (Everett 70). With the typical characteristics of a God, Dionysos has no right to treat Vlepo the way that he did in this novel. As readers, we have a vision of what we expect this godly character to act like and I, for one, was disappointed in the way he turned out to be. 

In I am Not Sidney Poitier, at a young age, the main protagonist, Not Sidney, was clearly picked on for his name and was an outcast. He had trouble with his identity because when he introduced himself to others, he either was laughed at or was compared to Sidney Poitier himself. When Not Sidney tried to explain what his name was to other kids, they would beat him up. Not Sidney states, “‘Nothing’s wrong with me. My name is Not Sidney’. This would be about the time the first punch found the side of my head” (Everett 14). This incident with his bullies was just the beginning for Not Sidney as he grows up. Not Sidney was trapped into a negative identity in which he was constantly picked on for his name.

So, this brings us to the typical question; Who cares? What does any of this matter? Labeling is often used to be hurtful and negative towards someone. When you start with someone’s name, we often have our own vision of how we want that person to act. As I read Frenzy, because the main God’s name was Dionysos, I had assumed that he would have the godly characteristic of using his power for good. As I explained before, the character Dionysos was manipulative and he abused his power of a God. When I read I am Not Sidney Poitier, I will admit that I was a little puzzled that the main character’s name was Not Sidney and I did make the guess that he may be a little odd and not treated normally. As readers and even human beings, we make predictions all based off of names. Different names mean different things and as I read the different pieces of work we are doing in class, I can conclude that names are very misleading and don’t often match what we expect them to be.

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