One of the books I read in English class was I Am Not Sidney Poiter, a book by Percival Everett about the strange life of a boy named Not Sydney Poiter. One of the most standout characters in the novel was a character named Ted Turner. Ted is the owner of Turner Broadcasting System, a company that Not Sidney’s mom had invested in when it was small and unknown. Ted viewed her investment in his company as, “a kind of symbol or charm for success.” (8) Due to this, Ted decides to help Sydney after his mom passed away, offering him a place to stay while he figures out where to go in his life. However, this is not the most standout feature about Ted. Rather, his defining characteristic is more so his non sequiturs. And though at first these random remarks seem to exist only to add comedy to the plot, I believe that Ted’s remarks also serve the purpose of exemplifying the random nature that surrounds Not Sidney’s life, and how Ted’s unfocused nature mimics the seemingly random references to the filmography of the real Sidney Poiter.
Firstly, the definition of a non sequitur is “a statement (such as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said”, according to the Miriam Webster Dictionary. Ted’s behavior clearly mimics this kind of randomness. For instance, after Not Sidney has a terrifying encounter with racism in Alabama, he goes back to Ted to recover from the experience. After talking for a while, conversation of college comes up, during which Ted says to Not Sidney that, “College would be great for you. A time for exposure and growth. For exposure to new and uninteresting subjects. I think they should be called tax cells instead of brackets.” (82). Rather than continue on with the conversation with Sydney about his struggles, Ted seemingly gets bored with the drab conversation, and moves on to the next, more interesting conversation without even a segue. This behavior of his is repeated practically every time he appears in the book, and while it establishes him as a comedic character, the behavior also serves as the central theme of the story.
Theming is defined in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms as “The statement(s), express or implied, that a text seems to be making about its subject.” The use of Ted’s non sequiturs establishes the theme of the novel to be randomness, but it is also important for a theme to have a message. And I believe that the theme of the novel is trying to say that, despite however hard we will plan our lives, there will always be an element of randomness involved. For Not Sidney, this contrast between planning and randomness shows itself several times, such as the aforementioned idea of college or when his financial advisor, Podgy Patel suggests that he “…should buy a television network.” (114). Both cases are Not Sidney’s attempts at some form of stability, but each time they give in to the randomness that surrounds his life, by the presence of his professor Percival Everett and the strange shows that Podgy airs on his newly bought network, respectively. In each case, he attempted to achieve some sort of normalcy, only to be thwarted by the inevitable randomness that surrounds him. And Ted is the manifestation of that randomness.
Finally, there is the connection between Ted and the instances where Not Sidney’s life resembles the roles of the actor Sidney Poiter. Throughout the novel, there are several story lines and dream sequences that seem out of place, such as when Not Sidney dreams of being a slave named Raz-ru who kills his master or when he suddenly gets sent to jail and escapes with another convict. These moments are references to several films starring Sidney Poiter, but they act as diluted snippets of the actual films. However, like Ted’s non sequiturs, these moments also exist to add to the random nature of Not Sidney’s life. By living through these strange circumstances and envisioning himself in these scenarios, Not Sidney doesn’t change much as a character; in fact, he hardly changes throughout the book. Rather, these plot threads exist to demonstrate the randomness of the novel, and to support its overall theme.
I Am Not Sidney Poiter is a comedy. There’s no question about that. But this comedic nature coexists with a strong message about the pervading randomness that exists in everyday life, and Ted Turner is its figurehead. He represents this chaos in a way that fits with the overall tone of the books narrative, while also demonstrating the extreme of randomness. And he seems to be doing okay for himself. Despite the lack of structure in his life, he has his life together, and he seems happy. And through his example, the book shows the reader that, even though randomness is inevitable, it may not be so bad. And embracing it might not be so bad either.