The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness. To accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it. Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance. That is not to say that one should ever make light of serious and grave and important issues, but that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation. Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic.–
Throughout this semester, through every story and passage by Percival Everett that we have read and discussed as a class, I have learned to slow down. As well as the need to close read in order to understand what the words on the page meant. I’ll admit, this took me quite some time to get the hang of, but once I got it, I noticed something very distinct about Everett. Irony plays a big part in what Percival Everett writes as seen in the themes of his stories and the meanings behind his passages. In his interview with Yogita Goyal he makes it clear with how he uses irony as a literary device. This is evident when he says, “The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness.” Something I have noticed throughout his writings, is that Everett is very blunt, almost unapologetic, and usually does not sugar coat things for the readers. Before starting this class I hadn’t read anything in the way Percival Everett had written, and while at times it was startling, it was also very refreshing. Everett acknowledges when he goes too far in a topic and combats that by whipping out a reality check. In his stories he often writes about real things, which are sometimes dark and personal, however, he stops right before crossing the line and avoids desensitizing the subject.
Looking back on these past few months, I can confidently say that I feel like I have grown as a student, as well as a writer. The focus on Percival Everett’s works and writing as many blog posts that we did was challenging and eye opening, strengthening my need for self discipline as well as writing in a conversational way. In the beginning I was quite lost, bouncing around from story to story that I didn’t fully understand until I went back, reread and made annotations. This took time to get the hang of, but once I did, that is when I started to fully understand what this class was doing, and why we were focused on Percival Everett’s works. Many of the readings that we focused on brought me out of my comfort zone, and while we did read a good amount of his writings, I can’t deny the fact that I Am Not Sidney Poitier stuck out to me the most. The quote I have at the beginning of this post mentions how Everett used irony, and I only felt that it was fitting that I would mention the Bedford Glossary’s definition of that word. “Irony is a contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality…irony comes from the Greek eiron, meaning dissembling. (Bedford 217).” I mention that second definition because I feel that is exactly what Everett is doing in his writing. His novels at first glance appear to be something simple, but when one takes the time to dismember and dig into the words he chose, the tone and the themes, it almost becomes an organized mess on the pages.
After reading the entire interview between Everett and Goyal, I feel like I have a better understanding of who he is, not only as a writer but also a person. In one of my previous blog posts I mentioned how I connected with Everett’s character, Not Sidney in his novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. As I continue my journey through reading Everett’s works I’m confident to say that I’m constantly learning something new about not only him, but myself as well. When one is reading something new, they’re most likely to enjoy the story more if they can see themselves in one of the main characters. I found this to be true while I got to know Not Sidney, relating to his grief and his need to be in control. Everett’s use of real situations, such as the racism Not Sidney encounters quite often in the story, him running away when things become too much, and the use of Ted Turner as the mildly confused “neighbor” were all great devices to make the story relatable. In fact, Turner’s character in a way, gave some breathing room for what Everett was doing, especially during the aftermath of Not Sidney getting abused by his teacher.
In the interview he was quoted saying, “Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance.” For myself, this provides context for Ted Turner’s reaction to Not Sidney’s unfortunate encounter with Miss. Hancock. After the two go back and forth for a bit, Turner bringing up how he can tie his shoes with one hand while Not Sidney describes what happened to him, Ted finally asks Not Sidney if he is going to turn her in. Turner goes on to say, “It’s up to you, but I say report her. She’s contributing to the delinquency of a minor. And apparently giving defective blow jobs (Everett 33).” We see his character become serious for a moment, acknowledging that Not Sidney did go through something traumatic, but then reverts back to his usual self and makes that comment about Miss. Hancock giving bad blow jobs. I believe, now that I have that quote from the interview, that if Everett had written Turner’s character to be super concerned and straight forward, the dynamic between them would have been completely different. If that was the case, he would have stopped Not Sidney from running away, sent him to a college that he could get into-rather than just paying his way in, and he’d treat him like actual family. Everett wrote Turner the way he did because it wouldn’t have been as good if he kept him completely in the loop all the time. Turner’s ability to lighten the mood with random conversations within a conversation manages to level out what they’re talking about.
“Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic,” Everett continues in the interview as he talks about his works and he acknowledges the fact that sometimes things get real, and when they do, there isn’t always a spot to throw some humor into it. Throughout this semester while sitting in English 203, we often split up into groups to discuss the reading of the day and many times different opinions would pop up as we talked about what we thought of the story at hand. While we were reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier, I remember that I had said that I found the book funny and enjoyable, which then led to one of my group mates to disagree and state that they thought it was a bit too vulgar for their taste. I was reminded of this when I read that quote from the interview, because while there is humor in that novel, there is also serious and sometimes triggering subject matter, which in my opinion, Everett handles greatly.
Everett keeps a nice balance between the themes he deals with in his works, giving attention to one sometimes over the other, and as an English major who delves deep into writing and literature, it intrigued me when we first began reading his novels. Essentially, that’s what drew me to Everett as an author, getting excited when we would start something new of his because he had such a way of dealing with certain subjects-as seen in his poetry book entitled, re:f gesture, where he focuses on the human body in great detail in one of the sections. The careful language that he uses in his writings combated with the real and raw subject material he writes about made me want to read more and to know who Percival Everett was as a person. I’m grateful for the time I have spent in this sometimes dusty classroom, grateful for the ability to bond with an author I’ve never met, and to have the opportunity to grow as a student and a writer. I’m horrible at ending papers, and I suck at goodbyes, so, that being said, “Good morning! And in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night! (Jim Carrey, The Truman Show).”