The Complexity of Understanding – Final Essay

Perspective is constantly changing. When the semester first began I had written about Irony in my essay called Epigraph Essay. I believe that I had first interpreted the epigraph I had chosen as “Words are words. It is the meaning behind the words that matter.” (Myers). As the semester has continued my perspective has changed significantly. I originally had thought deeply about what the meaning was and now I see it differently. I thought that people can take things too seriously when they are not intended to be.  When the semester began my focus was on irony. I used the epigraph to explain a couple of things about the class, the readings, and also about myself. Dionysus wanted to gain the trust of his people, to prove a point, while also being distrustful. “But if the people of Thebes, growing angry, take up arms and seek to drive my followers from the mountain, I shall engage them, leading my maenads into battle. This is why I have assumed mortal shape and transformed myself into the likeness of a man.” (Euripides). This on its own is ironic because a person cannot expect trust from people while they are actively being deceitful. That is not how you gain trust. I do still believe that words are just words and that there is a sense of irony behind them. Now I believe that there can be multiple meanings behind what is being said. The thing about words is “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean some thing, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” (Everett, “Erasure”).

Throughout the rest of the semester, I found myself repetitively coming across this epigraph by Percival Everett. One of the times that I found myself thinking about the epigraph is within the novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. There are many instances where words or phrases are not understood or they are simply taking things too seriously. Not Sidney’s name was being taken too seriously by many. He struggled to get across that his name was simply Not Sidney, and people found it too complicated to understand which led to the many instances where Not Sidney was bullied. “I would receive the kiss and then say, ‘My name is Not Sidney Poitier.’ Unfortunately, the looser girls often would and could be more violent and fierce than the boys, and so they would offer up an entrée of whup-ass with sides of hair pulling and scratching.” (Everett, “I am Not Sidney Poitier”). These types of incidents were common for Not Sidney. It is also complicated for readers to understand other parts of the story involving his name as well. At the end of the novel, it mentions, when they are viewing the dead body, that the man looks a lot like Not Sidney. Through this, I have interpreted that the dead man is not, Not Sidney. This being a double negative inquires that the man who has died is Sidney Poitier. “He looked just like me, a fact that was apparently lost on Donald and the Chief. I wanted to say, ‘That’s me.’” (Everett, “I am Not Sidney Poitier”). Then when the story ends with Not Sidney taking place of Sidney Poitier, alludes to Sidney being dead. The way Percival Everett took Sidney Poitier and made him a completely different person made the story very complicated and hard to follow as a reader. This is why the epigraph “It is incredible a sentence is ever understood..” (Everett, “Erasure”.), is very prominent for this character’s name. 

When professor Percival Everett is teaching or simply talking with Not Sidney, he is not being fully understood for it is hard to keep up with what he is saying. His sentences are so complex and intellectually driven that it is hard for those who are not of the same caliber as him to understand what it is that he is meaning. “The students looked at each other, shrugging, scared, frantically trying to carve out something to stick in their notes. I knew that he was uttering gibberish, but what wasn’t clear was whether he knew it. I don’t think he did.” (Everett, “I am Not Sidney Poitier”). The words that Percival Everett the professor may be clear to himself; however, to everyone who is attending his lecture is wondering what on earth he could be meaning.  This is a common occurrence also through Percival Everett the author when he writes. It is a conundrum for him as the professor and he as an author both are intricate with their words that many might not be able to understand. The words that Percival Everett the author is writing are also the words that Percival Everett the teacher is saying. “Let’s consider art as a kind of desacralization, perhaps a sort of epistemological discontinuity that is undoubtedly connected or at the very least traceable to an amalgam of very common yet highly unusual sociohistorical factors.” (Everett, “I am Not Sidney Poitier”). This sentence, to a person who is not a well-educated art person, would have struggled to understand the words and meanings behind them unless they carried a dictionary with the and was able to quickly look up each word as he went on through his lecture. It is not realistic that a person without prior history of the subject to be able to understand long complicated sentences right off the bat. The complicated intersection between the character and the author is what makes them so intriguing and hard to understand. They are the same yet they are different just like Not Sidney and Sidney. 

Within re: f (gesture) the section called Zulus, there are many instances that may be insinuated by readers who have not read any of Percival Everetts’s books before, that all the sentences that are being put together for the alphabet are merely gibberish. Without the outside knowledge of what he has written about, you would think that. Having read a couple of his stories, it is easy to pinpoint that he may be writing this poem while also including his previous works in it. “L is for “the Lilliths oft I feldt’..” (Everett, “Re: f(Gesture)”). This is a homage to his story I am Not Sidney Poitier, where he used the movie Sidney Poitier was in as an experience Not Sidney went through. This is not something that would be known to someone who not only watched the movie, knew the actors, but also read to book Percival Everett wrote as well. In previous discussion within this course, there was a couple of occasions where we talked about New Criticism. “According to New Criticism, works of literature are self-contained (autotelic) art ‘objects’ that exist independently of the world around them; art objects have no link to the reader’s feelings, to the historical context in which the objects were produced, to the author’s intentions or biography.” (McCoy). This is saying that you cannot use outside sources to understand what the text is saying. You can only use what is on the page in front of you. One of the things that make sentences hard to understand is when you do not have all the knowledge you need to understand what is being said. For a lot of Professor Everett’s lectures that is what is happening. 

During the end of the semester there were many instances where, in the group project, we had been going back and forth on what we were doing and what different things meant. The common thing going on was the misunderstanding of words. The whole point of the epigraph by Percival Everett is that it is crazy words can be understood. This was one of the toughest things I had encountered this semester for not only was I confused by what people were saying but vice versa. It could have been a simple misunderstanding but due to the way one may have said something it had sent us down a spiral going in the opposite direction. Due to the fact that there were six or seven people within the group, it is going to be hard for everyone to be on the same page, so it is understandable that what one person got from a sentence was completely different from the other. The greatest lesson from not only this experience but also the epigraph itself is to take time and understand that what you are saying may not but what the other person is hearing. 

Works Cited 

Everett, Percival. Erasure. Graywolf Press. 

Everett, Percival. I AM NOT SIDNEY POITIER. Graywolf Press. 

Everett, Percival. Re: f(Gesture). Red Hen Press. 

Euripides. The Bacchae and Other Plays. Penguin Group. 

Myers, Hannah. “Epigraph Essay.” Reader and Text, 16 Sept. 2022. 

McCoy, Beth. “McCoy, ‘New Critical Formalism.’” Canvas, 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.