My journey alongside Not Sidney and Vlepo

Reflection is a part of life that most, including myself, tend to skip over. Personally, when I look back on my life, I tend to not think deeply about the events that have occurred, since I can not change the past. But after this class, I have a new outlook on reflection. Now I believe to move forward one must look back. The irony of this statement is not lost on me, but in order to become a better writer, and thinker, one must look back at our past performances and think about what they did well and what they can do better on. So now, as the semester comes to a close it is time to reflect on my time in English 203. 

Let me set the scene for you. It is my first day of college classes and I am walking into my second ever class. The day before I found all my classes but I gave myself 15 minutes to make sure I was on time even if I got lost. I walk across campus and into Welles but through a different door I went into last time. I am lost, but somehow wind up walking into the class and sit down in the fun wheely chairs set in nice, organized rows. Then, our professor enters the room and tells us to make a circle and I get war flashbacks to every socratic seminar I have ever had. Already nervous, she tells us about class and the blogpost assignment and I am on the verge of a breakdown. But it gets worse, she asks us to get into groups and look at one of the course epigraphs on the board. Now this is not the epigraph I chose to work with but I feel the suspicious pants mental breakdown really highlights how far I have come. See, as the semester went on, new and strange things no longer phased me. I now merely see them as a new opportunity to learn and grow. 

It is here that I feel it is necessary to clue you in on the epigraph I have chosen from Percival Everett’s I am Not Sidney Poiter; “Thank you,” I said. “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost, to reunite if not with my whole self, then with a piece of it. What I’ve discovered is that this thing is not here. In fact, it is nowhere. I have learned that my name is not my name. It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself. My mother is buried not far from this auditorium, and there are no words on her headstone. As I glance out now, as I feel the weight of this trophy in my hands, as I stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces, I know finally what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say: I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.” I have chosen this epigraph because I feel as though I am reflecting alongside of it. As I reflect on where I am, so does Not Sidney Poiter. Although he is reflecting on his life and I am reflecting on a 15 week period, I still find myself making the same existential connections. So much has changed in my life over this 15 week period. I have discovered a sense of independence that everyone told me about but I did not quite understand. This independence is both in and outside of class. Academically I was never told by my parents to do work, yet something about them being there pressured me to work. Over Thanksgiving break is where I really saw this. They could be asleep, but just them being there made me work. I wrote 2 blog posts, my application essay to the school of education, brainstormed for this essay and finalized my final paper for INTD 105. Basically, more work than I have done in a while. It was at this moment that I realized how being alone had affected me as a student. Which I think relates to “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY,” because I discovered a new, less productive version of myself in that moment. 

The quote, “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY,” can also be used positively. This is more specific to English 203 than just me academically. I feel I have grown as a thinker and as a writer. I am going to share what I wrote about my concerns about this class going in on one of the first days. My concern was that I was not going to be good enough. Walking into this class, I was overwhelmed by the in-depth answers everyone else had, meanwhile I was just pulling things out of thin air. I had no clue what I was doing, and it appeared everyone else was confident and smart, which are not things I would have ever used to describe myself as going into my time here. I was still confused as to how I could have possibly got in, and was still licking my wounds of being rejected from a school at the same level. But as time in this class went on, I found myself realizing that no one truly has it all together. I went on a journey of self-discovery alongside Not Sidney, and Vlepo and ended up more confident in myself as a thinker and as a writer. 

Not Sidney started his journey to find himself after dropping out of high school. After this moment he went on both a physical and mental journey. On his way to California to where he grew up and his mother’s grave, he was stopped by a cop and was sent to jail. Although Not Sidney started his journey to reflect on his past by visiting his mother’s grave, he ended up reflecting on memories with his mother throughout his journey of escape tethered to a racist white inmate, Patrice. Sidney also reflects on his life and past whenever he makes a major decision. For example, when he decided to enroll and drop out of college he reflects on what he has gone through and whether or not he truly wants to do those things. When it is suggested that he goes to college, he thinks deeply about his past history with school and if it was really worth his time to go off to college. Not Sidney decided to go to college because he “wanted, for whatever reasons, to be near people [his] own age.” Not Sidney decided that even after all he has gone through, he still wants the college experience of living in a small room with a stranger and meet people with similar interests from classes, clubs, greek life, etc. 

 Not Sidney’s reflection here about going to college can also be drawn back to the epigraph. Not Sidney went to college to make connections and find himself, and he similarly went back to California to find himself. Both times he came up short of truly reaching self-discovery, because there is always more about yourself to discover. I learned that through this class. I discovered so much about myself and how I can make deep connections within all texts, and really add to the conversation. For example, in I am Not Sidney Poitier, Not Sidney makes a remark about Sidney Poitier never being able to be in a sex scene like he was in with Agnes. This moment was a jab towards the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 which prohibited African Americans from being filmed in any romantic way, especially with those who were white. Although Agnes was not white, you can argue that aspect still applies because she had a lighter skin tone than Not Sidney and was discriminating against him for being too black, imitating the unfortunately common relationship between blacks and whites at the time of the code.

Not Sidney was not the only character that developed and reflected alongside me this semester, Vlepo also went on this journey. In Percival Everett’s Frenzy, Vlepo acts as a less than human being that’s sole purpose is to serve the Greek god, Dionysus. Vlepo sporadically asks questions about why he exists, and strives to have a “normal” existence. In a conversation with Dionysus, Vlepo is given insight on who he is; “‘What is the matter, my friend?’ I looked to him but offered no response. ‘You, Vlepo, you represent the human middle. It’s not much of a life, though, is it?–representing a thing…The body is a scattered thing, my small friend. But a life–’ He paused to allow sight of the sun. One needs a life.’ ‘I need a life,’ I said. ‘I would like one.’ ‘And so you shall have one.’ Dionysos closed his eyes and warmed his face to the sky. ‘When?’ I asked. ‘Always.’” I find the discussion to be an important one in terms of reflection. As a unit, the two of them reflect on Vlepo’s existence and discuss his purpose. After Vlepo communicates that he wants to have a life, Dionysus gives Vlepo a body so he can have the life he wishes. Vlepo has other conversations like this one where he reflects on who he is and what his purpose is, but this is one of the more major ones. 

I find myself connecting to Vlepo when I tried to find my balance of school work and having a social life. I think this connects to, “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost, to reunite if not with my whole self, then with a piece of it.” in the epigraph because both Vlepo and I are trying to connect the dots of life. Vlepo was trying to connect what he represents to life, whereas I am trying to connect and balance the two aspects of myself. This class helped me understand my need for balance between these two aspects and I am very thankful for that. For example, over the weekend I allow myself to have one day that is work free to spend time with my friends and stay sane. Without this day, I would over stress and quickly run out of steam causing my work to suffer alongside my mental health.

All in all, my reflective journey through this semester was not walked alone. I went on the journey with not only my classmates, but Not Sidney, Vlepo, and of course the author of those works and the epigraph, Percival Everett. The epigraph really proved to me the many different ways I have grown over the course of this semester. But the growth does not stop here. This is only the beginning of my time at Geneseo, and I still have so much life ahead of me to learn from. Maya Angelou said it best, “I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”

TedTalk: Media Mogul

by Hannah Smith and Lauren Silverman

Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier is a novel characterized by the media, if not for a presence of media within the novel, then for the borrowing of people and names that all relate, in some form or another to the field of television media and entertainment. This is most prominent in the character of Ted Turner, who shares the accomplishment of his namesake from reality in his owning and founding of multiple news and television networks, including CNN and TBS, and is categorized as a ‘Media Mogul’ by many, such as Everett himself.  This is coupled by the sprinkling of comments made by various characters that speak against the growth of the media nation that America has slowly become. 

Working as the backbone of the novel’s media commentary is the character version of Ted Turner, media mogul. Throughout Everett’s work, Turner speaks in what can only be described as a stream of consciousness, moving fluidly from topics he discusses with Not Sidney, and musing of his own that often contain more significance than he intended. Often, Ted talks about the media industry and the things he plans for his own networks as if he could do anything at all without consequence to his viewers. 

At one point, he sits with Not Sidney in a common area between their sections of Turner’s mansion and he rants about the myriad of terrible shows on television, saying that “you can’t show the news and The Three Stooges all the time …And aw hell son, who can afford to make brand-new crappy shows, and who wants to? Especially with so many crappy shows just sitting in cans waiting to be aired again?” In this quote alone, Turner begins by grouping the news with The Three Stooges, the source that people look towards for the important events occurring in their country, with one of the classic comedy troupes of the mid-twentieth century. To Turner, there was nothing distinguishing one of those as more sober than the other, only two forms of entertainment. 

While she was alive, Not Sidney’s mother declares to him that  “it won’t be enough to report it, news will have to be made… That’s where we’ve gone, everything in this country is entertainment.” Ted, the owner of these networks, the dictator of what can pass through to viewers, proved Not Sidney’s mother correct in his acceptance of the presentation of the news as just another “crappy show” that audiences to tune into. 

Not’s mother disapproved of the news, and yet, for no given explanation, she invests her savings into the ideas of Ted Turner, media mogul. This may tie into a possible explanation for why Everett chose to call him “Not Sidney Poitier.” Sidney Poitier, throughout his career was distinguished in the eyes of the entertainment industry, and though Not Sidney’s mother never gave the impression that she had heard of the actor before, it is likely that she knew the name from the extent that he appeared on television. The significance then, of calling him Not Sidney Poitier may have been used as the intentional separation of the protagonist from the grip of the media. Ironically, it is his mother’s investments that place him on the path to involve himself in the industry that his mother loathed and warned him away from.

If it wasn’t for his mother, Not Sidney would have never been taken in by Ted Turner, media mogul. Subsequently, if it wasn’t for him living with Ted Turner, media mogul, Not Sidney would have never been introduced to Podgy Patel, who suggested buying a television network to Not Sidney, who cared so little about where his money was going, so long as he was spending some that he accepted the idea willingly. And so, Not Sidney Poitier became the head of a television network, similar to Ted Turner, media mogul, without the least desire to involve himself in the decisions of what to air, instead entrusting that to Podgy, who is implied to have changed the target audience of the network to suit his culture. 

Besides their living situation, the one common thread between Not Sidney, and Ted Turner, media mogul, is their extraordinary affluence. Not Sidney’s mother is described by him as “the kind of grass-roots, if not proletarian, person he [Ted] wanted to imagine his media world touching, however tangentially, on his way to great and obscene wealth.” Both men purchased networks as simply another thing to do with their money, and neither one seems to care if the shows airing on their networks had any value to society. Ted Turner, as a media mogul, cared only that his wallet was expanding, while Not Sidney cared only that he was spending money, and never cared whether it led him to greater wealth, or less. 

While young, Not Sidney’s tutor, Betty, once said that “‘The mass media and the oil, they’re the movers, the facilitators. Politicians are just tools used to make us think we have some choice and a little power.’” She groups together the oil and media industries for their reputations as existing in the country’s highest economic class. Like Sidney’s mother, Betty is against the media, viewing media moguls such as Ted Turner as if anyone with the power to shape the thoughts of others, or the progress of the nation as having the obligation to do the moral thing.

Defining Poetry

In this blog post, I am going to be talking about a rather interesting excerpt from The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms’s definition of poetry. The Bedford says, “Second, poetry is often contrasted with fiction. This distinction, however, has proved more problematic because some poets and literary historians have characterized poetry as fiction (or even as the ‘supreme fiction,’ as in Wallace Stevens’s ‘A High-Toned Christian Woman’ [1922]), as that which is not essentially tied to fact, to history. Seen from this angle, any imaginative artistic work might be called poetic.” I found it very interesting that something could be contrasted with something that many say are the same. Basically it is considered the same thing by some high ups, but not everyone agrees with them. You would think something that has been around for so long would have a genre that was agreed upon. Genre in the broad sense of fiction and non-fiction. 

But if you think about the disagreement over where to put poetry, it kind of makes sense. I mean if you look at poetry, some of it is fictional. For example, Edgar Allen Poe’s work, Elizabeth, is a known work of fiction. But on the other hand, people write poems about their lives. One example of this is Arthenia’s Birthday by Randy Johnson, which is about the loss of Arthenia. Both of these are poems that fall on both sides of the spectrum. But if there are known poems on each side, why do people try to put poetry in either category?

For my INTD 105 class, we read an essay by Mark Twain called Corn-pone Opinions, in which Twain talked about people’s need to conform to society. Twain wrote, 

“The black philosopher’s idea was that a man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter. If he would prosper, he must train with the majority; in matters of large moment, like politics and religion, he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors, or suffer damage in his social standing and in his business prosperities.”

 Now since, according to Twain, we as people are constantly trying to conform to society, maybe we too try to shove things into categories. I wrote a blog post at the beginning of the semester about our need to categorize things into genres based on our need to characterize Vlepo in which I discussed more how we are always trying to push people into boxes. I think maybe the same thing applies to poetry.  Maybe we are all trying to shove poetry into a box, where really it should be the box things get shoved in too. Shoving poetry into either fiction or non-fiction would be like putting your moving box in your stuff instead of putting your stuff in the box. Poetry should be a box that contains the two boxes of fiction and non-fiction inside of it, not the other way around. 

Now you may be thinking why should I care about what category poetry falls into, but I think it reflects the society around it. It especially represents my life; put together on the outside, but in a huge state of confusion on the inside. Imagine how much stress you would have if you wrote a series of poems but now you are told to categorize all your poems under one title. It is restrictive to our creativity and boxes us into either only fiction or nonfiction expressions of themselves. And although we like to put things into boxes, no one wants to feel like they are trapped in one.

Art, Wine, and “Logic”

Percival Everett’s Logic can have many meanings. More specifically, the poems may be understood as discussing art and wine like your average lifestyle magazine. Not to say these poems are not well written and beautiful, but I just think that these interpretations are especially interesting. While I picked up on the wine, my friend, Lauren Silverman picked up on the art, helping form this idea. 

First, I am going to start with wine. Now I first thought of this when I was trying to “unpack” what Everett meant when he wrote, “preserved in Paris maybe,” in poem four. It hit me here that wine can be stored for a long time before it’s bottled so that it tastes better, and that France is one of the major wine growing countries. Then, I noticed other hints of wine references such as “cellar” in poem five, the discussion of colors in poem four, the “olive skin” in poem three, and the “broken into pieces,” in poem one. The reference to the cellar can draw to wine cellars in fancy restaurants or homes. It talks about rats coming from dirty rags, which means there must have been something there to draw the rats to the cellar. I don’t know much about wine or rats but I have a feeling rats would be attracted to wine. The colors reference in the fourth poem could refer to the different colors of wine: white, and red. The reference to olive skin tones made me think of wine country. In places like Italy and Greece, grapes are grown for wine, and their native skin has more yellow undertones. The grapes grown are mostly used to make wine. Finally, the wine bottles can be easily broken into pieces, causing me to connect most of the poems under wine. I’m sure if I knew more about wine, I could find other connections, but the only things I know is stuff I picked up from my relatives. 

Next, I am going to discuss the connections to art. For this one, I’m going to discuss it poem by poem. The first poem I think is about the composition of art. When you are painting a picture, you have to divide your painting up into sections in a circular fashion so that your eye is constantly being drawn to different parts of the piece with one focus. Instead of asking about the focus, maybe Everett is asking “which way it points”, as in which way is my eye drawn. Also, the question if “it can be broken into pieces” can be a reference to the division of the work so your eye moves.  Everett asks directly about color, which is a major aspect of art. Even if the work is in black and white, it was the artists choice to use that color scheme. Art can also be compared to other art, so maybe that’s what the “host of familiar cases” is in reference to. In the second poem, all things are made up of molecules and atoms, so the art fits under that umbrella of all things. Also, when discussing parts, you can again be talking about the components of art: either in mediums or composition. In the third poem, it talks about parts, which lie the other poems can be used to discuss composition. It then goes into a description of a woman, which can also be a reference to art, since the woman could be painted. In the fourth poem, it talks about color samples, which could be used to paint rooms. This may not seem like art, but murals can be painted with room paint since they are painted on walls. Also, it discusses Paris, which is home to many art museums, including the Louvre. Places like this can store art in their storage facilities, where no one can see them. These storage facilities could be described in the fifth poem, or as they describe it: a cellar. In the sixth and final poem, Maybe the seven men were painted. This one might be a stretch but if they are painted and the painting is destroyed, “Seven men are lost, but not seven,” paintings. 

I have no idea if any of these are right, but I think the art one is especially strong. If I had to guess, I would say that one is more likely, but I find it very Everett like for a poem to be written about wine. In this I mean, Everett seems like the kind of guy who knows a lot about wine and does the thing where you swirl it around and talk about its legs. Whether or not the interpretations are true or not, interpretations like these help us better understand the text at hand. Also, knowing more interpretations can help us decide what we think the text is about. Poetry does have a message, but it is what you get out of it that really matters.

Body, Blazon and [B]interdisciplinary

Percival Everett’s Body intervenes in the blazon form. More specifically, the poems may be understood as mocking this idea that the sciences are separate from the humanities. According to the poetry foundation, blazon is, “A literary blazon (or blason) catalogues the physical attributes of a subject, usually female.” This is seen throughout the series of poems as Everett describes different parts of the female body starting with The Hyoid Bone and ending with The Epigastric. Each poem uses flowery language to describe the part of the body, which goes against what many think is proper. As discussed in both Metaphor is Hard Science, and Interdisciplinarity chapter 5, those in both disciplines are interconnected, whether those who study it want to believe them or not.

For some reason, tensions have built between these disciplines, both having a major superiority complex. I admit to having discussions defending the humanities to my biology major friends. One consistently says that people who are English majors don’t work as hard as people, like herself, who are bio majors. My response is our understanding of the nuances of language which makes what she does possible. Now, I have metaphors for proof of this, but the point of this blog post is not to prove that my major is superior to others. The point is that the rivalry between the two affects all levels of the fields. 

It is this rivalry that I believe lead to Percival Everett to write Body. I believe this because Everett seems like the kind of guy who likes to stir the pot, per se. This might be wrong, but from his writing, I picked up on how he writes what he feels, no matter what. He likes to shed light on important issues, yes, but he also likes to make fun of them at the same time. I have a feeling this is what he was doing with Body. He was proving he could be both artistic and scientifically accurate at the same time. To put it frankly, he wanted to prove the scientists wrong, and maybe even make them a little angry. If this is true, I might actually like Everett for how petty he is. 

This interpretation solves the question I’m sure you had, since I too had it, about what in tarnation led Everett to write a series of poems about the female body. Not only why, but why he wrote it the way he did. He wrote it in a way that only scientists could understand with all of the vocabulary words he used while also making it flow like any other poem. I find this very impressive, but without knowing the conversation between disciplines, it would have left me confused. Although my interpretation is based on Everetts writing style in his past works and what that leads me to believe about his personality.

 Now you may be asking why should I care? And to this question, I say that knowing the intentions, or guessing at them, makes the meaning of the piece change. I say guess because we will never know what Everett’s intentions are unless he tells us, which probably won’t happen any time soon. While some say knowing the author’s intentions should not change its meaning, I disagree. Literary Analysis: the Basics by Celena Kusch cites William Faulkner’s introduction of context to his work The Sound and the Fury with a picture he based the book off of. The same can be said about the conversation that Everett was responding to. So, knowing the interpretation could alter how you look at the piece.

Isn’t it Ironic

Irony is one of the most versatile literary devices. Versatile in the way it can be used in any genre and is in most novels even if just in a small way. Irony, which is defined by The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms as “A contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality.” Irony is one of those terms that I struggle to define without an example, but basically irony is when something said has a double meaning or something happens that the characters didn’t expect. One of my favorite novels All the Bright Places is filled with irony. 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is about two teens in Indiana who meet in really low points in their lives. Since I don’t want to spoil this spectacular book for anyone who has not read it, I suggest to stop reading here as I will have to go into the plot for the ironies to make sense. Now that you have been warned about this I also feel I need to give a content warning since this book deals with suicidal thoughts and actions, mental health, bullying, and child abuse. At the bottom of this post, I will leave all the resources the author provides for these serious issues. 

The two main characters of this book are Violet Markey and Theodore Finch. Violet has just come out of a traumatic car crash after a party in which her sister lost her life. Since then, her life has seemed empty and worthless which leads her to break onto the roof and stand on the edge of the bell tower to jump. It is here that she meets Theodore. Theodore is an outcast at school since he voiced to a friend that he goes through the motions of living for extended periods of time. He refers to this as time asleep and times where he is fully alive awake. After “waking up” after months of being “asleep,” Theodore goes back to school and considers jumping off the belltower. From here out, Theodore does whatever he can to get close to Violet. He requests her for his partner for an assignment about exploring Indiana. He makes it his goal to make her happy again, while he himself questioning “Is today a good day to die?… Is today the day? And if not today–when?” This sad statement is repeated throughout the book and leads to several failed suicide attempts and finally to his death. This can be seen as ironic that he is drowning in his own mental health while trying to get someone off the ledge. I think it is good to note that Theodore is undiagnosed bipolar and deals with social alienation according to Course Hero, where Violet’s suicidal thoughts are temporary, from an event in her life, not a chemical imbalance. 

This irony continues throughout the novel where Theodore pushes Violet to move on from her accident and write again. This leads to another ironic moment in the novel. When in Violet’s perspective, she describes scenes in a picturesque way, even making up little stories about all the people they meet on their travels. This is seen as ironic as she says things like “Ten months ago, I would have sat beside them, drinking beer and fitting in, and writing witty commentary in my head: She puts the words out there on purpose, like a lawyer trying to lead a jury. ‘Objection, Miss Monk.’ ‘So sorry. Please disregard’ But it is too late because the jury has heard the words and latched on to them–if he likes her, she must like him in return… But now I stand there, feeling dull and out of place and wondering how I was ever friends with Amanda to begin with.” As you can see, she does exactly what old her would’ve done, but says she can’t. 

The next scene is ironic in multiple ways. On the bell tower, Theodore talks Violet down from killing herself, but then shouts “‘Thanks for saving me, Violet. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come along. I guess I would be dead right now.’” This statement leads to many people praising Violet and writing about what a hero she is. This is ironic because she is not the hero everyone thinks she is. It is Theodore that saves her, and even in the end, Violet couldn’t save Theodore. This is originally ironic due to the recognition she gets for saving someone who in reality saved her. It then becomes ironic because, at the end of the day, nothing Violet did or could’ve done could have stopped Theodore from killing himself. 

Another way Theodore’s killing himself is ironic is in how he does it. When first talking to Violet, the quote Virginia Woolf’s suicide note to each other. This is ironic because, in the end, both Finch and Woolf kill themselves in the same way. For those who don’t know, “In March of 1941, after three serious breakdowns, Virginia Woolf wrote a note to her husband and walked to a nearby river. She shoved heavy stones into her pocket and dove into the water.” This particular quote is pulled from a scene where Theodore tries to drown himself in his bathtub. This is another allusion which makes it so ironic that he chose this method.

These are only some of the more prevalent ironies in this novel. Hopefully, this better explains irony, and makes you want to read this important novel on mental health. This novel not only sheds light on important topics but is also one of the most well-written books I’ve ever read.

Suicide prevention: American Association of Suicidology (ASS) American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) IMAlive National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255)

Diagnosing Mental Illness in Teens: Helpguide Mental Health America (MHA) National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Teen Mental Health

Survivors: Mayo Clinic SOS: A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide by Jeffrey Jackson (published by AAS)

Bullying: Stomp Out Bullying StopBullying

Abuse: Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453

Realism, Intertextuality, and Picaresque Novels Oh My

In reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett, I took notice of the obvious intertextuality between the book and Sidney Poitier movies. For those who don’t know, intertextuality is defined as, “The web of interrelationships among texts of various times and contexts, including indebtedness to earlier plots, common metaphors, idioms, and other literary figures, and other influences,” by Celena Kusch’s Literary Analysis the basics. Basically, this is how texts relate to each other. Some believe that text refers solely to written works, but according to The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray, “Other critics include nonwritten material, such as images or music, in the designation text, as long as that material has been isolated for analysis.” This would include the Sidney Poitier movies, such as The Defiant Ones and Lilies of the Field. The whole novel is a string of references similar to these. This leads me to my biggest pet peeve of this novel.

My biggest pet peeve about this book is that the author strung together movies and put a slight twist on them. This frustrates me for many reasons one of which is that we, as writers, get penalized for plagiarism, yet Everett does just that throughout this book. In class we watched the Sidney Poitier movie The Defiant Ones, where two criminals escape jail after a car crash causing them to run from the law. This same thing happens in Everetts book only differing slightly in character names, details, and outcomes. These seem like major differences but the details are so small and a character name change is insignificant for the most part. The only major change I would say is made is that Not Sidney gets away instead of getting caught with his escapee. One could assume these changes were made to make the book more realistic. In class, Professor McCoy told us that she picked up on this in The Defiant Ones most when the officer goes out alone and then puts his gun away, which would not have happened at the time due to the intense racism in the south. This scene was cut altogether and was replaced by the escape scene, was seen as more realistic. I find this ironic because many other aspects of the novel unrealistic. 

After the escape, Not Sidney goes back to his everyday life in Atlanta. It is like nothing ever happened, which to me seems unrealistic. How can one go from on the run to living life in a mansion only slightly embarrassed that you failed to set out on your own. In real life, after escaping jail, you don’t just show up back home and pretend like it never happened. Also, I was interested to see how he would get out of jail after he got back. Would he just pay them off or would he sue for being wrongfully arrested. These are things that you would think would realistically happen after escaping jail, but alas, life goes back to how it was and he decides to go to college instead. I understand that Everett was trying to make I Am Not Sidney Poitier a picaresque novel, but in turn made it extremely unrealistic. 

For those of you who don’t know, The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms by Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray defines a picaresque novel as “a novel that realistically recounts the adventures of a carefree but engaging rascal who always manages to escape by the skin of his or her teeth.” This novel fits relatively well into this definition. Not Sidney tells the story in a carefree way, but still kept me engaged throughout the novel. Although I wouldn’t call all of his reactions in the novel realistic, for the most part, he appeared to be a normal boy who dealt with peculiar circumstances. My personal opinion is that Not Sidney let a lot of things happen to him, and did little to change his fate, which to me is an unrealistic reaction. For example, when his girlfriend’s sister performed oral sex he simply sat back and let it happen. Yes, he did seem to enjoy it, but he didn’t want to cheat. Not Sidney was even uncomfortable at first, but still, just let her perform oral sex. Again showing how unrealistic the novel really is.

 As I said before, Everett tried to use intertextuality to put a realistic twist on Sidney Poitier movies. In his attempts, however, he only made them more unrealistic to me. From the way The Defiant Ones transitions to the way Sidney reacts to certain things, like his girlfriend’s sister, I would most definitely not call this a realistic novel. I would, however, call it a picaresque novel.

Canon and its Application in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

A few weeks back, we were asked to read the introduction to Literary Analysis the basics by Celena Kusch. When I read this, I remember stopping when I got to the word “canonical.” Me being the huge Harry Potter nerd thought about how books can be seen as canon to a series. For those who don’t understand the Harry Potter connection, there is a big debate over whether or not the Cursed Child is seen as canon. Now I am probably the only one who thinks this funny that the literary definition is about religious books, where we now use it when discussing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. 

Though the application of the word has expanded over the years, I think it’s important to consider how subjective the word canon is. The literary definition states whether or not a book has “importance, influence, brilliance, and exemplary qualities,” which cannot be measured (7). How can you compare writing and decide what is of value and what’s not? You can break down conventions, or use of literary devices, but these are mostly used for educational purposes. Over the years, what was seen as important has shifted; this makes it hard to distinguish what is still important to us today. For instance, literature written by minorities were often ignored throughout history, but that doesn’t make them not important to us today. 

About whether something is canon to a series has a slightly different meaning. According to Wikipedia, canon in fiction “is the material accepted as officially part of the story in the fictional universe of that story. It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction.” This definition seems to leave nothing up to interpretation, but I see some issues. What defines “officially accepted?” Is it what the author says or is it the reader’s opinion that matters? This might seem like an obvious answer, but when it comes to the Cursed Child is a slippery slope.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Harry Potter series, it follows a boy from the ages of 11 to 17 and his experiences with a new, magical world, and his past. At the end of the series, we are given an epilogue, wrapping up the story with each of the characters and their families. This is where the Cursed Child starts. It continues with the children of the characters and if you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now. The son of Harry and Ginny, Albus, goes to travel through time with the son of Draco, Scorpius, to save Cedric. They end up succeeding and Voldemort comes back with his daughter at his side. 

Now that you have both definitions of canon and how it changes throughout history and the basic plot, we can go into whether it can be considered canon. Now Super Carlin Brothers uploaded a video where J discusses how it shouldn’t be canon, even though J.K. Rowling tweeted otherwise. I happen to agree with the points he made. The two major plot holes in the cursed child are seen with the time turner and how it works. In the canon book series, Rowling sets up a method for time travel that doesn’t leave loose ends. In this system, you can’t constantly meddle with time because a new timeline isn’t made with each attempt. Harry and Hermoine stay on the same timeline throughout their mission to save Buckbeak and Sirius. Everything they do already happened in the past. This makes it so you cant constantly change what has happened, which doesn’t leave readers with questions like why don’t you go back in time and kill Voldemort. This was a smart writing move that didn’t make her past work irrelevant as the Cursed Child did. The Cursed Child takes the one timeline rule and throws it out the window. Scorpius and Albus create several timelines throughout the cursed child, all of which have some problems that I will get into later. This creation of timelines completely disregards the canon books, which means that it cant possibly canon. How can something canon contradict itself? 

Another major problem with the time turners is one of the final timelines. When Albus disappears, Scorpius decides that Harry must’ve died because Cedric killed Neville so the snake is still alive. This causes Harry to die in the battle, but that just doesn’t make sense. These events don’t necessarily correlate. Yes, Neville did kill the snake which made it possible for Voldemort to die, but Voldemort not dying doesn’t guarantee Harry’s death. As J explained, it just means that Voldemort doesn’t die. Harry would still be the master of the elder wand, causing Voldemort to kill Snape. But in this timeline, Snape survives somehow and Harry dies. This not only doesn’t make sense but also underminds the final book of the series. 

Other smaller flaws in the Cursed Child include, but aren’t limited to the changing of Cedric’s character to make him a Deatheater, Voldemort day existing despite the fear of his name, Voldemort having a baby with Bellatrix, and the fact that Hermoine and Ron would’ve never fallen in love if it wasn’t for jealously. I particularly have a problem with Voldemort having a baby. For someone who we were constantly told can’t love to have a child just seems far fetched. Not only that, Bellatrix was never pregnant in any of the books. This could be explained by her not showing yet, but wouldn’t make sense due to her constant appearances and time in Azkaban. We see her at the end of the fifth book, shortly after being freed from Azkaban in the battle at the Ministry of Magic. We then see her in the summertime at the beginning of the sixth book going to talk to snape without a baby. She is then seen at the top of the belltower, again without any sign of a baby. We then see her in a meeting with Voldemort at the beginning of the seventh book and again in Malfoy Manor in the middle of the book and finally dies at the end. This doesn’t give her enough time to get knocked up and then give birth. Not only this, her daughter is never mentioned on the Pottermore page section dedicated to her. If these books were considered canon, there would be mention of the characters in the official site for all things Harry Potter. This website can be considered canon in some aspects including the character bio mentioned and other articles written by J.K. Rowling herself. 

But not everything that comes from J.K. Rowling can be considered canon. She has mentioned things in interviews that go against the series, and are not canon. These things are just as informal as a tweet, which is the only leg the cursed child has to stand on. This is why it is clear that there is no way the Cursed Child can be canon without undermining the whole series. 

Categorization in Society

Recently, we discussed the categorization of books into genres and characters into boxes. In particular, we discussed the categorization of Vlepo in Percival Evertt’s novel Frenzy. In my group, Sara, in discussing who Vlepo was, stumbled through pronouns until finally landing on “it.” This got me thinking about how, in society, we tend to try to force people into boxes. According to BC Campus, in doing so, it makes our lives easier. They stated that the benefit of categorization is that we don’t have to take the time to get to know a person before deciding who they are. Although this reasoning is sound, I disagree. I believe that in categorizing someone, we are making assumptions about someone based on their gender or race. This to me just seems to state that every white girl is the same, which is not true. Not every white girl wears UGGs and drinks pumpkin spice lattes, but also people who don’t fit the category of a white girl can enjoy these things. The article also mentions that it can be dangerous to group people of outgroups together, but I don’t see the benefit in any circumstance. 

If we assume that people who look the same identify in the same way, we can not only look foolish, but we can also offend people. Although this next example was a meme a few years ago, we can assume people’s gender. In doing so, you can use the wrong pronouns and make people uncomfortable and upset. Things like this could very easily be fixed if we just took the time to ask people what their pronouns instead of assuming. This is just one of many ways we can offend by categorizing people as we do with books and characters. 

We can also offend people by assuming correctly. Hear me out on this one. I am a straight, white, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, female. With these details of me, you are probably picturing a basic white girl. Now this assumption of me is true. I do consider myself to be basic, but I don’t want to be called that. I don’t want to be generalized into a category because there is so much more to me than Starbucks and UGGs. Other people feel the same way. In a video on youtube, Daniel Howell came out as queer. In this video, he discussed many things. One of the things he discussed is how as a kid people called him gay, which he later discovered to be true. He went on to discuss how people continued to try to guess his sexuality up until that point. Dan told his followers that, even though they were right in their assumption that he was not straight, he did not like people guessing in the comments nor did he want people who guessed right to say “we knew” when they found out. Although Dan’s experience is not on the same level as mine, the concept of people labeling you behind your back, even if it’s correct, is unnerving. 

Tying this back to class, Professor McCoy discussed how categorization is a part of life. I recall Professor McCoy mentioning how categorizing makes things easier for us to understand. I see where she is coming from with this. If you categorize something, it takes the mystery out of it. For example, with books, many people like certain genres over others. Personally, I don’t like historical fiction as much as I like realistic fiction or fantasy. So when Lauren told me to read The Book Thief, I mentally decided that, no matter what she said about the book, I won’t be interested. It was through this categorization that I rode off what might be the best book ever. You can see the damage this can do if this is done with people. 

Bringing this back to where it all started, Sara’s struggle to put Vlepo in a box shows how as humans we are constantly trying to categorize things. Some things are harder than others, but when it comes to people, we should try to avoid making assumptions. Making assumptions, even if they are true, can be hurtful. So next time you meet someone, try to block out your judgemental subconscious and ask questions. Let people tell you the facts about them instead of coming up with your own work of fiction. And you know what they say about when you assume. I’ll let you fill in that one yourself.

Misunderstandings in writing of all forms

Over the past two weeks, I have found myself thinking about suspicious pants more and more. When I first looked at the pants, I could not understand why they were so special, nor why they were on the syllabus for my English 203 class. Since it was summer, I pushed the pants out of my head and went back to relaxing by the pool. I didn’t put much more thought into the pants until the first day of class. After being told to interpret the pants, I was left stuck. I mean, they were just pants. What is so special about a pair of pants draped over a chair? Neither I nor my group understood that it was not the pants that we were interpreting. But the caption. The twitter post was captioned “Suspicious pants.” I didn’t pick up on this at first, but the sentence can be interpreted in many ways. Were we suspicious of the pants, or are they suspicious of us? When one of my classmates brought that up, I started to understand the beauty of the pants. It was at that point Profesor McCoy quoted Percival Everett’s Erasure “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood.” This resonates with me because not only did it make the pants assignment make sense, but it also got me thinking about how, with social media, it is becoming harder and harder to get the real meaning. Still using the pants example, if you heard the caption spoken, maybe you could decipher its meaning.
My mother always used to tell me to never text your friends about important things or during arguments, because you can easily misinterpret what they are saying without hearing their voice. Now everyone always knows that your mother is always right, but it was at this moment I realized how right she was. The Odyssey Online wrote an article discussing how, through social media, miscommunications are becoming more common. This is due to the many parts of unspoken social cues that drive the conversation. For more on nonverbal communication and the science behind it, check out The Nonverbal Group. When things are written, it is very easy to misinterpret a text, tweet, or even a book due to the missing conversational cues. I’m sure everyone has read a book for school and come in to discuss it and find out that they misinterpreted the entire thing. Although recently Professor McCoy has discussed that there are many interpretations and none of them are wrong, I have definitely had my fair share of way off the mark interpretations. Some of my worst interpretations, however, were not based on literature. I’m sure everyone has misread a text in a way that made the sender seem mad, or passive-aggressive. It these misinterpretations that cause arguments and end friendships. I think that the tweet in reference shows just how easy it is for a message to get lost.
It is at this point that I am wondering whether this was a problem back in the letter-writing days. I’m sure it must have been. Even though the language is always changing and evolving, language couldn’t have evolved too much over the past 50 years. Not enough to have really made a difference in our understanding of writing. But also, if language could be understood so easily 50 years ago, why would we struggle with it today? Have we gone backward since the days of writing letters? Or maybe it is not the writing, but the proofing. If language was understood years ago, maybe the act of proofreading made it easier to understand. Today, very few make sure their texts make sense before the send them. Very few check their grammar and spelling before posting a tweet. Maybe that is what my mother was always talking about. If one reads over their message or post before they send it, they can clear up any grey area in the message.
I doubt this would solve anything. Everyone thinks differently, which I believe is the point of the exercise Professor McCoy had us do on the first day of class. To show that everyone has a different mindset and point of view. No one will see anything the same way. We all bring different things to the table. On the discussion of the pants, I questioned the meaning of the account name, while my group member, Kevin, discussed how humans see faces in almost anything, which leads us to see the face in the pants. Both are different interpretations of the same thing.
If we can have so many interpretations of something as basic as a tweet about “Suspicious pants,” then imagine what other things people can see in different ways. From pieces of art to the dress from 2015, everyone sees things differently. The most important thing when interpreting things is to remember that everyone has their own interpretation and they are all valid. If we can open up and listen to other people’s interpretations, even if they are about pants, you can learn something new, and maybe even get a blog post out of it.