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, 


Hannah Myers, Nicole Barnes, Jordan Wilson, Maddie Bigelow, Olive Niccoli, Myah Dombroski, Hanna Proaper

When trying to find meaning out of nonsense, it has become ironic that our group’s journey has looked similar to Not Sidney’s experiences throughout the novel. Through frustration and confusion, we have taken pieces of the novel that have no specific importance and realized how they can change the whole perspective of the book and our thought process. At first, our group came up with nothing. When discussing moves two and three, we researched the names of the nuns which seemed to have no purpose at all. As readers, we tend to overlook things as simple as a name. When given this prompt, we dug deeper into our thinking and how these names can have more connections and symbolization than we thought to believe. In the end, irony resulted in the fact that similarly to professor Everett in the text, we as a group had to make something out of nothing, just like Not Sidney. We will be unpacking our journey as a group, the names of the nuns and their significance, and how this all ties into I am Not Sidney Poitier

When discussing where to start with this essay, our group felt utterly stuck. We had a whirlwind of thoughts swirling around, yet we couldn’t seem to pinpoint a single idea. In I am Not Sidney Poitier, Not Sidney comes across Professor Everett along his path, and his experiences with him are quite odd. Everett presents a lecture that is described as gibberish and useless. A  quote is given that sums up a unified feeling our group has felt the last few classes; “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” (Everett 100). From this, we can see that Everett’s students were seeing nonsense in its full effect. Similarly, we have felt that all of our ideas for this task have been nonsense when in reality we have truly made so much meaning out of nothing! Professor Everett reminds us of our own professor, Beth McCoy, whereas Everett encourages his students to slow down and think. Furthermore, he stresses the importance of interpreting things under your own impressions, because there is never one correct answer in a class that depends heavily on the analysis of the text. This journey of the students felt personal to our journey on this assignment, as we have had to slow down, think, and truly interpret this text in ways that our group believes are best understood.

When reading through the book the first time, looking at the names of the nuns in the novel didn’t seem very important. The names of the nuns in the novel have been changed from the names of nuns in the movie. The names of the nuns in the books are the names of bishops and historians. Reading through the book the first time, the name change as well as the significance of the names don’t seem like they mean much. However, once we went back and looked at the names again, and researched them, we saw that the names had more significance than we originally thought. In the book, the nuns were written to be seen as not very intelligent as well as not being important characters. However, their names were the names of scholars who were well-educated people. This then shows that the nuns, and the name change, may appear to have  more meaning than we originally interpreted. Though there is no absolute reason behind the name change it is through us looking at the meaning of the names and what we previously had known about Percival Everett that led us to believe that he could have meant a lot more than just the basic idea of changing the names. 

I, Nicole, believe that the names of the nuns are fully nonsense. They have no specific meaning, nor was I expected to know that they had a deeper meaning. This matters because it defines the idea that interpretations can be up to one’s perception. Percival Everett once said “it is incredible a sentence is ever understood.” Under my own interpretation, a sentence can never be fully understand the same way by every single individual, therefore it is impeccable a sentence can ever be understood at all. When it is, it is understood in multiple different ways, which is completely okay, and makes for so many more ideas to bounce off of. 

I, Hannah, found that everything can be interpreted differently. Throughout the novel, there was irony in many parts including the name change once research and thinking took place. It can be exhausting going through what others may be thinking for there is not an exact answer for what one could mean. This matters for people to learn that there does not always have to be one interpretation or one exact meaning to the things being said. The Nun’s name change could just be a way of Percival Everett changing the story so as to not be copywriting, or it could mean something different like a lesson in learning and interpreting. Slowing down and really connecting what we researched with the names brought me to a point where I have an interpretation of what the meaning could be, though there is not a definite one. 

I, Maddie, believe that not everything has a deeper meaning. Sometimes authors just have to give names to characters, make people do certain things to keep the ball moving. Not everything has to be directed and analyzed to such a high extent. You could change those names or that place, that action and it really wouldn’t have affected the plot much, or at all.I think the nuns names just fit that religion, you have to look at the nuns themselves to compare to the move not their specific qualities, and names, because they are very different. When you pick things apart too much I think it changes the point of the story. As far as move 4 I think there are no clear answers as to who cares because if it doesn’t affect the plot nobody should but the author. Sometimes things don’t mean anything, or happen just because. Not everything has a clear cut, precise answer. 

I, Myah, believe that nonsense doesn’t necessarily mean that something is meaningless, it’s what you take from it. For example, taking Beth’s class you can either use it as a resource to better yourself and your thinking process, or you can just do the bare minimum and do the work like a checklist lor worksheet. By slowing down, talking and thinking together, we are practicing working in good faith, we are expanding our thought processes for completing work meaningfully. Many people from our group had said in many ways, Professor Everett in the novel is much like Professor McCoy, and I agree. Beth allows us to think for ourselves and have our own thoughts, opinions and outlooks. We can think as deep as we wish with these essays and can either write in our responses as a checklist, or allow ourselves to deepen our thinking and create our own meanings to the “nonsense”.

I, Jordan, believe that we put worth into things that mean something to us. At first glance the name changes of the nuns from the movie “Lilies of the Field” to the novel I am Not Sidney Poitier originally meant nothing to our group. Everyone had their own interpretation of why this was done or how it affected the book, but honestly the only person who truly knows why this was done is Percivial Everett himself. I myself learned through this assignment that it was all about finding meaning in the nothing. Everything on a superficial level can have little to no meaning. When you dig a little deeper you find meaning in something that wasn’t originally there, and you can continue to build off that. When I use this assignment to reflect on my education at Geneseo it makes me realize that with everything in life, you only get what you give. If you put minimal effort into something you aren’t going to receive the results you want. But with a little effort, you can find meaning in things that others cannot.

Epigraph Essay

An epigraph can have many definitions. The definition used in this writing is from The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. “A passage printed on the title page or first page of a literary work or at the beginning of a section of such a work. Epigraphs, which tend to set the tone or establish the theme of what follows, are generally taken from earlier, influential texts by authors.” (Murfin). An epigraph used from Percival Everett’s novel Erasure goes on to describe the complications between what is being said and what is being interpreted or done. “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean something, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” (Everett). Words are merely sounds that a person is making. Throughout society, it is not always true what comes out of someone’s mouth. It is whether the person is trustworthy or not that makes words mean something. Within the play, The Bacchae, there were many instances of faulty impressions, whether it is words, actions, or appearances not everything is truthful.

There is a sort of irony in using this specific epigraph of Everetts for this play. It is Dionysus who wants people to believe him and the memory of his mother, that he is, in fact, Zeus’ son. He is not being truthful while trying to gain the trust of his people. His anger towards the mistrust comes through the vengeful appearance he makes. He begins his journey in Thebes as a false human, purposefully disguising himself, to create a theatrically vengeful proclamation of his anger. He plans to trick the people into thinking that he was only a mere human and then surprise them. During a confrontation with his cousin, Pentheus, he is talking about himself in the third person as though he, himself, is not Dionysus, tricking the man into speaking too honestly in front of the God. Dionysus was speaking in truth yet lacked the whole truth. There were instances when he talked in the third person, telling the truth. Then there were moments when it was blatantly lying. “He saw me and I him, and he gave me his rites.” (Euripides). This sentence could be taken a few different ways. One way is that Dionysus is insinuating that he sees himself for what he is worth. The other way to take it is that he is just lying. Euripides’ way with words here gives both impressions. “You hear my words, Pentheus, but you pay no attention to them.” (Euripides). The conversation that Dionysus had with Pentheus had many insinuations about the fact that the God himself was right in front of him. His enunciations of “I” during statements regarding the God gave hints towards to concept of he, himself, being Dionysus.   

Dionysus took his anger out on many people who did not regard him as his true person, the son of Zeus. His mother’s sisters were no exception to his wrath. “For this reason, I have spurred those same sisters to madness and driven them in distraction from their houses.” (Euripides). Dionysus, upset over his Aunts not believing in his true kinship, decides it best to make the women believe that they are mad, when they are not actually mad, out of anger. “I bring here in my arms, as you see, this prize of my valour, to be hung on your palace roof.” (Euripides). At the end of the play, it is discovered that Agaue, in midst of her man-made madness, falsely killed a lion which was actually her son. Her reality is not an honest one for, Dionysus has created a false reality that led to her praising the death of her son unknowingly. 

According to the Legal Information Institute, the definition of bad faith is: “Depending on the exact setting, bad faith may mean a dishonest belief or purpose, untrustworthy performance of duties, neglect of fair dealing standards, or a fraudulent intent.” (“Bad Faith”). Throughout schooling, it can get easy to make up lies, even a little one. The overbearing weight of procrastinating for so long that it is almost impossible to get the assignment done on time. Even writing this essay mistakes were made on my part, not remembering the due date, so here on a Thursday night, the essay is being written so that it is almost completed before work tomorrow. There are two ways to go about this situation. The first one is to lie about an extenuating circumstance and ask for an extension, though it is completely my fault for not knowing the due date. The other is to own up to the mistake made and work hard to get the assignment done. The first one is considered bad faith, a lie. The way to best go about the situation is to keep better track of assignments and make sure that my intentions and actions are always good and honest. 

It can be hard, to be honest, and own up to mistakes that you made especially if you lied about one. In high school, it was easy to get away with lying about doing something as simple as the readings for class. The punishment for not readying was not much in high school. They are not always going to find out about the lie. Going into college it is essential to do the readings. It is an essential part of being a student. It is best for my education to continue to do the readings for classes to be honest. The honest work being done through the readings and writings will make my education easier down the road.  

Percival Everett’s epigraph can be interpreted in multiple ways. Words are words. It is the meaning behind the words that matter. People have a tendency of lying. The intention that they have is not being portrayed through their words. Sometimes it can be done by anger, sadness, or just being scared. Throughout the story of The Bacchae, there were many instances where they were not truthful both with their words and appearances. This was due to the anger that Dionysus had towards the people who did not believe in him. There are instances of partial truths but, that also means they are partial lies. This can be something that commonly happens in real life for people may find it easier to lie than, to be honest. There are instances where this can happen during daily life. Whether it is in a novel or in real life, words can be hard to understand. The intentions behind them may not always be honest ones. 

Works Cited

“Bad Faith.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 

Euripides. The Bacchae and Other Plays. Penguin Books, 2005. 

Everett, Percival. Erasure. Graywolf Press, 2011.

Murfin, Ross C., and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Fourth ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018.