Final Self-Reflective Essay

“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.”– Percival Everett, Erasure

At the beginning of this semester, I remember coming into this class thinking it would be more essays and writing than thinking, processing, and understanding. I came into this class with little understanding of the kind of work we would actually be dealing with. I thought it would be more about writing essays rather than caring about the process that takes place before actually taking a seat and writing one. This process of thinkING – over time – gave me bigger opportunities to succeed in writing a good analysis or whatever the inquiry was. I would’ve never expected there to be so many of our class days to be filled with brain-powering and mind blowing discussions. It feels like it was just yesterday when we first went over the course epigraphs, specifically the “Suspicious Pants” tweet. This tweet is a picture of a pair of pants with the caption “Suspicious pants.” It has buttons on the back that make it look like it has eyes, and wrinkles under the “eyes” that make it look like eyelids.  Even though the readers know it’s not real, we still put a face and perspective on this pair of pants which leads to the term ‘pareidolia’. According to Merriam-Webster, pareidolia is “the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous pattern.” To sum it all up, the point that Professor McCoy tried to get across was the idea of perspective and how “it’s incredible that a sentence could ever be understood.” – Percival Everett (Erasure). Some of us believed that the pants were suspicious of something or someone as if they were their own person. The rest of us thought that the pants were suspicious as if they committed a crime. I remember those conversations so clearly that day, as they made me thINK deeply, and it gave me opportunities to process the other perspectives that my peers had. Sitting here writing this trying to “string” the sounds and thoughts together from all our previous conversations is so complicated, making everything about this final essay so ironic – “it’s incredible that a sentence could ever be understood” – Percival Everett (Erasure), much less words, sounds and thoughts.

The next deep dive into literature that we took was The Bacchae & Frenzy. The words were complicated and the sentences felt like trying to read a book in an entirely different language, without any previous knowledge that the language existed. The Bacchae is a Greek play involving mythological gods and creatures. When I first started reading, I didn’t really know how to process the information because its complex word usage, including names and places, tripped me up several times. The Bacchae was first written in 405 BC in Greek. It was translated to English at some point and was clearly different from the way it has been written now, in innumerable ways. The translation definitely could’ve mixed up how the story is written in English, which could be a valid reason for the confusion while reading. Now Frenzy is a little bit different. First of all, it was written by Percival Everett who, according to wikipedia, is a distinguished English professor at University of Southern California. Second, he rewrote Frenzy so that it was more legible for students in the 21st century. He incorporated the same characters in Frenzy as The Bacchae, but changed the names. 

I have just realized that we’ve actually seen this before with the name changes between the 1963 film Lilies of the Field and the short scenes in the end of I Am Not Sidney Poitier. In the previous collaborative essay, we talked about the name changes that Percival Everett made were nonsense, which they very well could be. But being able to finally see a pattern in Everett’s writing style is quite interesting. It allows the readers to be able to connect his stories from his separate pieces and incorporate them into the way he expresses his work. Now looking back on it, realizing that there were name changes in several of Everett’s works does point to some sort of importance. Why he made those changes is still not completely clear, but acknowledging that they are there in the first place is a good start on the path to comprehension. 

In my experience, it needed to be read over and over again in order to at least partially understand the story. There were conversations taking place in and out of the classroom – everyone tried to decipher the sentences all together because of the complexities of the words. It’s even more ironic because the words throughout the story weren’t the hardest part to even understand; it was the end product of the words “strung together” that created even more complicated sentences. I discovered later on that I wasn’t able to fully understand The Bacchae without first understanding Frenzy. For example, in The Bacchae, it says “Newly arrived in this land of Thebes, I am Dionysus, son of Zeus, child of Cadmus, once bore, delivered by the lightning-flame.” (128) At first, seeing the density of the play was very overwhelming. I felt like not even one sentence could help me understand the background of the story. However, in Frenzy, the play is set up like a novel, while the play itself is contained in a book. “Dionysos was Bakkhos was Iakkhos was Bromius was Dithyrambos was Evius. He was the product of the looseness of Zeus, god of imprudent tool, and of Semele, daughter of Kadmos of Thebes.” (Everett, 1) It may first start off in a confusing way – where the words feel never ending – but the background information afterwards is much easier to read rather than a constant loop of names being presented to the readers like in the beginning of The Bacchae. In short, Frenzy was Percival Everett’s full comprehension of The Bacchae. I never thought that trying to understand a singular story would be so difficult, even in the simplest way – just reading, re-reading, and having conversations about the unique perspectives that each of my peers had about the plot of the story in the first place. Anyone invested in this would ask me what the importance is. Well, as my peers and I have discovered time and time again, there is no true understanding of anything if there is no time to process, think, and talk about it; as we have been taught to write ideas without truly thinking and processing them throughout middle and high school. If something is truly important and has some kind of meaning, then there’s always going to be growth. There will be growth in understanding until the moment you fall back into the deep abyss of confusion. But, as Percival Everett says in Erasure, “it’s incredible a sentence is ever understood.” I have never heard anything more true in my life before this ENGL 203 class. Every time Professor McCoy says that one line, my perspective changes on everything. Once again, sitting here writing this trying to “string” the sounds and thoughts together from all our previous conversations is so complicated, making everything about this final essay so ironic – “it’s incredible that a sentence could ever be understood” – Percival Everett (Erasure), much less words, sounds and thoughts.

Are we sure that we completely understand what’s going on? What anyone is ever saying? Are we ever sure of anything?? We may never know, and I guess some people would call that Nonsense. The next book we read was I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Honestly one of the most interesting, most mind blowing books I’ve ever read. According to wikipedia, Sidney Poitier was the first black actor and first Bahamian to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He’s played in several movies, including but not limited to: The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Lilies of the Field, and No Way Out. While reading, I have found myself constantly asking my peers what was going on because the plots and settings changed so much so fast. I know that we all started to question why, and the reason being is that Percival Everett decided to take the plots from each of the movies that Sidney Poitier played in and submerged them into the already tangled inner workings of the book. You’re probably wondering why Everett would do such a thing – make the story even more confusing. Well, the main character’s name is Not Sidney. The thing about perspective here is all in the title. I Am Not Sidney Poitier. It either comes off as Not saying he is himself, Not Sidney, or he is not the actor, Sidney Poitier – and at this point it could be either, depending on the reader’s perspective. The title of this novel definitely reminds me of the first epigraph we went over within the first few days of class; “Suspicious Pants”. Within the simplicity of the wording of both the tweet and the title of the book, there’s some complexity coming from the perspectives that readers tend to get confused by, and don’t discover that others  may be reading and processing the same title differently. While reading through this, I have found myself to be confused as well. The thing is, it’s very hard to put something into words when no one, including myself, will ever fully understand what anyone else is saying. Hence, “it’s incredible a sentence is ever understood.” – Percival Everett (Erasure) 

There’s only one week left before the semester ends and I must say that this class will always be a reference for future classes, careers, and every life direction out there. The knowledge itself is not the only thing I will gain from this class to use in my future. It will be of good use for management, organization, success in leadership, and most importantly, perspective. It will allow me to ask questions about the real meaning of concepts and conversations, places and miscellaneous objects. It will give me a broader snapshot of reality and beyond. 

Confidence With Identity: I Absolutely Am Not

Brian Malgieri, Allison Tober, Nina Avallone-Serra, Kevin Malone, Heirut Miller, Caitlin Crowe, Amber Ellis

Lilies of the Field is a 1963 film starring Sidney Poitier as Homer Smith, a down on his luck handyman. The movie starts with Homer’s car breaking down on the property of German-Austrian-Hungarian Catholic nuns in Tucson, Arizona. Mother Maria and Sisters Gertrude, Agnes, Albertine, and Elizabeth saw Homer as a gift sent from God intended to continue the work in their town, including building a chapel. One of the main conflicts of the film is Homer’s expectations of compensation for his services and the nuns’ lack of funds. Even after realizing he will not be paid, Homer consistently, though reluctantly, helps out the nuns with their chores and the construction of the chapel. As he spends more time with them, Homer begins to form a connection with the nuns through educating them on the English language. As the movie begins to draw to an end, Homer begins to solely work on the chapel, initially refusing help from the townspeople. Ultimately, he ends up setting aside his ego and accepting their help. The chapel and its construction brought everyone together, and the film’s final scene displays the word “Amen”.

Throughout the film, many different thematic points are demonstrated. The main theme portrayed is the idea of people from different cultures and ideologies coming together for the betterment of each other as a whole. Each set of characters are derived from their own unique identities. Catholics and Baptists, English, Spanish, and German speakers, German immigrants, Mexican Americans, white and black men and women were all living within the same town. Homer and Mother Maria both had pride in their cultures and ideologies, but it wasn’t until they set them aside and worked together, along with the town, that the chapel was able to be built. This theme is solidified in the closing scene in which the Catholic Nuns enthusiastically joined Homer in singing a Baptist Hymn with the movie closing with “Amen” to represent the solemn gratification and agreement between the two parties, a meaning of “amen” as defined by Themes involving identity and religion are the most prominent in the film and can be seen in I am Not Sidney Poitier.

In I am Not Sidney Poitier, Percival Everett encompasses multiple Sidney Poitier movie plots, including Lilies of the Field. Not Sidney experiences a similar situation to that of Homer Smith, the difference being that he does not contribute to any physical work and instead donates a large amount of money to the nuns for construction of the chapel. The chapel ultimately goes unfinished in the end as Sister Irenaeus and Thornton Scrunchy try to flee with the money. The names of the nuns from the movies also undergo a change within the book, and Percival Everett uses the nuns to make specific references to various religious and philosophical figures of the 3rd century. On page 171, we are introduced to the nuns with the line, “She finally introduced herself as Sister Irenaeus. She introduced the others as Sisters Origen, Eusebius, Firmilian, and Chrysotom.” Why would he change these names? In the movie, other than Mother Maria, the sisters are essentially one mass background character. They aren’t individually developed characters and can all be referred to interchangeably. The fact that he decided to change them must have some meaning to it. This implies that one should also question any other artistic decision made throughout the book.

According to, these names all correspond with various Saints, Bishops, and scholarly figures who bore similar ideas surrounding an ideal quality of life, stressing the importance of faith and an acceptance of a humble lifestyle. They also had the similar goal of not only nurturing their faith, but also taking part in spreading it. Mother Maria’s corresponding character in the text is Sister Irenaeus, a name that means peace, according to Wikipedia. This change presents an ironic twist to Mother Maria’s character in the film, as she acts bitterly toward the fellow sisters and Homer. 

With an interesting play on names throughout the movie and the book, Percival Everett is able to put interpretations of the characters beneath the real name. For example, in I Am Not Sidney Poitier, when Not Sidney meets his girlfriend Maggie’s family for the first time, he ends up sleeping with Maggie’s sister, Agnes, creating an ironic contrast with the name’s meaning, which according to a site called Behind the Name, means “chaste” or “pure”. Agnes was the one that went up to Not Sidney and told him she wanted to have sex with him in the first place. Everett’s intentional play on name meanings skew other interpretations by characterizing those in the book and movie as the opposite of what we, the readers, interpret them to be. 

While it may never be known why Percival Everett decided to change the nuns’ names, it is clear how this decision resembles the overarching theme of the novel: identity. Not Sidney Poitier struggles with his identity throughout the entirety of the novel. He is constantly compared to and seen as the actor Sidney Poitier, and Everett pushes this struggle further by forcing Not Sidney to live out altered versions of Sidney Poitier movie plots, including but not limited to: The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and No Way Out. In a reference to the latter film, Not Sidney has a dream in which he is a doctor who experiences racist remarks from a white man when his patient dies, blaming the death on him. This implies another identity crisis about who Not Sidney is, who he desires to be, and who other people think he is. As Kevin pointed out in our group conversation, the nuns in the book would not exist without the Lilies of the Field movie, therefore their identity is dependent on the film. This remains true for the protagonist, for Not Sidney’s journey would have no relevance without the background of the classic Sidney Poitier movies. His name being the negation of Sidney Poitier would have no importance.

It is noteworthy to mention along with the changing of these names that character’s themselves also struggled with remembering the names of the Sisters. On page 184, Diana, an employee of the diner, states in conversation Homer “Yeah whatever. And that’s another thing, who the hell can say those names, much less remember them? There’s Oxygen and Firmament and then the others?” This quote develops the idea that while the change of the names was a deliberate choice, there really isn’t any meaning behind it. After all, if the characters within the novel don’t think the names are worth remembering, why should it matter to us? The thing that should matter to us is how we process the information. We could simply read the names, assume that they’re something religious, and move on. We could even choose not to think about their names at all and keep reading because they don’t affect the narrative. However, because we researched the names and unpacked as much meaning as we possibly could, we found ourselves thinkING and learnING. The names are just nonsense used to drive our thinking, nothing more than words that originally hold no surface level meaning without thought. 

Through our group discussions, we’ve come to realize that this concept ties back to our involvement in Dr. McCoy’s ENGL 203 course. Many of the works we’ve studied this semester can be arguably defined as nonsensical, as The Bacchae, Frenzy, and I Am Not Sidney Poitier, have brought us all confusion when read in a new critical manner. According to The Bedford, New Criticism is defined as “a type of formalist literary criticism characterized by close textual analysis.” However, after taking the time to step back and probe deeper, we’ve been able to make meaningful connections out of this alleged nonsense. These connections occur when viewing the texts in a new historical manner, which the Bedford defines as how “literary works both influence and are influenced by historical reality, and they share a belief in referentiality, that is, a belief that literature both refers to and is referred to by things outside itself.” The meanings we find are arbitrary; it’s the process of finding the meaning that is most valuable. To look past the text itself and interpret why the text was written gives the reader a further connection to the text. Although ultimately, this final interpretation’s value is less than the attempt of interpretation itself. Real value comes from questioning and trying to understand rather than the answers you find as true understanding is impossible to achieve. The only way one could achieve true understanding is to limit themselves to their initial isolated interpretation. Consequently, as soon as it is shared it loses its value as true understanding because it opens the possibility of an alternative understanding. This cross contamination between New Criticism and New Historicism is where the value of nonsense resides. 

Conversation amongst the group has been the catalyst to uncovering the value of nonsense. Our understanding of Percival Everett’s artistic decisions as an author changed with every discussion. The incorporation of nonsense in I am Not Sidney Poitier, including the changing of the nuns’ names, creates a theme of an ongoing pursuit of understanding through collaboration and intertextual discovery.


Essay 1

Chosen Course Epigraph: #3 “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY”

From the first few of my own experiences in this class, I have felt empowered, more heavily focused on the thinkING instead of grades, I have already found myself to not only grow as a writer, but grow as a thinker. Whether my constantly circulating thoughts come back to me about perception, self-accountability, or just plain confusion, I can already feel the differences in my thinkING processes. The epigraph I chose has made me connect the idea of “being yourself” with my past as a middle school student. 

Back then, I never had many friends. I usually just went along with my day, not walking with anyone to my next history class, eating lunch alone while I wondered how all my other friends could even have the nerve to get up and go make new friends. I longed to have good relationships with people other than myself…or so I thought. Now that I look back on it, I didn’t truly know myself; or in other words, love myself. I thought that loving myself was being able to fit in with the rest of the popular kids, or being able to communicate more clearly with people I knew; or in that case, even with people I didn’t know. I spent all four of those years in middle school struggling with not knowing myself, and not even caring enough to get the help I needed. You’re probably wondering how this relates to the course epigraph I chose. Well, all that time that I spent in middle school should’ve been me choosing to be myself instead of trying to be a group of girls who didn’t even know themselves at that point in their lives either. Turns out, we were all just trying to find our place in the world. 

The first line in the course epigraph that I chose really stands out to me in a way that connects to my story above. “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.” I have grown to learn that I should always be myself, no matter the situation. The line itself also should make the reader feel a type of nostalgia; like a longing for the person you used to be, or the person that everyone liked, or maybe even the person that passed by you everyday and didn’t know you existed. I think that everyone wishes they could go back in time and at least visit their old selves, maybe even try to remember everything that happened back then. But me? I would go back in time to try and change the way that I thought, the way that I acted differently around different people. Once again, how does this relate to the course epigraph you ask? “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.” I am not the person I was almost 9 years ago. But that person doesn’t show themselves in today’s world, either. This final line in ‘I am Not Sydney Poitier’ gives the readers a chance to think about themselves and wonder what they’ve done in their past that has made them out to be the person they are today. 

During class the last three weeks, my experiences with my peers and Professor McCoy have enlightened me on the thought process of thinking critically, and not to mention, the wide variety of perspectives being expressed just in that one classroom. While looking at the “Essay 1…” assignment summary page about five minutes ago, I wanted to figure out what else I needed to include in my essay. I kept reading over the prompt, hoping that an idea would pop into my head..until I figured it out, and quickly hopped on over to this document to finish my thoughts. I remember the second or third class that we had, we were to discuss in our small groups what we thought about one of our course epigraphs, “Suspicious Pants” and what the major takeaway from it was. Illiana was also in our group for a while, nodding their head, almost every time, at what each one of us thought about the epigraph. This was an extremely mind blowing experience for me, as when I was walking back to my dorm, I found that the reason Illiana was nodding her head and not necessarily disagreeing with us the whole time, was because of my main point: who are we to tell someone else that their perspective is wrong when, quite frankly, it’s something everyone has (perspective & opinion) minus the criticism? No perspective can be wrong, nor right, because everyone has their own thoughts about every other literal perspective. MIND = BLOWN!!! 

While thinking about the goals I would like to set up for myself for the rest of this class, my mind goes straight to the idea of just being original to your own thoughts. Being able to write, or think, or talk about something purely based on your own thoughts, experiences, and emotions. The thinkING process that Professor McCoy has shown us in the first few weeks of class will be something that I take with me for the rest of my academic career and beyond. 

I have thought about what my main goals in this class will be for the remainder of the semester. I will use my ever-growing thinkING skills and processes to become a better writer, person, and thinker in all aspects. I plan on applying these newly learned ways to effectively communicate with others about the topics we will be studying; to always be empathetic towards my peers that are expressing their beliefs and emotions throughout the course. To apply the thinkING that occurred throughout the semester in every other aspect of my life would make for new opportunities and perspectives to open up my pathway into several different directions and openings.