Game of Names

At the beginning of the semester, Professor McCoy presented to us to three course epigraphs: the “Suspicious Pants,” Percivial Everett’s statement on the genuinity of irony, and the concluding paragraph from Everett’s novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Originally, the epigraph which resonated with me the most was Everett’s statement on the genuinity of irony. Specifically, the phrase “Real irony is far more sincere than earnestness,” stood out to me, because it was the first time I heard such a claim. Until the commencement of this course, I figured that irony and earnestness where foils of one another. However, the epigraph’s message proved to be a new take on a subject in literature, which I had worked with on multiple occasions during my two year tenure as an IB Diploma Candidate in highschool. In fact, I drafted my Extended Essay for said program on George Orwell’s use of irony in his timeless classic 1984. In my two years of study, however, the concept presented in the aforementioned excerpt never occurred to me, despite rigorous revision and gathering of literary criticisms. At the beginning of the semester I was focused on irony, and upon initially reading I Am Not Sidney Poiter, I maintained this narrowness. However, by the end of the novel, and subsequently by the end of the semester, I can not get the idea of self, and what defines self, out of my mind. This has prompted me to shift my directive away from the epigraph concerning irony, and towards the epigraph concerning introspection. With that being said, the chosen epigraph reads as follows: 

“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:


The epigraph is an excellent summation of the themes presented in the two most impactful texts that we studied this semester (in my opinion that is) I Am Not Sidney Poiter, and re:f(gesture). It captures the most prevalent message in both of Everett’s works; and interestingly, despite the texts’ differences in structure, they share a common message. In fact the disparity between their genres and structure, but their parallel themes, continues to emphasize one of the paramount points Everett makes throughout the two works: the insignificance of names, labels, or any other moniquer. To clarify, I Am Not Sidney Poiter is a novel constructed with a clear narrative, that although can be ambiguous, generally follows Freytag’s Pyramid. For those that are not familiar with Freytag’s Pyramid, it is the general structure of plot which usually flows in the following order: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement (resolution). Whereas re:f(gesture) is a poetic (literally) anthology, that contains drastically confusing works, which do not follow Freytag’s Pyramid. Granted it is less common for a poem to follow that geometric narrative style, but nonetheless, the two texts are dramatically different barring themes. 

With structure aside, and to continue with themes, the epigraph encaptures Percival Everett’s message in both I Am Not Sidney Poiter, and re:f(gesture). That message being the futility of names to provoke any tangible change in either human behavior and experience, or the essence of life and its constants. For instance, in the former of the two texts, our protagonist Not Sidney Poiter, lives the life of the actor Sidney Poiter despite his name. Not Sidney embarks on a journey through parodied Sidney Poiter movies including: The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Lilies of the Field. Through his misadventures, Not Sidney slowly realizes that his name does not define him. Moreover, that his experiences rather than his label determined the man he was, as demonstrated by the quote: “…that body in the chest was Not Sidney Poitier, then I was not Not Sidney Poitier and by all I know of logic and double negatives, I was therefore Sidney Poitier. I was Sidney Poitier.” This can be noticed again with a quick exchange that Not Sidney has with an escort taking him from the airport:

“Are you not Sidney Poiter?”

“I am.” 

In the beginning of the novel, our protagonist is insistent upon his name being “Not Sidney Poitier,” but by the conclusion, he is accepting and relatively embraceful of “Sidney Poitier,” instead. This is because of the remarkably parodied life he has lived, and the occurrences which made him “…Sidney Poitier as much as anyone.” This theme is furthered in Everett’s anthology re:f(gesture), especially in the poem “Logic.” Everett writes: “Let us assume X. Even such signs have some place, some language X. Constituent parts compose this reality — molecules, atoms, simple X.” In this stanza the insignificance of labels is emphasized by the juxtaposition between the complex, interwoven, fabrics of the universe and “simple X.” One can deem atoms and molecules whatever name one pleases — even “X,” but this does not alter their existence, nor change their course of action. They will continue to exist and act as atoms and molecules do, even without those labels, or the label “X,” or any other letter or number. The chosen epigraph condenses this theme to a singular paragraph, and could even condense it to a singular line as “I have learned that my name is not my name,” also communicates the shared theme adequately. 

The importance of this epigraph for me currently, as opposed to a little over three months ago at the start of the semester, is its ability to capture what I have taken away from this course. With the varied, and often confusing works that we have examined over the course of the semester, it would be rather difficult to epitomize what I have learned without the chosen epigraph. While I did learn about the importance of “slowing down,” and “unpacking” claims, in writing a piece that allows readers to get as close as they can to my brain without performing a lobotomy, what I took away from this course is ultimately more ideological than anything else. “Ideological,” referring to the life lessons I gathered from the aforementioned Percival Everett texts, not necessarily the literary ideologies of Intertextuality and New Criticism — two concepts which I did gain knowledge on thoroughly, I might add. Prior to this course, and its texts, I had overestimated the power of a name. For me, a name, or label, was binding — a sort of intangible fetter that restricted movement more than a ball and chain. I always believed in Mary Shelly’s interpretation of labels, as Frakenstein’s Monster (who is not actually a “monster” at all) is corrupted by the harshness of the world around him; including the names he is referred to as, such as “The Creature,” “The Fiend,” or “The Demon.” What was a being who sought the tools to learn to live, was distorted into a killer because of the labels he was given, which eventually convinced even him that he was an abomination. It is because of this interpretation, and my love for the story of Frankenstein and his monster, that the epigraph with which I am working now did not make sense to me, and thus was not chosen initially. Yet, upon reading I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and re:f(gesture) I received a new perspective on the power of names, or rather, the lack of power that they actually possess. Not Sidney Poitier’s life of Sidney Poitier, and the persistence of innate constructs, such as atoms and molecules, demonstrate the opposite of what Mary Shelly presented to me approximately three years ago. Whereas previously I thought names and labels to be a determining factor in one’s character and destiny, I have now discovered a more relieving counter — that names and labels are not nearly as important to defining self as the experiences that one has, and the people one meets during those experiences (as Not Sidney encounters a colorful range of characters that often prompt him to keep trying to find himself). In conclusion, the chosen epigraph, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, re:f(gesture), and our “unpacking” of them, have inspired me to live my life as if my name is not my name, rather my name is something that I must find and build from within, throughout the duration of my time on this planet.

Percivial Everett’s Use of Metaphors and Juxtapostion in the Poem “Logic”

Pervical Everett’s poem titled “Logic,” in the greater anthology of re:f(gesture) uses extremely ambiguous metaphors and juxtapositions to express the idea that concepts, such as numbers, are timeless and unbreakable. Moreover, he details the insignificance of naming, and the ineffectiveness of words to alter anything other than a human being’s understanding of the world. 

Starting with stanza two, Everett writes: “Let us assume X. Even such signs have some place, some language X. Constituent parts compose this reality — molecules, atoms, simple X.” The metaphor comparing X, to the fundamental building blocks of the universe, emphasizes the idea that no matter the name given to a thing (which is itself a name given), it does little to change the composition of that thing. As Everett deems a language X, and atoms and molecules X, he exposes the consistency of existence. Meaning, language X still exists without “X,” while atoms and molecules exist without “X.” Furthermore, take a language — English for example. Without the word “English,” the English language does not decompose. Take molecules and atoms and remove the “molecules and atoms,” and they are still there, composing every part of everything ever been given a name. With this being said, one may as well call them “X,” as their existence can not be defined by a name. 

In stanza four, there is a line that reads: “There are samples of colors somewhere in a case, standards like weights and measures, preserved in Paris maybe, like the meter, sealed in a case where no one can see them.” The metaphor comparing the interminability of ideas to samples of colors and weights being locked in a case somewhere in Paris, emphasizes their timelessness. Color, weight and length are constants in the universe. Color is the visible perception of the electromagnetic spectrum. Weight is the mass of an object, multiplied by the acceleration due to gravity. Length is one of the three dimensions (excluding time). They are constants in the universe, and have been for millennium. Ironically however, the names we give them are not. They change over time, or cease to exist completely if we meet our demise. The aforementioned metaphor exposes the irony of attempting to fetter to a name that which as existed nameless for time uncountable. Furthermore, the segment that says: “…in a case where no man can see them,” continues to accentuate this point, because that is why we as a species, named these abstract principles to begin with. We named them to attempt to touch them, or get close to them. When in reality, they are safely locked away, where no name or phrase will prove to be the proper key. As the names we provide these perpetual things such as “color,” or “meter,” eventually wither and crumble like they will, the things will still stand stubbornly on, until they are given a new name to disregard. 

Stanza five in its entirety continues to express this theme, as Everett pens: “Seven men can be obliterated, burned or hanged or drowned in a lake and forgotten. Men gone, but not seven. Seven men lost, but not seven. Seven is, will be. All men will die, but not seven.” The juxtaposition between the mortality of men, and immortality of “seven,” furthers the notion that there are concepts that unbreakable. The three direct juxtapositions that Everett presents in this quote are: “Men gone, but not seven,” “Seven lost, but not seven,” and “All men will die, but not seven.” These serve to illuminate the fragility of man, when compared to the intangible constructs they create. Although “seven,” was formed by man and represented by him (as does the group of men “obliterated”), seven still far exceeds the lifespan of its creator; as even when seven men are not present, seven still exists, and will continue to exist in the debris, ash, gallows and the lake in which those men drowned.

The notion of existence versus nonexistence, and the futility of names to influence such, is a theme that Everett discusses on multiple occasions. Similarly in his novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier, he demonstrates the irony of the protagonist’s name, Not Sidney Poitier, having no effect on his life course, as he lived Sidney Poitier’s life almost exclusively. However, in re:f(gesture) the stated theme is articulated through the use of metaphors, such as comparing infinite existence to being locked in a case in Paris. It is also articulated through the use of juxtapositions, as perceived by deeming a complex system of microscopic moving parts (atoms and molecules) as the singular letter “X.” It are these devices which allow “Logic,” ironically, to honor its name and present a concept that is as timeless as the ones given in the poem. 

A Criticism of Intertextuality in the Poem “Zulus” from re:f(gesture) by Percival Everett

The inspiration for this post ironically stemmed from a lack of understanding of the poem “Zulus,” rather than an in-depth understanding of it. The poem, which is derived from the poetry book re:f(gesture) by Percival Everett, is one that has taken me for a loop. In fact all of the poems in the book have confused me more than that of any other work that I have read. While it is true that Percival Everett’s register is intentionally murky, but “Zulus” traverses beyond being esoteric, and ventures into simply being indiscernible. Whereas his novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier is bemusing as well, it contains a clear narrative (in terms of plot) that facilitates one’s dissection of the novel when seeking themes. Here there is no clear narrative, and the poem relies too much on Intertextuality. Considering that “Zulus,” is derived from a novel of the same name, by the same author, the work is entirely intertextual. Without proper exposition on the novel, the reader is left fumbling in the dark. I respect esoterism, but it is also impossible to dive into another’s mind. Therefore, “Zulus” overreliance on Intertextuality diminishes its meaning as viewed by a wider audience. 

Firstly, it must be acknowledged that the poem as an abecedarian provides marginal structure to the piece. For context, the denotation of abecedarian is: “An ancient poetic form guided by alphabetical order. Generally each line or stanza begins with the first letter of the alphabet and is followed by the successive letter, until the final letter is reached.” The abecedarian allows the poem to drive on in its agenda, but the problem lies with the reader being unaware of that agenda from the get-go. For example, the starting stanza of the poem begins with: “A is for Achitophel. It was he who put Absalom up to the big naughty.” Not only are the two characters mentioned in this line from the novel Zulus, but this line is also an allusion to the poem published by John Dryden in 1681 titled “Absalom and Achitophel.” This opening presents a relative dual-intertextuality, as it borrows content from not one, but two separate works. Therefore, to view the entire picture that Everett is painting, one must be somewhat familiar with the poem by John Dryden to completely understand this opening. As an English major, I relish the challenge of discerning complex pieces, but old-English, as presented in Dryden’s work, is difficult mountain to scale even for an English major. Overall, there is virtually no promotion a broader understanding by Everett. He instead chooses to cater to a very niche group — one composed of individuals who have read both Zulus and “Absalom and Achitophel.” This pattern of including character names and circumstances from other works, including Zulus, occurs frequently throughout the duration of the mind-rattling read. 

Allusion could also be a form of intertextuality. My favorite high school English teacher is someone whom I admire very much, and he said: “Everything is a text,” on the first day of class. Therefore, historical allusions have every right to be a text, and are therefore subject to Intertextuality. Allusion is denoted as: “An expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference.” With that being stated, Everett incorporates many historical allusions into “Zulus,” and they have a similar impact as the aforementioned use of characters from other texts. For example, the allusion to ancient Greek Philosophy that reads as follows: “A is for Anaximander who said that the element of things is Boundless,” does not involve a well-known philosopher (at least to the common person, and certainly me.) Speaking of which, I did not even know that Anaximader was an ancient Greek Philosopher until I googled his name and read two or three sentences about him. The common reader is simply not going to take the time to research Animaxander and his teachings. While Everett does include greater-known Philosophers such as Aristotle, and Plato, it is the inclusion of names such as Animaxander’s that will trip readers up before they can process the previous allusion. Moreover, the allusion to an 1838 battle between the Boers (dutch farmers) and the Zulus continues to emphasize esoterism over understanding. The conflict between Zulus and Boers is not a widely taught topic in high schools, and is in fact skimmed over rather quickly if my memory serves me correctly, which it usually does. 

Everett’s emphasis on esoterism over enrapturing wider audiences demonstrates the potential pit-falls of Intertextuality. Whether that Intertextuality is expressed through the picking and placing of characters from other works into a new work, or via obscure historical allusions that most likely only a Major in the subject would comprehend; the works insistence on being a culmination of numerous influencers sacrifices public appeal and comprehension. In conclusion, Intertextuality in “Zulus,” allows only a niche audience to read it, and understand at least the majority of allusions and so on. 

The Course Epigraph, Intertextuality, and a Budding Religion

With the final essay looming around the corner, I figured I should get some practice working with the epigraph I am going to revolve said essay around. In the beginning of the semester I chose to work with the epigraph regarding irony by Percival Everett. Whereas now, I am going to play around with the other epigraph by Everett — the one taken from the final page of his novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Not Sidney, the novel’s protagonist, is receiving an award, and he gives an acceptance speech that is as follows:

 “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:


This acceptance speech is in essence, a brief reflection on the circumstances that led Not Sidney to his point of triumph and enlightenment. Immediately, Not Sidney’s reflection on his past experiences brought to mind the literary ideology of Intertextuality. Particularly, how intertextuality could be used not only as a method of studying texts, but as a method to live one’s life. Intertextuality advocates for the study of a piece of literature as a combination of the author’s own work, and the inspiration beyond the work; whether that be the time period, geography, the author’s personal life, or the texts preceding it (those which contain commonalities.) To sum up, Intertextuality glorifies the exposure of a text to a variety of different influencers, so as to promote the furtherment of ideas. This could also be a valid strategy for pursuing a fulfilling life. 

Not Sidney states in the beginning of his speech: “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.” The personification of “self,” as something tangible to be “reunited,” allows this sentence to express the irony found throughout the novel — often yourself is something we travel long and far to find. Prior to this, in the clause “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost,” the need for one to leave one’s home, or break the fetters of monotony, is insinuated by “I came back to this place.” In this allusion to Not Sidney’s hometown (or at least the place of his mother’s grave) Everett also emphasizes the importance of coming full-circle in one’s life. Whether that be via returning to one’s hometown, or by finally getting closure after a particularly painful break-up, a conclusion is necessary. Parallel thinking can be applied literary works as well. Assume that the themes of “Text A,” are oneself. Upon reading the first chapter or two of the text, most likely the themes are not very apparent. However, as one continues to read, analyze, and think, the themes became increasingly obvious. This of course takes time, and is no-simple task. If the text is especially stubborn, one can conduct an investigation as to the background of the author, and perhaps related texts that came before it, in order to facilitate understanding. Then as information is gained, and understanding subsequently augmented, one can return to the original text and better comprehend it — just as Not Sidney returned home after meandering on his misadventures. The process of taking the time to dissect a text, and allowing oneself to diverge from the material to do so, draws parallels with Not Sidney’s journey into introspection.

Onward, Not Sidney communicates that: “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.” The juxtaposition presented by “It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself,” not only exposes the entertaining diction and syntax of Percival Everett, but also emphasizes the interconnectedness that we inherently share as human beings. It could be argued that the crowd listening to Not Sidney knows him because of the Sidney Poitier movies, which the story parodies (as it is intimated before the epigraph that Not Sidney also accepts the name “Sidney”). I prefer to think of it, on the other hand, as the unspoken intimacy we subconsciously share. Also, the irony presented in the clause “Perhaps better than I know myself,” accentuates the idea that one never truly “knows,” oneself. Perhaps upon every new experience, one, like the paradox of infinity, approaches enlightenment but never touches it, no matter how close one may come. Congruently, applying Intertextuality can uncover the subtle similarities between texts in terms of theme, and formal or stylistic features. Moreover, Intertextuality is an effective tool for investigation, but it is impossible to extract every literary device, motif, theme, and so on from a work. Firstly, because different people will have conflicting perspectives of the text or sections of the text. Secondly, because one is not, and can not be, inside of an author’s mind, and considering that writing is thought manifested, there will inherently be a few overlooked items. In short, just as texts may be more related than originally thought, and more involved than one can perceive; we as a species are more connected than we give ourselves credit for, and we are deeper beings than our egos lead us to believe (as depicted by the Freudian iceberg).  

Lastly, the final sentence, which reads: “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY,” captures the beauty of literature studies, and their various mechanisms such as Intertextuality, or even its nemesis New Criticism. To elaborate, the appeal of literature studies is in its inclusiveness to everyone of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, hair colors, and toenail lengths. No matter one’s personality, one can gain a message from a text, even if it was not the author’s intended message. For example, Catcher in the Rye inspired a mentally-maligned Mark Chapman to murder John Lennon. Surely J.D. Salinger did not even suggest such a horror, but nevertheless, meaning was derived. As a side note, there were definitely more positive examples, but there is nothing to draw attention like mentioning a death; as we always sit a little more upright when the news mentions someone’s untimely demise. Carrying on, a book, once it leaves the hands of its creator, is no longer itself. It becomes whatever the audience needs, or wants it to be. Chapman needed a reason to shoot John Lennon, and found the catalyst within Catcher in the Rye. The irony of the line: “I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY,” demonstrates to Everett’s audience the concept of change within oneself — reflection. Who one was yesterday is not who one is today, and is not who one will be tomorrow. This is because one’s experiences mold them, similarly to how Not Sidney’s trek through the terrifyingly obscure, shaped him. As Intertextuality is investigated in relation to a work, more moving mechanisms become present, and the text has the possibility to become entirely different than the one originally observed. Intertextuality as a lifestyle choice that embraces the diversity of experiences could well be the Christianity of tomorrow; I shall be a preacher and lead us in prayer:



Word Economy and its Effect on Comprehension

Considering the fun I had constructing the post regarding the flawed principles of the “1930 Motion Picture Code,” I wanted to continue with a similar analysis. In that post I emphasized the Orwellian undertones of the “Principles Underlying the Code,” and I will carry on in a similar fashion; this time however, with the section titled “Particular Applications.”  Whereas previously I detailed the absurdity of the aforementioned principles in general, presently, I would like to identify the absurdities of the “applications,” in reference to a specific linguistic sin that Orwell warned of. Word economy is the concept of finding just the right amount of words to express one’s point without sacrificing meaning, and is often nonexistent in official documents. Try reading the Terms and Conditions of a software update for more than five minutes without wanting to dissolve from the perpetual scrolling, or rereading a sentence three times before it is understood. The section “Particular Applications,” of the “1930 Motion Picture Codes” demonstrates this adeptly. 

Similarly to the last post concerning these codes, I am going to take this line by line, sub-section by sub-section, until I can not leave my desk without stepping in one of the numerous piles of bullshit around me. Firstly, the line: “These [crimes] shall never be presented in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crime as against law and justice, or to inspire others with the desire for imitation,” is a prime example of a word economy in recession. If one seeks to stimulate said economy, the phrase could be condensed to: “Do not glorify crime.” I was able to convey in less words than fingers on my hand, what was conveyed in enough words to account for my fingers and toes combined. This line reminds me specifically, of a scene from Indiana Jones where the protagonist “Indie,” is in a standoff with a Middleeastern swordsman — dazzling the gathering crowd with his fine pirouettes and twirls. Ultimately, Indie simply shoots him before he can take a step towards our protagonist, and walks away more or less bewildered. Just as the swordsman was all show, so too is the line from the opening of the section. Furthermore, just as Indie is bemused by the display, so too is the reader — but it would be rather pointless to shoot a piece of paper or one’s computer screen. With bullets that is. 

Application one regards the depiction of murder on screen as it says: “The technique of murder must be presented in a way that will not inspire imitation.” Listed below it are other requirements such as: “Brutal killings are not to be presented in detail,” and “Revenge in modern times shall not be justified.” These are superfluous to the application as they are more or less addressed by the first statement. They do little to add substance to the initial statement, as although it is unnecessarily lengthy, it is acceptably sufficient. These sub-requirements are page fillers that seem generally redundant as “…will not inspire imitation” although poorly phrased, gets the point accross that murder is a no-no. This blatant fluffing occurs commonly in the text, and serves no purpose other than to devour page space, and a reader’s time. 

Application two, three, and four concern crimes excluding murder, such as robbery, drug trafficking, arson, etc. The fluffing, or loading, mentioned earlier is accentuated by the juxtaposition between the simplicity of the heading and the four subsections that follow it. For example, “Methods of crime should not be explicitly presented,” is an adequate expression of restriction, that states intent without being overinvolved. Moreover, “explicitly,” is a well-chosen adjective as it states in one word what “…in a way that will not inspire imitation,” does in eight. Nevertheless, one takes a step forward and three steps back, as the benefits of this diction are squandered by the urge to include four subsections that all practically reiterate the inaugural point. One subsection of note reads: “Theft, robbery, safecracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings etc., should not be detailed.” The word “safecracking,” in this sentence is unnecessary as one could assume there is some measure of this involved in a robbery. I would be shocked to find a bank, real or fictitious, that holds their money in a tin lunch box. Furthermore, “dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings etc.,” is also unnecessary and convoluted. A refined version could be written as: “Demolition by explosives should not be detailed.” In condensing the list into one word, meaning is preserved, and word economy is augmented. Onward, the “etc.,” promotes vagueness as it leaves the sentence open for a debate as to what is included in the list. Whereas “Demolition by explosives,” removes the need for an “etc.” because firstly, it removes the overused list of three (which I myself am guilty of) and secondly, is more authoritative. It can stand alone, but “etc.,” can not. In subsection four, further redundancies can be seen as: “The use of liquor in American life, when not required by the plot, or for proper characterization, will not be shown.” “For proper characterization,” can be removed from this sentence, as it is an aspect of the plot. Characters are what drive a story, and their dynamacy is key to illustrating themes. Therefore, the whole thing can be simplified to “The use of liquor in American life, when not required by the plot, will not be shown.” Intent is not sacrificed for word economy, and is actually expressed more clearly. Many moving parts does not indicate that one’s machine will function well, it just means that one will have more parts to fix once the machine is broken.

The next section is all about sex. The Big One. The one that pisses off people in power poignantly. The header for this section reads as follows: “The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures should not infer that low forms of sex relationships are the accepted or common thing.” Remember, it is 1930 afterall. Ironically, for as little attention the film code desires to give sex, it sure spends a lot of time talking about it. The word “institution,” can be removed so it reads slightly smoother: “The sanctity of marriage and the home shall be upheld.” Continuing, “sex relationships,” is extremely ambiguous. Are they referring to prostituion, adultery, sex out-of-wedlock, gay sex? Instead, let us not beat around the proverbial bush and state: “Pictures should not infer that sex outside of wedlock is accetpable or common.” Considering the obvious Christian intimations throughout the document it is safe to assume that the word “wedlock,” properly summarizes the conditons to warrent the portrayal of sex on screen. In all, the revised sentences are as follows: “The sanctity of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures should not infer that sex outside of wedlock is acceptable or common.” Word economy advocates for the replacement of phrases with singular words when applicable and “sex relationships,” desperately needs it, because it has no meaning whatsoever. I have never heard that phrase in my life, nor have I seen it written until now. It is especially abhorrent when one understands the words that compose the phrase, but not the phrase itself. Oh the irony — more means less, and less means more. 

Subsection one details the conditions of adultery as: “Adultery, sometimes necessary plot material, must not be explicitly treated, justified, or presented attractively.” Is “justify,” not to “present attractively?” Again, the reduncies are clear throughout the text, as too often words are inexplicably followed by synonymous phrases. If the aforementioned phrase was deleted, the sentence would continue to convey the same message. As a side note, it is humerous how, sex, an inherently pleasant experience, must not be “presented attractively.” One can clearly see where Orwell got his inspiration for sex being “A duty to the Party,” in 1984. The other subsections continue in a similar vein to those of the “Crime,” section, as redundancies, and loading are aplenty. 

Having read up to this point, one can see the pattern that is forming: state, babble, restate and repeat. This is the recipe for fluff — a lovely substance that turns garbage into gold with about as much structural integrity as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. With all jokes aside, word economy is essential to crafting a text that accurately conveys one’s messages. If the piece is too involved, such as the “1930 Motion Picture Codes,” meaning is lost in the diction. Keeping one’s sentences simple, but precise, is an important skill to have in all forms of writing. With the sheer number of words in the English language, and the multitude of homonyms (words that are spelled the same but mean different things), as Percival Everett said: “It’s a miracle we understand each other at all.” We certainly do not need poor word economies to complicate our language more than it already is.     

A Pseudo-Orwellian Examination of the 1930 Film Code Principles

Earlier in the semester, Professor McCoy introduced to us the “Motion Picture Production Code of 1930.” After recently watching the 1950 film Harvey, I was reminded of the film-code’s existence, and its heavy-handed influence on motion pictures at the time. This inspired me to reinvestigate the language of the document, so as to identify any incongruencies with diction, syntax, meaning, and so on. Moreover, as I scoured the text for such ironies, I discovered that large segments of the code are blatantly ambiguous. As George Orwell communicated in his 1949 classic 1984, authoritative bodies will often use intentionally confusing language to deceive their readers into believing they are viewing a document of substance. In reality, the documents are riddled with nonsense, and the “Motion Picture Code of 1930,” is no different than the Newspeak Dictionary presented in Orwell’s dystopian Oceania. The connections between vagueness in official documents, and public complacency regarding those documents that Orwell conveyed in his novel, are applicable to the film codes studied in class. The purpose of this post is to highlight the absurdities of the sub-section “Principles Underlying the Code,” with a relative Orwellian lens, so as to maybe inspire closer examination of similar documents in the future. 

The ridiculousness begins with a contradiction between the first principle and fourth principle of this section. They read in order, “Motion picture producers recognize the high trust and confidence which as been placed in them by the people of the world, and they recognize the responsibility to the public because of this trust.” And, “Motion pictures are an important form of art expression. Art enters intimately into the hearts of human beings. The art of motion pictures has the same object of other arts — the presentation of human thought, emotion and experience, in terms of an appeal to the soul through the senses.” The code claims that filmmakers have a “responsibility to the public,” but goes on to say that “The art of motion pictures has the same object of other arts — the presentation of human thought, emotion and experience.” The “responsibility to the public,” contradicts the “presentation of human thought, emotion and experience,” because it is inherently difficult to create a film that conjures substantial emotion without diverging from some sort of social standard. One needs to look no further than this year, with the blockbuster Joker, to witness the incompatibility of maintaining public diplomacy, and creating an impactful movie. Although it ravaged box offices, and was awarded numerous accolades, media outlets and certain spheres of the community were skeptical of its message, and its methods of portrayal. Good films (which of course are matters of perspective) cause controversy, and challenge the “public,” to rethink the “responsibilities,” they have placed on filmmakers, and other such groups or individuals; as did The Defiant Ones, as does Joker, and as will countless films to come. 

Principle number three also presents some laughable concepts. It reads as follows: “It is recognized that there is entertainment which tends to improve the race, and entertainment which tends to harm human beings, or lower their standards of life and living.” Let’s unpack this. Right off the bat, infecting the word “entertainment” with positive and negative connotations is alarmingly dystopian. The denotation of the word has jovial overtones, “The action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment,” but is ultimately an unbiased construct. A dog barks to frighten an opponent, but a dog also barks when they are playful. One would not say that a dog is barking positively or negatively, he is just barking. While it is true that the word “entertainment,” can have negative connotations as observed with the line: “Are you not entertained,” from the 2000 film Gladiator (where the protagonist is expressing sarcasm for the crowd’s love of brutality.) Contrastingly, in the film codes “entertainment,” refers to the literal definition, not its implications. How can entertainment, an abstract concept gifted a word to facilitate understanding, be either good or bad? The circumstances surrounding entertainment can be less-than-desirable, as with the quote from Gladiator, or via Buffalo Bill’s apparent sexual arousal when he captures his victims in Silence of the Lambs, but entertainment itself is neither positive or negative.

Onward to principle five, the last principle, and perhaps the most absurd, and unenlightened of them all. It reads: “No motion picture shall be produced which will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience must never be thrown to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil, or sin. Law, natural or human, should not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.” Wow. Is that an attempt at trying to promote citizenship throughout the country, or indoctrination to follow the government’s every whim without question? Considering that the 1930’s saw a rising communist threat develop in Europe, the fabrics of the “Red Scare” were sewn during this time, and Principle Five is undoubtedly a subtle statement of intent from the United States government to practice the latter. It must be acknowledged however, that at the time of publication, psychology was not as advanced as it is today. It was still believed that disturbing media, would yield disturbed people. In fact this myth as somehow persisted despite numerous scientific studies that actually prove the opposite. Increased exposure to media of all characteristics provokes a relative “enlightenment.” If one never plunges into the deep end of a pool, how can they possibly learn to swim? If one lingers where their toes can still graze the cement below them, are they swimming, or drifting? With that question aside, the depiction of sympathy as something tangible to be “thrown,” is a majorly misguided mindset. Sympathy is not tossed back and forth like a ball in a game of catch, rather it is hammered deep within the forge of one’s supramarginal gyrus (yes I had to look that up.) Sympathy is a product of thought and reason, and by simplifying thought and reason to something that can be tossed around like an inanimate object is a “sin,” itself. Without films such as The Defiant Ones or Joker that vocalize the sentiments of the marginalized (black people, criminals, and the mentally-ill,) it is impossible to have a dialogue regarding relevant recurring social issues. This is a notion that Orwell warned of in his works such as the aforementioned 1984, and in his essay “Politics and the English Language.” As one simplifies language either physically (such as with the expulsion of the word “retarted,” which could constitute its own post) or stylistically as demonstrated above, one sacrificies meaning. 

The “Five Principles Underlying the Film Code,” draws many parallels with the tyrannical party slogan of the Oceanic government in 1984: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” Although considerably less obvious, the film code’s principles are essentially communicating the same message. Barring the first juxtaposition, the codes restrict freedom through guilt, and promote ignorance through censorship. A director or producer is unable to create the work they envisioned because they have a “responsibility to the public” to maintain societal conventions. Moreover, they are confined to the utopian delusion of only observing light when darkness exists in equal measure: “sympathy of the audience must never be thrown to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil, or sin.” For the United States government at the time, and probably to some degree still, a movie about the sun surely scored better than a movie about the moon. In conclusion the “Principles Underlying the Film Code,” not only represent the power of language to dictate what is, and what is not; but conversely to demonstrate how diction and syntax despite their innate ability to define, can be just as murky as the lake they are naming. 

How a New Critical Perspective on Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier Communicates the Importance of Introspection.

New Criticism is a literary ideology that revolves around examining a text for the content within its pages, and not outside them. Meaning, there is little focus placed on contextualization. Specifically, The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines New Criticism as: “The New Critics treated literary works, which they viewed as carefully crafted, orderly objects containing observable formal patterns, as self-contained and self-referential and thus based their interpretations of elements within the text rather than on external factors.” With this being said, Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier is a parody of a handful of famous Sidney Poitier movies. This of course, begs one to use intertextuality (the study of the relationship between texts containing similar features,) as a mechanism to examine the text. Although the novel is a parody, it presents its own themes that differ from those of its source materials. The importance of self-discovery, introspection, and creating an identity are accentuated throughout the text. This is possible because of Percival Everett’s ability to convert a culmination of separated tales, into one cohesive narrative, that is able to express the aforementioned ideas. Contextual information is unnecessary, as Everett allows the stories to create a new identity in the novel as a unit, which is unfettered by the conditions of the source material. 

The protagonist, Not Sidney Poitier, is determined to make a name for himself in the world, and is taken on a wild journey to do so. He is arrested for his skin color in the deep South, and is sent to prison. On route, his prison bus crashes, and he is forced to escape the wreckage, and traverse the countryside to avoid the law; all while chained to a racist white man named Patrice. As they trek to liberation, they encounter a woman and her brother who, after sheltering the convicts, accompany them. As they settle in for the night prior to their departure, Not Sidney determines that: “Perhaps they were decent enough, but the place that made them was so offensive to me that all who lived there became there.” Firstly, the juxtaposition between “decency,” and “offensive,” represents the catalyst for Not Sidney’s decision to again try his hand at exploration, later in the novel. Not Sidney witnesses that they are decent at their core, but they are ignorant because they have never been outside of the area before, which prompts him to seek alternatives to “home.” Secondly, the diacope in “there became there,” draws attention to the idea that the longer a person resides in a location, the more congruences they form with the tropes and traditions of the area. This is exactly what Not Sidney had been apprehensive of prior to the initiation of his road trip, and now he can observe his trepidations first hand. Patrice, and his impromptu family, symbolize everything that Not Sidney Poiter does not want to become. Thirdly, their acceptance of their ignorance allows them to exist blissfully together, which is perhaps a connection that Not Sidney desires too, as he states: “I left them sleeping there, where they belonged, together.” The pause between “belonged,” and “together,” suggests that Not Sidney is perhaps jealous of Patrice, as the latter knows his place in the world, and his content with it. Meanwhile, Not Sidney is still trying to find a name that suits him, literally and figuratively. Overall, the sheer ignorance of Patrice and his gaggle illuminates how a place, such as the deep south, can dictate a person’s character. Not Sidney refuses to allow this to happen to himself.

Onward, Not Sidney attends college and meets his first girlfriend. She invites him home to Washington D.C to have Thanksgiving dinner with her family. Upon reaching their destination, and upon interacting with her parents for the first time, Not Sidney is skeptical of his compatibility with Maggie (his girlfriend.) Not at least because, although Maggie and her family are also black, they are “light-skinned,” whereas Not Sidney is “dark-skinned,” and Maggie’s parents make this distinction all too apparent. Maggie’s mother, Ruby, even says to her husband “But he’s so dark [after discovering he is extremely wealthy.]” She states again just a few lines later “He’s so black.” Clearly the color of his skin bothers Maggie’s family, but they insist on putting on a facade of hospitality solely because of Not Sidney’s fortune. Here, Not Sidney is introduced to the concept of color, and its influence on the actions and demeanor of people. Whether the color in question is black, white, or green (for money) Not Sidney becomes “…sadly, irritatingly, horrifyingly observant of skin color and especially my own.” The homoioteleuton created by the repeating ly sound at the end of “sadly,” and so on, garners attention to Not Sidney’s disgust at having fallen victim to the close-mindedness of Maggie’s parents. In fact, our protagonist’s eye-opening experience allows him to see the juxtaposition between the colorful and the colorless, as he makes a remark concerning a character named Jeffery, who joins the family for Thanksgiving: “…sweet, innocent Jeffery, completely lacking pigment and outside the bizarre game altogether.” The words “sweet,” and “innocent,” grant “lacking pigment,” a positive connotation. Moreover, a juxtaposition is established by the “innocence,” surrounding a lack of color, and the corruption that color, or the emphasis thereof,  can cause as presented by the homoioteleuton. Thanksgiving dinner with Maggie and her ethically questionable family members demonstrates to Not Sidney the importance of color in defining a human being. Meaning, he understands the necessity of color as a perception of electromagnetic radiation, rather than a tool to differentiate good from bad, and important from disposable. He is disdainful that Maggie’s family only sees him for his blackness, and his money, which urges him to not permit his ethnicity to characterize him. Rather, he is inspired by the pigmentless, and subsequently child-like innocence of Jeffery; who normally, because of his appearance and demeanor, would not be given a moment’s breath.  

Towards the end of Not Sidney’s misadventures, he happens upon a group of nuns who are struggling to make a living for themselves. They help him fix his car (which was being uncooperative at the time) and he agrees to aid them in return. Ultimately, the sisters desire is to construct a church from scratch, and they task Not Sidney with doing so. Although he refuses initially, he reluctantly pivots and agrees to fund the church’s construction. However, he is deceived by Sister Irenaeus, who steals his money and attempts to flee Smuteye, Alabama with a faux architect named Thornton Scrunchy. Despite her saintly name, and saintly profession, Sister Irenaeus is no-more saintlyl than Thornton Scrunchy, who was willing to commit murder for 50,000 dollars. The irony between her name and her actions demonstrates to Not Sidney that a name, is well and truly, just a name. They do not determine an individual’s qualities, and are as binding as they are tangible. Not Sidney’s thoughts on the matter can be summarized well by the line: “All four eyes were wide open and staring into what I believed the sisters would have called the afterlife — into what my mom would have called nothing.” The contradiction between “afterlife,” and “nothing,” emphasizes to the reader the insignificance of names. No matter what post-life is deemed, death is death; despite the name’s we bestow upon what happens after it, they do nothing to yield a result beyond death. Irenaus’ name did not stop her from committing a crime, and the name given to the world beyond death (if there is one) did not reverse her fate. It is this realization that provokes Not Sidney to simply go by “Sidney,” (or at the very least accept it when others called him that.) From this experience he is aware of a name’s inability to define one’s destiny. Despite his name “Not Sidney,” he lived Sidney Poitier’s life to an arguably higher degree than the actor himself. 

Although Everett’s work is a compilation of parodies of the Sidney Poitier films: The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Lilies of the Field, the narratives stand apart from their parent texts. Each one could be viewed independently for the lessons they convey to our protagonist, and collectively as the novel I am Not Sidney Poiter, for their overarching message. Everett illustrates through the misadventures of Not Sidney, how one can allow a place, color, or name to define them. Through Not Sidney’s triumph, Everett encourages his audience to not be complacent, and allow themselves to discover who they really are, barring outside elements. Everett implores his readers to come to the conclusion that Not Sidney Poitier, or Sidney Poitier, comes to by the end of the novel:


How an Intertextual Study of Percival Everett’s Parody of The Defiant Ones Paints a More Accurate Picture of American Racism.

Percival Everett parodies the 1958 movie, The Defiant Ones in his 2009 novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Meanwhile, The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines parody as: “A form of high burlesque popular since ancient times that comically imitates a specific, generally serious work or the style of an author or genre.” Percival Everett’s interpretation of The Defiant Ones, portrays the ugly face of racism more adeptly than the film, despite containing humorous undertones throughout. An intertextual study between Everett’s novel and Sidney Poitier’s movie provides a clear contrast between the accuracy of the racism in the former, and the lack thereof in the latter. Therefore, intertextuality, as expressed by The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms is: “The condition of interconnectedness among texts, or the concept that any text is an amalgam of others, either because it exhibits signs of influence, or because its language inevitably contains common points of reference with other texts.” In short, a comparison between the racism written in Everett’s novel, and the racism displayed in the 1958 film, emphasizes the importance of intertextuality in expanding pre existing concepts such as race-relations. The relationship between The Defiant Ones, and  I Am Not Sidney Poitier, interestingly mimics the relationship between Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, as the latter is an advancement of the ideas proposed in the source material. 

The Defiant Ones revolves around the journey of a white man and black man chained together, seeking liberation. They are criminals on the run from the law, and therefore must strategize and work together to overcome various physical and mental obstacles during their rigorous trek across the Southern United States. The film is set during the tension-ridden Civil Rights era in the early-to-mid 20th century, and thus involves a dynamic, initially hostile, relationship between the protagonists. While the budding friendship between them is meant to emphasize the importance of unity and equality, racism is still explicitly expressed throughout the duration of the film. However, the racism exposed in the film is not as impactful as the racism detailed in Everett’s novel. For example, after Jackson (the white man) calls Cullen a particularly offensive word, the former states: “Well, that’s what you are, ain’t it? It’s like callin’ a spade a spade…That name sure bugs you, don’t it? Well, that’s the way it is, and you’re stuck with it, ‘cos I didn’t make any rules.” In this quote, although he is supporting racism, there is a reluctance in Jackson’s diction. The clause “I didn’t make any rules,” suggests that Jackson is expressing a “don’t shoot the messenger” attitude. He is redirecting blame, which insinuates to the audience that perhaps Jackson has guilt regarding his racism. Or perhaps that Jackson is disillusioned with attempting to break social norms; as he is an outcast himself as a criminal, and this provides him with an opportunity to pick himself up from the base of the proverbial social pyramid. Therefore, his racism may be more a facet of self defense and self-preservation than true rooted racism. This is opposed in the novel by Jackson’s equal in Patrice. Dialogue between Not Sidney and the former reads as follows: 

“Apparently it’s illegal to be black in Peckerwood County.” 

“If it ain’t it outta be.” 

Whereas Jackson conveyed some measure of reluctance in his bigotry, Patrice is direct and meaningful. The phrase “it outta be” expresses Patrice’s clear support for Jim Crow laws, and demonstrates that he has little guilt for racism in American society. Moreover, the simplicity of Patrice’s response intimates that perhaps the topic of race is of little importance to him. Although Percival Everett’s piece is a parody of The Defiant Ones, it does not follow the script religiously. In the film, Jackson, the white man, has a sexual encounter with the woman they come across. In the novel however, Not Sidney, the black man, has the sexual encounter. Afterwards, the dialogue is as follows:

“Which one are you?” she asked.

“I’m the black one,” I said. 

She spat. “I had me a notion.” 

Everett’s decision to diverge from the original script facilitates one’s understanding of true prejudice in the Southern United States. In the film, the spark between Jackson and the woman they meet is passionate and appealing. In the novel, on the other hand, the whole act is condensed into three lines, none of which express any kind of sentiment. It is depicted as more of an obligation for the woman, and one that she regrets upon learning the color of Not Sidney’s skin. Onward, the act of following “I’m the black one,” with “She spat,” communicates to the reader that being black is the equivalent of having semen in one’s mouth. These subtle racist intimations are not present within the film. Although it is true that in the The Defiant Ones, the woman tricks Cullen by directing him into a swamp, but her reason for doing so was not the color of his skin explicitly. Rather, to facilitate her deluded dream of running away with Jackson. 

The juxtaposition between the endings of the movie (where Cullen stays behind for Jackson) and the book (where Not Sidney abandons Patrice) emphasizes the harsh reality that Percival Everett desires to convey in his book. Despite the tenderness of the bond formed between Cullen and Jackson by the conclusion of the film, the coldness of Not Sidney’s actions illustrates a better depiction of racial relations in the United States at the time — disconnected. 

 In conclusion, while The Defiant Ones addresses racism in a manor that was acceptable for the time period, it fails to deliver the message with the rawness that it warrants. Furthermore, the film does make use of racial slurs, but this was commonplace, as film codes of the time do not cite it as a redmark. Everett’s choice to recreate the characters from the film with significantly greater racial gusto, yields scenarios that are more believable than in the 1958 Best Picture Nominee. However, it must be acknowledged that the foundations for those characters were forged in another text entirely, and expanded upon eventually. The differences between the characters highlights the importance of intertextuality to Percival Everett in reforging the depiction of racism in American media. 

Repetition as a Mechanism to Express Irony in Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier

The literary device which makes itself most known in Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier, is irony. Irony, in The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms is defined as: “A contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality.” From the name of the protagonist, Not Sidney Poitier, to the parodied-plot, Everett’s novel is entirely ironic. However, repetition plays a large role in how Everett dictates the presentation of his ironies in his supporting characters. Everett uses a variety of repetition styles to achieve this, such as: diacope, alliteration, assonance, and homoioteleuton. Everett uses repetition as an important tool to express irony through his supporting characters in I Am Not Sidney Poitier. 

Diacope is defined as: the repetition of a word with one or more intervening words in between. Everett chooses to use this form of repetition most often, as it is established on the first page of the novel. Everett writes: “I am the ill-starred fruit of a hysterical pregnancy, and surprisingly, odd though I might be, I am not hysterical myself.” The term “hysterical pregnancy” is synonymous with “false pregnancy,” which refers to pregnancy-related symptoms in a woman, without an actual pregnancy. With that being said, the repetition of the word “hysterical” emphasizes the juxtaposition between the lunacy of Not Sidney’s mother’s pregnancy, and Not Sidney’s surprising sanity. In fact, our protagonist grows up to be relatively sensible. Furthermore, Everett writes: “My mother, famously eager to have a child, and likewise famously odd, offbeat, curious to all who met her and famously very much without a partner.” The repetition of the word “famously” emphasizes the curious circumstances under which Not Sidney was conceived. However, Not Sidney conceived and birthed all the same, rather famously. Diacopic repetition is used to discuss the literal birth of Not Sidney, when Everett details his mother’s pain: “Her screams filled the streets like screams.” In the simile, “screams” is repeated to emphasize the exact sound emitted by Not Sidney’s mother. The diction implies that there is no other word to describe the screams, which communicates to the reader that the pregnancy was tremendously taxing. The “simile,” created via the repetition of the word “screams,” is not technically a simile. It is, in essence, an ironic-simile that only exists because of the diacope created by Percival Everett. The opening portion of the novel is riddled with diacopes that illuminate the absurdity of Not Sidney’s conception and birth. Everett’s repetition facilitates the presentation of specific ironies, such as, Not Sidney’s mother becoming pregnant without “famously” having a partner. In summary, the irony of Not Sidney Poitier’s birth is expressed via the implementation of diacopic repetition. 

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines alliteration as: “The repetition of sounds in a sequence of words. Alliteration generally refers to repeated consonant sounds.” With this in mind, alliteration is a relatively common literary device that can even be written by accident. Percival Everett does not write his alliterations by accident however. Not Sidney, upon his mother’s death, moved in with millionaire Ted Turner. There he received tutoring from an outspoken leftist who despised Ted Turner despite her employment. Moreover, despite the fact that Ted Turner knew Betty’s name, and mentioned to Not Sidney that he liked her, Betty still scornfully refers to him as a: “pestilential, poisonous, pernicious, parasite.” The alliteration demonstrates not only the disdain with which Betty regards Ted Turner, but the irony of the situation as a whole. Although Betty is an educator, she refuses to acknowledge the evidence that Ted Turner is not the menace she thought he was. Furthermore, in the alliteration, she refers to Ted Turner as a “parasite,” meanwhile she is the one who is receiving a wage from Ted Turner. The contrast between Betty’s misplaced disdain in Ted Turner, and her dependence on the same man for a livelihood, demonstrates the irony in her defaming her employer. That irony is given fortitude by the alliteration, which draws attention to the gusto with which Betty disapproves of Ted Turner. Meanwhile assonances, which according to The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms are: “the repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds” are used in a similar way. For example, Ted Turner says to Not Sidney: “And I want to apologize again about this abstruse arrangement. Boy that’s a lot of a’s in one sentence.” The assonance provides a mechanism to allow Percival Everett to break the fourth wall between his readers and the plot, which of course is an example of dramatic irony. Whether it is the repetition of consonant sounds, or vowel sounds, alliterations and assonances function as a sculptor to Ted Turner’s character. Moreover, they help to characterize Betty as well, as her and Ted Turner create a paradoxical dynamic. 

Homoioteleuton, is defined as repeating similar ending sounds at the ends of words or phrases. Everett uses homoioteleuton often, which allows his sentences to flow quickly and with apparent sonic symmetry. For example, when detailing his exploits in martial arts, Not Sidney states: “He did so, thusly, which was synonymous with roughly or violently, as he always did, thusly.” The clause flows smoothly with the repetition of the ly sound, and is sonically symmetrical as it begins and ends with the word “thusly.” Another example, spoken by Betty, reads: “…I have tried so untiringly, diligently, and untiringly to teach you.” Again there is a repetition of the ly sound, but this quote’s significance relies more on it being further characterization for Betty. Not Sidney conveys that her teachings mainly consisted of: “She taught me about Marx and Lenin and Castro and the ills of American democracy.” While it is important for a teacher to prompt a student to ponder questions about their government, according to Not Sidney, Betty’s teachings are wholly biased. If one is teaching “untiringly” and “diligently” then one would expect more than just romanticized opinions. Therefore, the homoioteleuton allows the reader to witness the divide between Betty’s actual teaching ability and her perceived teaching ability. She may hold herself in high regard, but her pupils certainly do not. Previously, an alliteration was used to emphasize the juxtaposition between her negative perception of Ted Turner and his actual positive personality. Currently, a homoioteleuton is being used to emphasize the juxtaposition between her bursting ego, and her tangible abilities as a teacher. In both instances Betty proves that she is incapable of seeing the truth, which is ironic because she is the one teaching Not Sidney about “truth.”

Everett’s novel is centered on the irony of trying to make a name for oneself; a name that’s different from the one given at birth. In the process of detailing Not Sidney’s introspective journey, Everett created other characters that, like Not Sidney, live and breath irony. Betty for example, is a teacher without a clue as to which side is up and which side is down. Meanwhile, Ted Turner is a millionaire CEO who knows his staff and who fostered a small boy. Furthermore, Not Sidney’s mother, is a mother seemingly without a partner. Her pregnancy occurred despite the omission of many key factors such as a husband, or natural gestation period. Such supporting characters are just as ironic as the protagonist, and their irony is constantly expressed through repetition patterns. Diacope, alliteration, assonance and homoioteleuton draw attention to specific lines of importance. Moreover they had emphasis to existing metaphors or juxtapositions. They can also create entire similes as does the diacope: “Her screams filled the streets like screams.” Overall, these repetition patterns play a significant role in developing the ironies that make supporting characters such as Betty and Ted Turner, justifiably as important to the main narrative as Not Sidney Poitier.


  1. Figures of Speech: Repetition,
  2. Figures of Repetition
  3. Repetition.htm.

Irony as a Driving Literary Device in “The Bacchae”

Irony is my favorite literary device to read, simply because of the way it can be introduced into a piece. For example, one can include irony humorously via sarcasm, as seen in The Bacchae during the long exchange between Pentheus and Dionysus: 

Pentheus: “You really want to spoil me don’t you?”

Dionysus: “To spoil you — yes, in my own way.”

One can also include irony into a piece tragically, and the text which immediately comes to mind is George Orwell’s 1984. The chapter(s) where Winston is being interrogated by O’Brian are particularly compelling in this regard. Euripidies was able to harness the humor of irony, while Orwell was able to harness the darker-side of irony — lies taken as a universal truth, demonstrating the flexibility of this literary device. 

Epigraph number one not only got me thinking about the ways in which irony can be implemented into a text, but also how, at least by the epigraph’s description, it serves as a driving feature in The Bacchae. Specifically, it is Pentheus’s failure to, as the epigraph states, “…accept the absurdity of a situation” that leads to his downfall.  According to the epigraph still, this: “…suggests a kind of belief that [Pentheus] knows all about a given a situation” and it is this foolishness that costs him his life, and his family name. 

Pentheus is given multiple warnings to dissuade him from attempting to retrieve the Maenads, by not only Cadmus and Teiresias, but Dionysus himself as well (disguised as a “stranger.”) Teiresias tells Pentheus to: “…[not] be too sure that force is what controls human affairs…do not think your folly is wisdom.” Despite Teiresias’s role in this society as a “seer” or prophet, Pentheus refuses to take what the elder has to say seriously, as he mocks his clothing and thyrus. Moreover, Teiresias illuminates a significant irony throughout the work: if one thinks they are wise, they are a fool, or as The Bacchae puts it: “To be clever is not to be wise.” The juxtaposition between “wisdom” and “folly” serves to set the tone for the rest of the piece, as it becomes a motif throughout the play. However, to call Pentheus clever may be a stretch, as he fails to yield to the words of even Dionysus himself: “Perhaps you will catch them unaware — [aside:] unless you are caught first.” Dramatic irony lends importance to the quote, as the audience knows that it is Dionysus himself warning Pentheus, but that Pentheus does not. Furthermore this line emphasizes the different ways in which irony can be implemented in a piece; and despite different implementations such as: sarcasm (or comic irony), tragic irony, or dramatic irony respectively, they all are used to maintain the author’s central message: to think oneself wise is a fool’s thought. 

The relationship between Dionysus and Pentheus, when compared to some other Greek Tragedies is in itself ironic. In the Bacchae, the person of a higher social status (Dionysus, being a god) tricks the person of a lower social status (Pentheus being a king.) In Euripides’ other work, “Medea” it is Medea, a woman, who tricks a king into facilitating her reign of terror on Korinth. Meanwhile, in the “Odyssey,” Odysseus bests Polymorphous by blinding him, and subsequently tricking him into releasing him and his men from the Cyclops’s cave. While a Cyclops is not necessarily part of the ancient Greek social structure, he certainly is a higher life form than Odysseus in terms of strength and raw power. Euripidies’ The Bacchae, deviates from these other plays by contradicting the tales of cunning, heroic, mortals, to tell a story where the protagonist is actually a god, and the antagonist is human. While it can be said that in Oedipus Rex, Oedipus is actually the antagonist, this revelation is not given until the end of the story, where as, in The Bacchae, Pentheus is immediately antagonistic — mocking the seer, and his grandfather. For the first time in a long time, in terms of Greek tragedies, the “little-guy” does not walk away victorious. 

Identifying the ironies in The Bacchae is something that I want to do in all texts that we are going to read this year. Obviously not just ironies, but other literary devices as well. My goal is to devise what kind of literary feature the author(s) use most often, and to be able to explain how that feature furthers the message of the central theme. This is a skill that I want to master going through this course. It is one thing to know what a book is about, and what it is trying to communicate to its readers, but it’s another thing to know the “how” and “why” behind it. Similarly, memorizing facts does not determine knowledge, rather learning concepts and building foundations breeds a greater depth of understanding. If a mechanic does not know why an oil leak is occurring in a vehicle, it is impossible for him to know how to best fix the problem, and I’d rather not be left with oil stains on my hands for no cash in my pocket.