Don’t Stereotype My Dionysus

Don’t Stereotype My Dionysus!

In my previous blog post, I discussed some discrepancies between the Bacchae and Frenzy’s version of Dionysus. My primary focus was Dionysus’ complicated identity and desire for belonging. I want to utilize this post to delve further into Dionysus’ character in Frenzy, and explore why Percival Everett wrote the character this way.

The Dionysus in Frenzy is a god with an intricate history. He isn’t accepted by humans or the other gods due to his unusual birth out of Zeus’ leg. This lack of belonging leads to Dionysus making odd choices that are uncharacteristic of the typical Greek god archetype.

A recurring example of this is Dionysus attempt at sleeping. Despite his lack of need for it, he feigns sleep every night by mirroring his human followers’ actions. Dionysus’ companion, Vlepo, notices this and realizes that he is, in fact, not truly asleep but pretending, “my master had somehow found that quasi sleep again…” (Everett, 140). When I read this passage, I interpreted Dionysus to be interested in human characteristics and possibly trying to fit in among his followers. This, again, emphasizes his want for acceptance, whether it be in the god or human world. I also found it unusual for a Greek god to be so absorbed in human behavior when, traditionally, humans are disposable to the gods.

 Dionysus’ amusement with sleep stuck out to me as a curious attribute of Frenzy’s Dionysus. It is a character trait that is also not mentioned in The Bacchae. So why is Dionysus’ mimicking sleep so important that it needs to be included several times in Frenzy?

One can look at the original Bacchae for evidence behind Everett’s decisions in developing Dionysus as a character this way. The Bacchae is a classic and old Greek tragedy. Being this ancient, many of its characters are archetypic. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms defines archetype as “the original model from which something is developed or made…” (Murfin, Ray, 24). Based on the Bedford’s definition, it makes sense that an original Greek play written in 405 BC would include some of the infant models for characters used today. However, these character archetypes are basic and one-dimensional, often depicting characters as people with only one goal or emotion. This creates an improbable and frankly, boring character.

Dionysus for example, is vengeful against Pentheus’ town because of their lack in belief in him as a god, so he plots the town’s demise. This is an understandable viewpoint for a Greek god except that it is the only one we see Dionysus having in the Bacchae. This is not a realistic interpretation of any character even if the character is a god. It is also a stereotypical goal as Greek gods are normally portrayed as self-absorbed and power-hungry individuals. Perhaps this is because the Bacchae was one of the initial Greek tragedies and it represents an archetype for later Greek plays and stories.

I think that Everett noted the Bacchae’s quintessential characters and believed they could be perceived as stereotypical and uninteresting for modern audiences to read. So, he created a dynamic Dionysus that is much more complex of a character than the original. His Dionysus is not so much arrogant as one might assume a Greek god to be, but fascinated by his human followers which we can see by his imitation of them sleeping. We can also see this different depiction in Everett’s Dionysus with his urge to belong in the world as I looked at with my last blog post. This way, Frenzy’s Dionysus is not an archetype but a realistic illustration of what a Greek god could be.

This discussion of Everett’s choice to disregard the stereotypical archetype Greek god for Dionysus’ character in Frenzy reminds me of our first class in English 203 this year. Dr. McCoy pulled up a twitter photo with the caption “suspicious pants” above a photo of khakis hanging over the back of a chair. I’m assuming the photo and caption are supposed to be humorous as the pockets look like two eyes squinting suspiciously. Dr. McCoy separated us into groups to examine how we interpreted the epigraph. I explained to my group that I saw the pants as having eyes squinting menacingly at someone doing a suspicious act. In that way, they were suspicious of someone. I expected most people in my group to have seen the same thing as I did. However, Sarah, a member of my group, quickly pointed out that she saw the pants as looking suspicious themselves.

These differences in opinion lead to a larger class discussion of divergence in perceptions among humans. I thought of this experience when thinking about the possible reasons for Everett creating such a convoluted character of Dionysus in Frenzy. Perhaps Everett wants to show his readers that no character is completely as one perceives them and that can’t be represented with the simple archetypes from the Bacchae. For example, one might believe Dionysus in Frenzy to be a stereotypical Greek god who is longing for revenge, when in actuality, he may be a character who is lost and looking for acceptance just as any human can be.

I enjoyed reading Frenzy more than the Bacchae because of the in-depth characters I could relate to. Archetypes serve a purpose as templates for future roles but they are difficult to impart upon modern readers as memorable and engaging characters. Everett avoids these archetypes and in doing so, creates an expansive character that readers can contemplate in more ways than one.

Is there sense to ted Turner’s nonsensical comments?

      In the novel “I am Not Sidney Poitier” by Percival Everett Ted Turner takes in Not Sidney after his mother dies. He stated that he was in love with her and makes comments on how smart she was, but she also was worth a lot of money. After she died her money was transferred to Not Sidney making him a rich black young man. It is unclear if Turner takes Not in because he was worth a lot of money or because he genuinely cared for the young motherless boy. Not lives in the other half of Turner’s house completely isolated, he paid rent and paid for his own staff.

       However, even though Turner does not act or try to pretend to be Not’s father he does provide some type of advice when Not is in need. For example, Mrs. Hancock raped Not for the second time and when he brought the issue up to the principle they laughed in his face.  After this, he went home and began to pace along the pool line as Turner walks out for an afternoon swim. When Turner speaks, he is disorganized, chaotic, and out of order. But within his disorganized thoughts, there is good advice and life lessons portrayed in his abstract way of thinking.  

      For example, on page 40 Ted says “I wonder if you know the lightening’s coming. A fellow told me that when he got struck he felt like he had glass in his shoes” this is an example of Ted’s unorganized thoughts, but an insight to his abstract advice to Not Sidney. When Ted walked into the back yard Not began to tell him about his incident with the principle how he just laughed in his face. Ted’s response to him was that he could not tell him what to do and it was his decision on how to proceed with the situation. After saying this he proceeded to talk about the “fellow” he meets that was struck by lightning. I believe that him bringing up the story about the lightning was an analogy to Not Sidney’s issue.
      At first, Not tells Ted about his teacher that gave him a blow job and he did not know how he felt about it, just that he knew it was wrong. Ted’s comment about “I wonder if you know the lightening’s coming” can relate to Not Sidney getting the blow job and not knowing the trouble that will come after the incident and if he knew that the lightening, the trouble, was coming after him. Due to Not Sidney telling the Principal and Superintendent, Miss. Hancock failed him in the class, this action is what I interpreted to be the lightning.

      The second half of the quote, “A fellow told me that when he got struck he felt like he had a glass in his shoes”, shows a clear relation to Not’s problem. The “…glass in his shoes” can be interpreted as the frustration and anger Not Sidney felt when none of the faculty and bosses of his school believed him. The faculty not believing him would be uncomfortable poking and pain you would feel if you had glass in your shoe. Also, the repetition of the word “struck” can be interpreted as the moment Not received his failing grade from Miss. Hancock.

      Another example of Ted’s nonsense comment being useful to and relating to one of Not’s issues is on page 45 where he says “I’ve often wondered how the soldiers in the civil war could do it. Imagine charging across a pasture with men getting blown to smithereens to the left and right of you and you keep going…”. In this passage Not is telling Ted that he is going to drive to L.A to visit his mother’s grave. At the time there was a lot of racism and Not Sidney was somewhat sheltered from this reality by Ted and his own money. He did not know the troubles that were awaiting him as he crossed into Georgia.

      While reading the first part of the quote I compared Not Sidney to the solider and the civil war as him crossing the county lines and into the battlefield of racism and unfair treatment of black. The pasture, Georgia, “… with men getting blown to smithereens to the left and right of you and you keep going…” is Not Sidney along with other black men being accused of nonsense crimes and then being taken to jail for no reason other than being black. The reference to the Civil War reminds us that even though the war against slavery was won by the North, there was still an existing punishment for being a Black citizen.

      Even though we may view Ted Turner’s unorganized thoughts as useless and nonsensical it can be interpreted as his way of warning Not Sidney or his own way of teaching him lessons.

What does it mean to be a sheep?

While reading Percival Everett’s I am Not Sidney Poitier for class on Friday I was struck by something that the character of Percival Everett says to Not Sidney. Not Sidney goes to Everett’s office to get his permission to join an English course entitled the Philosophy of Nonsense. In the middle of the conversation Everett asks Not Sidney “Are you a sheep Mr. Poitier?” and Not Sidney responds, “I don’t think so.” Everett goes on to say “Most sheep don’t think they are sheep. I wonder what they think they are. Pigeons maybe.” They continue their conversation and the idea of sheep does not come back until Not Sidney is about to leave. Everett’s final warning to Not Sidney is “Don’t be a sheep, Mr. Poitier. Be anything, be a deer or a squirrel, a beaver or a gnu, but don’t be a sheep.”

Continue reading “What does it mean to be a sheep?”

And Scene. What does it Mean?

In class last week, Professor McCoy brought up a quote from Laura Mulvey referring to women ‘as [the] bearer[s] of meaning, not [the] maker[s] of meaning.’ This quote, when repeated in class was from Mulvey’s essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, though it was said without supplying background information on the piece. That being said, my initial thought upon hearing the quote was also ignorant to the context of the piece, and got me thinking about the concept of meaning, and if it is really possible for anyone to make meaning, or bear it at all. 

Let me explain a little bit about the essay. Mulvey’s context places her statement at the end of the  second paragraph. In that space, she argues that it is the ‘unconscious of patriarchal society [that] has structured film form’ (Mulvey). She discusses how women are represented in film almost as a kind of threat of effeminacy for the male, as well as a foil or juxtaposition to highlight male masculinity, male strength,  and power. Woman, in this sense, is the object of desire for the masculine, as well as a creature in desire of the masculine; Mulvey’s argument places women in film structure as revolving around the male, a ‘signifier for the male other’ (Mulvey). 

Oddly enough, this concept reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend last year. We were both learning more about film and film technique, and we encountered something close to the concept Mulvey spoke of: of the amount of women in a scene indicating the lack of men. One of the things we noticed (and went on to fact-check) was that it was strange for us to watch a scene in which there was an equal or greater amount of women compared to the number of men. When we researched it to figure out if we were simply imagining this, we found that it is actually a sort of norm to include copious amounts of men in a scene in comparison to women. 

According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, which conducts an annual study, 2018-2019 saw less than half of speaking roles in broadcast, cable, and streaming sites given to women, hitting about forty-five percent, which was still higher than the last collection of data, as well as the percentage of speaking roles given to women in the top one hundred movies of 2017-2018, which totaled at only thirty-three percent according to another study conducted by a ‘Women and Hollywood’ interest group. Women comprise half of the population of the real world, but it puts a scene on edge to have that same ratio represented in cinema. 

In her essay, Mulvey says that woman is the bearer of meaning because she is objectified by her male counterpart, the mirror to bounce off male meaning, as the man represents the object of meaning, as it often does in other forms of art as well.

Looking back at my original thought before carrying the context of Mulvey’s argument to spin the direction of my own thoughts on the matter, I was left thinking about meaning. True meaning. It’s my belief that meaning can’t be made for a party, it can only be determined by each individual within. I believe that people make meaning for themselves, each person decides what is important and that thing can grow or lose importance as the individual learns and grows into themself. 

This being said, I couldn’t help but be bothered by the wording of Mulvey’s quote. I spent a good deal of time thinking over whether anyone can make meaning; once I had begun thinking of that, I started to question the accuracy in anyone’s, not only women’s, ability to bear meaning. If people make meaning for themselves, is it possible to bear meaning? I find it difficult to consider that someone can carry meaning with them for another. My problem with her wording is that I believe people can represent an idea or concept that others can choose to find meaning in, but I don’t believe that ‘bearing meaning’ is the same as this. 

Diction aside, the quote still conveys the intended meaning. It insinuates that women, the women represented in film, at least, are incapable of creation or independence of mind, that only men possess that vital ability to form thoughts, think for themselves and recognise the meaning in the world around them. In the context of Mulvey, in discussion of film, it sums up one of the many problems that still exists in the portrayal of anyone that strays from the qualities of straight, white, and male. In this, the issues in film and television portrays the issue underlying in the world that produces them, that is the underlying meaning of the issue, and it is for each to realise on their own, and then decide how to address it.

Why keep him around?

Last Monday in English 203, while we were gathered into small groups, Professor McCoy instructed us to write down what we wanted to figure out as we continue to read through, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. I have to be honest, when Professor McCoy first instructed us to begin to write I was in a moment of pause, watching as my peers began to type hastily on their computers as if they knew what Beth was going to have us do before she even instructed it and I was slightly jealous that their minds moved so quickly. I sat there for a minute, thinking back to what we’ve read so far in the novel and the one person I kept going back to was, Ted Turner. I then managed to snap out of my thoughts and began to type a paragraph that was messy and rushed but when the time came for me to share with the class what I wanted to figure out I managed to sum it up by saying, “Why keep Ted Turner around?”

            Ted Turner’s character in I Am Not Sidney Poitier is without a doubt one of the most interesting characters I have ever read and explored and I’m able to appreciate him because he’s so different and honestly, quite strange. His dissociation with reality is what really draws me to his character, providing Not Sidney with strange and almost useless advice when Not is looking for actual help, is intriguing because that’s not the usual way an average adult deals with issues. And that’s just it-this version of Ted Turner isn’t an “average” adult; he’s a billionaire that is able to do anything he wants-not to mention that he’s also white, so he’s basically a walking billboard for privilege. Usually, I wouldn’t be so in tune with a character like this because I find it boring to read the same white, lead, male character trope over and over, but Percival Everett has minimized Ted Turner into a side character that doesn’t get too much screen time, and its perfect.  

            When Not Sidney first told Ted about being abused by his history teacher, Miss Hancock (which is a sad play on words in this case), he reacts in a way that’s suspected for his character. “Well, you know, that doesn’t sound too bad on the face of it, but it seems a little inappropriate,” is Tuner’s initial response and when I read that sentence I found myself getting upset because there are so many real stories of what Not Sidney went through followed by that exact rationality that Ted brings up. The very common line that one often hears when a boy is taken advantage of by a woman, one that means to make the boy feel good about himself because he got the attention of his abuser, rather than call it what it is. It’s sick. For a moment I was upset with Ted for not being the responsible adult that Not Sidney needs at that moment, but then I remembered that he isn’t much of an adult himself. While Not is explaining what had happened, Ted is casually chewing gum, thoughts clearly elsewhere as he stares at the section of the house where Not Sidney stays.

            He then launches himself into this brief story about his Italian shoes and how he practices tying them with one hand in case he ever loses one of his arms in a crazy accident. I appreciate how Not Sidney reacts because at this point, he knows what to expect when he talks to this odd guy, but it still surprises him to a certain extent as they sit there. “‘But wait. Ted, how do you get to choose which arm you’ll lose in an accident?’ Ted stopped working his gum for a second. ‘That’s a very good question, Nu’ott. I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it had better be my left. So, are you going to turn this teacher in?’” That’s how Ted bridges the gap from his warped sense of reality, to being in that moment with Not. They go back and forth for a bit before Ted settles back into his usual self and the interaction ends with him saying, “This teacher, does she have full lips? Does she wear makeup? How short are her skirts? Just trying to get a picture of the whole thing.”

            My question still remains unanswered, why keep Ted Turner around? In the writing exercise Beth had us do I asked myself, “Why is it Ted Turner, when Not Sidney was wealthy as shit?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m most likely Ted Turner’s biggest fan and I’ll defend this character to the very end-but why was it him? In my previous blogpost I mentioned that the side characters in this reading don’t provide much meat to the plot of this story, and that’s very true, but Turner offers a sense of comfortableness that one can enjoy. His advice that he provides is very random and almost useless but if we didn’t have the dialogue that we do between him and Not Sidney, the novel wouldn’t be as rich as it is.

“The Ship” (and Not Sidney?) are Not Themselves Today

During our class period on Friday, it became Susanna’s job to yell “The ship!” every time the philosophical problem of Theseus’ ship was applicable to some aspect of Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Indeed, Susanna said this on multiple occasions (and with amazing delivery!) throughout our discussion. In particular, I would like to examine how this pesky problem applies to the formation of Not Sidney Poitier’s identity in the novel.

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Rules, they are something we have been told to follow since we were little kids; They are put into place to keep people in lince, and generally to prevent chaos.We have rules put in place that if we break, then we must suffer the penalty of the law, but we also have societal “rules”. These societal “rules” go as follows: Don’t do anything that isn’t normal. But what is normal? How do we define such a broad word? Who gets to decide what is normal and what is not? 

As our society grows and changes, so do these societal “rules”; The “rules” in the 80’s are much different than the societal rules that we have today. These ever changing “rules” that Not Sydney faces change constantly throughout the novel. Such as when he travels to Atlanta and he is prosecuted simply for being black. Societal “rules” can often change based on the location of the person, and in Not Sydney’s case, being in the south and being black was breaking one of their societal “rules”. In Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier, our protagonist Not Sidney is already breaking many of those societal rules simply by having the name of Not Sidney. Not Sidney was often beaten by his classmates just because of his peculiar name, although he was not breaking any actual rules, his name was out of the ordinary so Not endures the “punishment” of breaking the societal rules. Even before he was born, Not Sidney was breaking all of the societal “rules” of a normal pregnancy. His mother, Portia Poitier, had a hysterical pregnancy and Not Sidney ended up having a 2 year gestation period because of this. This already made Not not “normal” from the beginning of his life. His neighbors would often gossip about him and his abnormal gestation period, he was often given nicknames such as “Elephant Boy and on occasion Late Nate” (Everett 5) . These were all given to him simply because his own mother had bestowed this odd gestation period upon him. 

Beyond the real world lies the cinematic world; this world also contains a whole new set of rules and things to follow in order for the piece to be up to a certain standard. Most films follow the Freytag Pyramid, which is the general way a story should be presented in order to properly captivate the audience. This includes many norms; such as the guy winning over the girl, or the superhero kicking the villain’s butt, and at the end and the whole city was saved. It generally goes that there is rising action, then a climax, then falling action.  In the film The Defiant Ones, a black man and a white man are criminals on the run from the law, but they are chained together making it extremely hard for them to do so. The film mainly follows the Freytag pyramid where there is the rising action of them running from the law, and the general climax of them running to the freight train, and barely missing it. The only thing that does not follow the Freytag pyramid is that in the end the pair ends up getting caught. This ending seems to break all the rules! They were supposed to end up escaping the law, and live long and happy lives! By breaking these so called “cinematic rules” I think that the film makes more of an impact on the audience. The pair getting caught rather than living happily ever after is something that is more reasonable and realistic, rather than them truly escaping the law. By breaking these rules, we come to a much less satisfying conclusion, but a more realistic one nonetheless.  By going beyond the normal, this film is much more entertaining to watch.

Rules, they constrain us to be people who we are not. Although they do prevent general chaos in society, the societal rules are causing much more internal chaos than if there were no rules at all. Everyone feels constricted to follow these “rules” set upon them, to be “normal”.  If someone dares to break these rules, they are shunned for doing so. I think that breaking these rules allows one to be who they truly are, unconstrained. The laws should be followed, because no one wants to have a criminal record, but I think that if more people were unafraid to break out of the norm, our society would be more interesting today. Maybe even interesting enough for Percival Everett to write a novel about. 

An example of Freytag’s Pyramid.

Figuring Out Your Identity

At the end of our class discussion on Monday, Beth asked us what we want to figure out as we read the rest of the novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett. She told us to just start writing. So I began and I wrote one thing after the other. There are many different aspects of this novel that stick out to me. For one, who is Not Sidney’s father? Could is really be Sidney Poitier himself? Oh the humor in that. And what about Ted Turner? As of right now, he isn’t really doing anything to be a “father figure” to Not Sidney. And why on earth does Not Sidney continue to say that his name is Not Sidney knowing that the people he’s talking to aren’t going to believe him?

Like I said, I was writing one thing down after another. The point that I made to the class as we shared was that I wanted to know what Percival Everett wants the reader to take from this novel. I want to figure out the possible themes that are brought about throughout I Am Not Sidney Poitier. One possible theme that stands out to me is identity. Who does Sidney Poitier identify himself as? After Not Sidney moved to Atlanta to live with Ted Turner because his mother had passed away, he decided to leave and go back to California. Shortly after he left his new home, he got arrested because “Apparently it’s illegal to be black in Peckerwood County” (Everett 55). The racism down South is something that African Americans have to simply deal with during this time period. Not Sidney has to accept that this is the way that he is going to be treated.

In addition to this, Not Sidney looks a whole lot like Sidney Poitier himself according to his peers. When he was young, he got beat up for telling others that his name was “Not Sidney”. And now that he’s older, instead of getting made fun of, he gets told that he looks just like Sidney Poitier. He even got asked by Gladys Feet if Sidney was his father. Not Sidney says that Sidney Poitier is not his father, but he does not know for sure if he could be. Over the years, Not Sidney learned that this was how it was going to be. His own name caused many conflicts for himself. 

Luckily for Not Sidney, he got a different reaction when he met one of his professors, Percival Everett. Instead of confusion and the urge to make fun of the name, Professor Everett said “I like it” (Everett 87) in response to Not Sidney saying that Not Sidney was his name. Not Sidney, out of habit, had to explain that his name really was Not Sidney and it seemed to me that Percival Everett didn’t even care. I mean, why should he? Everett overlooks his name and instead of making irrelevant comments like everyone else, he just brings him out to lunch. 

To summarize all of this nonsense about identity, Not Sidney Poitier has a hard time finding himself because maybe he was made to be like Sidney Poitier. He cannot be his own person because too many people are comparing him to someone else because of the way he looks and because of his name. Your identity is made to separate you from everyone else. I am not constantly being compared to some famous actor and I don’t have a name that people make fun of. I am my own person. I play sports and I love to read and drink coffee. It’s what makes me, me. Your identity is what makes you, you. 

Sarcasm as a Tool

Percival Everett’s novel I Am Not Sidney Poitier, uncovers the story of an African American boy Not Sidney who is raised during a time of racism. He is raised before 1954 since segregation was declared unconstitutional during that year, according to the Brown versus Board of Education case in 1954. While he is initially uneducated about racial distinctions between Caucasians and African Americans, one of Not Sidney’s household teachers, Betty, aids him in understanding that these two groups of people are not considered equal under the law. Betty helps arm Not Sidney with sarcasm to distract him from the distinctions and slurs directed towards him on the basis of his color.

Everett integrates sarcastic humor into the personality of his main protagonist. Sarcasm, according to Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray’s The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, is defined as “intentional derision through cutting humor or wit, often directed at another person and designed to hurt or ridicule… [it] involves verbal irony” (392). This is the quality that Not Sidney uses most often as a strategy to distract himself from the racist remarks said about him.

In order to help build his thick skin, Betty educates Not Sidney. She is his teacher at home and is described as a “raving socialist” who is fond of him (9). This quality means that she believes all people should be considered equal under the law. She also calls herself “big boned” (9). While she teaches Not Sidney about “the fall of the Roman empire and about how the British lost their empire”, she also helps him understand the inequality of American democracy so that he be aware and understand his place in society (9).

Not Sidney summarizes all of the information she has told him previously, mentioning, “She taught me that America preached freedom yet would not allow anyone to be different” (9). While Betty may have previously told Not Sidney this, because of his young age, he may not have been able to apply the message to his own life. In a later conversation, Betty speaks about a white man Ted Turner, saying, “That man is the devil. You be careful around that white man, and around whitey in general” (10).

She explicitly tells Not Sidney that he must take precautions around Turner, because of the color of his skin. This is the first time Not Sidney is told to look at a person on the basis of their race, rather than solely by their personality.

Innocently, Not Sidney asks, “Why do you say he’s the devil?” to which she responds “young brother, young brother, you have no idea. Money be green, we be black, and the devil be white. That’s all we know and all we need to know” (10). She separates the African American community from success as she pinpoints money. She then separates her own community as she herself, makes the distinction between Caucasians and African Americans. “The devil be white” is essentially her way of emphasizing that all Caucasians at the time are considered evil people who will cause harm and discriminate against minority groups.

Cleverly, Not Sidney tells her “I just don’t see why him being white makes him the devil. My mother liked him. My mother was smarter than you. I like him. And he likes you” (11). The sarcasm used early in his sentence serves as a mechanism to prevent his categorization into a racially distinct category when he says his mother liked Turner and that his mother was smarter than Betty. In other words, Not Sidney humorously follows his mother’s influence in saying that simply because she liked him, he likes Turner too. Even while he had good intentions in his response, his humor offends Betty’s intellect in the process.

While Not Sidney finds it challenging to wrap his head around the idea that such racial barriers exist, had Betty not stated this complicated relationship, Not Sidney would have continued to be unaware of existing boundaries between himself and other majorities of people.

Especially in the school setting, when he is assaulted by his teacher, Not Sidney uses his humorous nature to explain to the Superintendent Dr. Gunther that he was assaulted, while insulting his teacher in the process. He says “I decided not to beat around the bush, but dove straight into it, to offer the shock of it. ‘She drove me to her tacky house, got on her knee-socked knees, and gave me what I have since learned is called a blowjob… And, to tell the truth, she wasn’t very good at it. I don’t think it’s supposed to hurt’” (42).

Despite Not Sidney’s attempts to seek help from his Superintendent, he is aware that people do not believe his story, yet he explains it in more of a light-hearted manner. This sarcastic, light-heartedness helps him in two distinct ways. This speaking manner first softens the figurative bruising he receives since people do not believe him, but instead laugh at him. Also, this serves as his coping mechanism through times when he encounters racial barriers.

Without the education Betty instills in Not Sidney, he would not be as knowledgeable of existing racial distinctions, nor would he know how to handle or conduct himself.

What I Am(./?)

Back on September 16th my fellow classmate, Ashley Kupiec, wrote regarding the nature of identity in Frenzy “It seems to me that both Everett and Dionysus are really talking about identity and the pesky question of ‘who am I?’ ”. This idea came to my mind as I continued to read our latest novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. The nature of identity is a major concept in the novel, as made clear by the title itself,  through its clear cut “I Am” statement. The “pesky question of ‘who am I?’ ”, as Kupiec states, also becomes a driving source of conflict, comedy, and philosophical growth in the novel. 

Not Sidney’s mother died when he was eleven, leaving him with only rumors and memories to answer that pesky question. “My history was shrouded and diced and soaking wet with hysteria and contradiction.” (Everett 29). He never knew his father, never knew any living family, and never even knew why he was named Not Sidney. The latter of these is particularly interesting. The first step toward understanding one’s identity is understanding one’s name and if not understanding it, then accepting it. For Not Sidney, this was a challenge. In highschool when Not Sidney would introduce himself by name as “Not Sidney” the confusion that followed would ultimately lead him to a beating. Not Sidney would eventually grow and become a man who would not take beatings anymore. However, Not Sidney would find that his name would forever be a source of discomfort in his life. Understandably, he came to hold a grudge against his own name. His identity had become tied with the difficulties he faced in life. For Not Sidney identity and name were directly related. “I accepted, then and there, my place in this world. I was a fighter of windmills. I was a chaser of whales. I was Not Sidney Poitier.” (43).

Despite the fact that Not Sidney found his identity tied directly to his name, his own existence is also directly conditional the existence of another person. Not his mother, his father, or his family, but Sidney Poitier himself. Not Sidney feels that his identity is directly tied to his name because the treatment he received from his name shaped the man he had become. However, the treatment he received existed in part because of the existence of Sidney Poiteir himself. In other words, Not Sidney’s identity is tied to Sidney’s existence. Not only does Not Sidney have a name that is contingent on Sidney, he also looks remarkably like Sidney. This idea of dependent identity is also shown in Frenzy through the character Vlepo. Vlepo asks Dionysus, their God, if they were created by Dionysus. Dionysus responds, “I might say your existence depends on me, but nothing more than that.”(Everett 88). Vlepo’s existence, in a much more literal sense, is dependent on Dionysus. Vlepo can only be themself if Dionysus exists. In a similar way Not Sidney can only be Not Sidney if Sidney Poitier exists. But as Dionysus puts it, “It’s not much of a life though is it?-representing a thing.” (49). Dependency on name is a key to Not Sidney’s understanding of identity, but it is an unhealthy existence.

Not Sidney operated under this mindset for some time, until he made his way into college and met Percival Everett, his college professor. Not Sidney takes Everett’s class on “The Philosophy of Nonsense” and finds that it shakes his notions of name and identity. Upon initially meeting and getting to know Not Sidney, Everett sees Not Sidney as many people do upon their first introduction to him, as Sidney Poitier. Everett expresses this to Not Sidney. “I know, I know, you’re Not Sidney Poitier and also not Sidney Poitier, but in a strange way you are Sidney Poitier as much as you are anyone.” (102). As Everett comes to know Not Sidney’s true identity he has an understanding that Not Sidney doesn’t have, that a name does not determine your identity. Everett can be objective about who Not Sidney is, in a way that Not Sidney cannot understand. It is through this objective understanding that Everett sees who Not Sidney is. “I don’t know. You might decide all of a sudden that you’re Sidney Poitier. You’re not, you know. Though you do look alarmingly like him.”(123). 

Everett undermines Not Sidney’s fragile understanding of his identity, but for better or for worse, we have yet to see. I predict for the better. Understanding who you are is hard to do when you’re dependent on someone else. Everett in a way is freeing Not Sidney from his 18 year identity crisis. 

Now to answer the important question, who cares? Why is identity independence important to us? This idea is crucial for my fellow college students and I. For many of us our identities have been dependent on our family, friends, and loved ones. Many of us are taught what we like and who we are to become. Now we find ourselves in a situation of almost entire independence. We are swimming in a vast ocean of knowledge and opportunity with no anchor. This is our chance to explore new things, and find out what we enjoy. This is our chance to find out who we are, and who we are to become. There are lessons to be learned from Not Sidney’s struggle for independence. Now is the time to begin to answer that “pesky question of ‘who am I?’ ”.  The only thing I can hope to do as of now, and what I would advise my peers to do as well, is “Be yourself. Unless you can think of someone better.” (124).

I am a writer of music. I am a blogger of posts. I am Kevin Reed.