“Thank you,” I said. “I came back to this place to find something, to connect with something lost, to reunite if not with my whole self, then with a piece of it. What I’ve discovered is that this thing is not here. In fact, it is nowhere. I have learned that my name is not my name. It seems you all know me and nothing could be further from the truth and yet you know me better than I know myself, perhaps better than I can know myself. My mother is buried not far from this auditorium, and there are no words on her headstone. As I glance out now, as I feel the weight of this trophy in my hands, as I stand like a specimen before these strangely unstrange faces, I know finally what should be written on that stone. It should say what mine will say:
I AM NOT MYSELF TODAY.”
— Percival Everett, I am Not Sidney Poitier
At the beginning of this semester we were introduced to our course’s epigraphs. Then we learned what an epigraph was. An epigraph is a short text placed at the beginning of another text. The epigraph is often a text from some outside source that does not seem connected to the main text that we are viewing. Part of what we learned about epigraphs is that they should make more sense to you after the completion of whatever they are attached to. So in this case, our course epigraphs should have some more clear meaning after the completion of the course. I was unsure of their meanings at the beginning. However, throughout the course all the little bits and pieces from the texts have come together to fit the puzzle in my head.
Following our discussion of the course epigraphs we wrote an essay about one of them. The essay was about what we were thinkING about following our reading of the course epigraphs and what sort of goals we could set for ourselves after thinkING about them. The essay was easy to write, and it wasn’t. The part of the essay that I found easy was being able to write about my opinion, my goals, and being able to write it in my voice. I find that if the essay allows me to write with my own voice I am more easily able to get my thinkING and writing flowing. The part that wasn’t easy was finding my start and being confident in my writing. Because I was slightly unsure about what to write, especially at the beginning, I had trouble starting my paper. Also, as I wrote it I felt slightly unsure if it was even relevant enough to the prompt. It was an interesting challenge that’s hard parts felt like the reverse of other essays I’ve written. During my first essay I focused on a different course epigraph that felt more relevant and interesting to me at the time. However, after coming to the end of this course I have found a different epigraph speaking to me more.
The epigraph I am focusing on for this essay is a quote from Percival Everett’s novel I am Not Sidney Poitier. I realized while reading the book that Everett’s use of contradictions, negations, and oxymorons was extremely captivating to me and this excerpt from the end of the book is full of the negations that I love. Furthemore, I feel that I have already expanded too much on the epigraph from my previous essay. Though I love the quote from Erasure, I found that I am Not Sidney Poitier as a whole text made such an impact on me that I can’t help but delve deeper into Everett’s book.
Throughout the semester we have looked at the texts I Am Not Sidney Poitier, re: f (gesture), Lilies of the Field, The Bacchae, Frenzy, and The Defiant Ones. Through each of these texts I believe the epigraph can apply in one way or another, especially when looking at them through an intertextual lens. The first text that comes to mind when looking at this epigraph is the text that it’s from, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. The book follows the story of a character called “Not Sidney Poitier” as he goes through trials and tribulations in his life. Already from the title we notice negation. The character’s name is Not Sidney Poiter, and he looks identical to the actor Sidney Poitier, however, he is not Sidney Poitier. The book is full of contradictory sentences that make it sometimes difficult to decipher meaning. For example, one important part of the story is that Not Sidney is wealthy beyond belief. Where did he get his fortune from? An inheritance from his mother who invested in the Turner Communications Group, a television broadcasting company. This is interesting because she hated television, in I Am Not Sidney Potier she called them “evil picture boxes” (Everett 16). If she hated television so much, why did she invest in it? It made her rich, yet she still doesn’t like or trust it. She believes in books. There is a lot to be unpacked from this small detail. It might show us that she believes that books are more important than television for learning, but she recognizes that TV is an unstoppable force that she can profit from. On the other hand, this contradiction could just go further to help illustrate her eccentricity. It might also be reflective of how Everett himself feels about television. There is no end to the amount of ways you could interpret this use of contradiction, and that is why I find his writing to be so fascinating. By adding the one line about her thoughts on television it gets you thinkING about things from inside the book and outside contexts.
I Am Not Sidney Poitier is about the life of the character Not Sidney, but many events in his life mirror the plots of the actor, Sidney Poitier, films. At one point in the book, Not Sidney is arrested and taken to Peckerwood County Correctional Prison farm. When he and a group of prisoners were being transported via bus, the bus crashed allowing Not Sidney and Patrice (another prisoner he was chained to) to escape. They then go on the run to try and find safety and become unchained from each other. This section of the book follows closely with the plot of The Defiant Ones, a 1958 film about two prisoners (one black and one white) on the run from the police after their prison bus crashed. There are a lot of contrasts in the book to the movie. In the book, Patrice is a “Peckerwood Hick.” He is nasty, racist, foul-mouthed, and a terrible speaker. He has a thick accent that is shown to be sometimes incomprehensible in the book. However, in the movie, his corresponding character “Joker” is a more genial character. He is definitely racist, but he’s not quite as raging and small-minded as Patrice. This decision to change Joker from a more open-minded white guy who has a change of heart, to a small-minded southern man who stays nasty throughout the novel gets us thinkING again. It might be a criticism of the way Hollywood tried to “solve” racism in the 1950s through small gestures and packages wrapped up in a neat little bow. It could be showing a more realistic version of the story, while occurring within a fantastically fictional setting. All of Everett’s contradictive choices in his texts are important because of how they get us thinkING.
As we can see, the epigraph’s contradictory aspects have followed us throughout the semester. Obviously, it is found a lot in the text that it’s from, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, but it can also be seen in the contrasts between texts like The Bacchae and Frenzy too, because Frenzy is a retelling of the classic story. It’s clear that a major reason for the epigraph is to get us thinkING and that’s what we’ve been doing all semester. We have learned how to learn, how to unpack ideas. We’ve become so good at it that we came to the conclusion that there is no end to learning. Through this course my perspective on learning has changed and is constantly changing because there is no perfect way to learn. That is one of the biggest takeaways from the semester. Learning is a constantly changing process. All of this can be found through the course epigraph. The epigraph itself represents what it means to learn. When looking at the epigraph with no context you can try to unpack as much meaning as you can, but it can be mostly impossible to understand. That is one level of learning. As you move further and you gain context, you can find more meaning in the quote and have a more solid understanding of what it means. Then you can look at outside contexts that can affect the meaning of the epigraph. The course epigraphs created a lens to interpret our whole course through. Moving forward I will always be thinking about the way I am learning and paying attention to what I like about writing styles because of the course epigraph.