Final Self-Reflective Essay. Epigraphs and Learning

“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:


 — 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.

Learning How to Think

In our first few weeks of classes we’ve already learned a lot. We learned how to think and how to learn. This might sound like pretty basic stuff, but it’s actually critically important to not just this course, but to our life. We have learned how to critically think, how to unpack ideas and analyze them more closely than we might have before. One of our course epigraphs illustrates this idea well, Percival Everett states, “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean some thing, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” 

The first sentence “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood.” condenses some of what I said before, the idea that anyone can ever understand each other is crazy to think about. Everybody has unique thoughts and feelings, yet through inflections and common words people can understand each other. This got me thinking about something from our class, The Bacchae. The Bacchae was written around 405 BC. That means it has been around for 2427 years, and we still understand it, we can still study it. The Bacchae was written by people who lived in a completely different time period but it still makes sense. It’s hard to wrap your head around that. This idea tells us a few things, one of the obvious being that language is a connector. Through language we can connect with the past, with their ideas and feelings. On top of that, because these texts still make sense to us it shows how similar we are to people in the past. People were still people then, just living in a different situation. This can be seen as both comforting and scary. It’s nice to think that people have been thinking and communicating in similar ways for centuries. It’s also scary to think about how little has changed over what seems like such a large span of time to us. That one single sentence led me toward thinking about The Bacchae and about the minds about people from ancient times.

In our first few classes we learned to think critically about everything. One of our course epigraphs was an internet meme, something most people wouldn’t give a second thought to. However, we spent at least 20 minutes discussing and unpacking meaning behind it to grasp a better understanding. Critical thinking can make your mind run wild in all different ways. If you try hard enough you can connect almost anything to something else. In my paragraph above I moved from a one sentence quote about  language and communication and connected it to our reading of the Bacchae. These texts don’t have any crossover within them, but finding connections between them is a huge part of what we should do when thinking critically. “Intertextuality is the condition of interconnectedness among texts, or the concept that any text is an amalgam of others…” (Murfin and Ray 476). Using this theory we are able to find connections between texts. Moving forward in this course, and in life, I’ll be making as many strong connections as I can between works. This may help me to find inspiration when I’m trying to write an essay, or allow me to explain something more easily. Another thing we learned was about how to learn effectively. We should be learning so that we can teach the topic we’re learning about, not just memorize parts to pass a test. Finding connections makes this easier. As a student hoping to become a teacher in the future this is one of the most important concepts to me. The avenues that critical thinking opens will be extremely helpful to me as a student. I’ve already written half of this essay based around just the first sentence of one of our epigraphs.

The second part of our course epigraph that says “Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean some thing, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” This part of the epigraph is a little bit more confusing than the first. It almost feels like this second half is explaining pieces of critical thinking. Sentences are meant to be understood. The reason we form sentences is to communicate with others and get our ideas across. What this quote shows is that people often understand each other. Normally when people speak to each other the meaning doesn’t get lost, but it’s not impossible. When people think critically about what people have said, what words they’ve used, it can change the intended meaning. That’s why Everett said “the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” This makes me think more about what I say. Going forward I am going to be more critical of my choices in speech. I don’t want my intentions to be misinterpreted, as it is possible to do. Part of the way I plan to make my meaning more clear is through consistent communication. The more well I know somebody, the less likely it is that I am misunderstood. I think that implementing clear communication in class will help to keep my intentions clear and also promote good faith.

So far, this course has already been one of the most beneficial to me in just a few weeks of having it. I had never heard of an epigraph before this class but after learning more about them I can’t stop noticing things that would make great epigraphs in future writing. I think another hugely important part of this class that’s more of a theme, is operating in good faith. I find it easy to operate in good faith when I know the professor is too. I have already found myself pushing myself harder for this course and being more critical of my work because I want to meet the good faith expectations that have been set. I think that will be the most impactful thing in this course. A goal I can already set for myself is to plan ahead more. I think that the level of work we are doing can be seen just by the amount of critical thinking we’ve already done and if I’m going to keep up and work in good faith I’m going to need to plan ahead. My main goals for this class will be to plan ahead and openly communicate. These two goals will help me to operate in good faith and succeed.

Essay 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at the deeper meaning

Emma Griffin

Throughout my highschool years I have been in english classes that are surrounded on more historical topics, topics I didn’t have to think about I just had to research. My creative brain was shut down because everything I needed to know was being handed to me on a piece of paper or through google. I spent four years of highschool perfecting how to write argumentative essays or how to persuade people using ethos, pathos and logos. My access to my creative brain was turned off, if the question is, was I really thinkING  in these highschool english classes? The simple answer would be no, my brain wasn’t flooding with creativity, nothing was making me think and analyze so deep that I would consider it thinkING, until I came across the suspicious pants in my first college english course. 

Now, I am definitely one to look at a meme, maybe let out a chuckle and forget about it in the matter of two minutes so when I was asked to analyze this suspicious pants meme and find a deeper meaning than just a pair of pants, it’s safe to say I struggled. Although I finally felt like I had a chance to unlock my creative mind that’s been locked for so long, it seems to be a tad rusty. Just thinking about digging deep was more creativity I have accessed in 30 seconds compared to 4 years of highschool. 

When I first looked at the suspicious pants I won’t lie, all I saw was a pair of pants that looked funny. I was asking myself  “why are we looking at pants in an english 203 class?” Well the answer is to get me thinkING. Now, the first thing I noticed is how this suspicious pair of pants shows emotion. Somehow, someway this pair of pants was snapped just at the right time to catch it demonstrating an emotion. To me ,the pants look like they are judging me, they are suspicious and it’s confusing how a pair of pants brings out such obvious emotions. How can something that we see in our everyday life that we think nothing about, show emotion? I don’t know about anyone else but I don’t necessarily wake up and think about something as simple as putting on a pair of pants, I just do it naturally since it’s routine. 

It is so easy to get something burned into your mind. Waking up, brushing your teeth, putting on shoes before you go outside, going to work ,it is  all routine.You don’t think about it you are just used to it, which is why maybe we don’t notice when things look like they are giving off an emotion when they are. Reeling back into the suspicious pants, it is impressive to me that the person who took the photo, saw the pants, saw an emotion in the pants and managed to make an audience see the same emotion in a pair of pants by adding a simple caption. 

That’s another thing, how can a caption make some agree so easily? Or how can a caption make you see what the poster sees? I was really thinkING now, it’s easy to make someone see what they see, you just have to have the right flow of words. The suspicious pants is just one of the many memes that make people see something just from a picture and two words. An example I see at least once a day are memes that use the captions “when you see it”. Not as obvious as the suspicious pants, but these memes too often get me looking and I spent about 20 minutes trying to see whatever the poster wants me to see. The suspicious pants honestly opened a creative mind for me, it made me think deeper about how it is common for emotions to be hidden until  pointed out, not only in things such as these pants but also people. Thinking about this with myself, there have been so many situations where I hide my emotions until someone notices them or points them out.

I know it was a long journey connecting a pair of pants to my own emotional mindset and actions, but for me it was more of a realization. A realization that my abilities are beyond research and argumentative papers. I can make more of something by expressing my creativity and actually thinkING. As much as I enjoy researching from time to time it is safe to say I enjoy creating my own meaning a lot more. Not everything was handed to me, there was no right or wrong answer, just my interpretation and creativity.

Moving forward with this course, I am hoping to have more opportunities to interpret, use my creative mind and make something from it. I hope to continue thinkING and see what else I can dig deep into. Hopefully, I will be able to express my interpretation in discussions and my writing. I am setting a future goal to not only use my creative mind but express it. I have had a known fear of being wrong, but with interpretation I know my answer can’t be wrong. I also want to use my creative mind and keep it flowing, continue with my writing but maybe add in some opinion when appropriate. I look forward to maybe learning new writing styles, to better my writing skills. I will never say no to expanding my knowledge and I know there is always a way to better my skills. Throughout this course I hope to engage in some things that are out of my comfort zone whether that is through writing or sharing, I want to participate and do it confidently.  Just like I pointed out with the suspicious pants, everything has an emotion it just has to be noticed, instead of waiting for someone to notice my biggest goal is to express and not hide. Thank you to this random meme of pants with a short two-word caption. Surprisingly, this meme made me realize more than one thing. My creative mind is opened up and my feelings are shared, I have dug deep, and I am ready to dig even deeper throughout my time in this course.

Not My(August)self Today

“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 

Four months ago, when I first read this epigraph in our course syllabus, my notions about this class, English in college, and college in general were admittedly foggy.  I didn’t know who Percival Everett was. I didn’t know where the passage was quoted from. I didn’t know how relatable the epigraph would prove to be when reflecting upon it again in December.  

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H is for Teleology

In Percival Everett’s re: f (gesture), the abecedarian poem Zulus contains a multitude of allusions to a variety of people, places, stories, and more. In sifting through these many references, one in particular stood out to me among the rest. The speaker states, “H is for horrors, / so full of them we dine, / for humanity, / on bent Kantian trees” (Everett 22). I had never heard of a Kantian tree before, so using the logic of my last blog post (Archive and Intertextuality), I took to my favorite archive–Google–to see what I could find.

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Archives and Intertextuality

On Monday, Professor McCoy allowed us to take a mini field trip around campus with the mission of finding as many “archives” as we could. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an “archive” as “a repository or collection especially of information.” As my group and I would soon discover, these repositories can be found in a variety of forms, from the library to a bulletin board to a tree. We even discussed how people could be regarded as archives as well; their brains act as a repository for all the memories and experiences they’ve had in their lifetime. I was keeping a record of all the examples we discovered, and I became a bit overwhelmed; I could barely keep up with the quickly lengthening list. As my group member Liz put it, “The world is your archive!”

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“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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When the Ruler Can’t Understand the Ruled

While reading Frenzy, I frequently found myself exclaiming the age-old complaint of “That’s not fair!” Injustice seems to run rampant in the novel, and I can’t seem to resolve this with the usual justification of “Well, life’s not fair.” In our class discussions, I kept coming back to the disconnect between the rulers and the ruled as an explanation for this unfairness; how can a god, who lacks the propensity for human feeling, control the lives of mortals with any semblance of justice?

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Questions of Origin and Identity in English 203

“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:


–Percival Everett 

The first time I read this epigraph in the English 203 syllabus, I had little knowledge of what this class would entail, except for what I could extrapolate from the course description. In all honesty, I didn’t even know what the word “epigraph” meant. That being said, the quote still struck me; the exact thought that popped into my head was something along the lines of “huh, that’s relatable.” Everett, in this quote, captures the image of a person lost and searching to find themselves again. I think on some level, many people have been that person trying to “connect with something lost;” I know I have.

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