An Answer to an Important Question

As we have been reading Zulus and having discussions about the novel in class, I have noticed a common feeling among our class: we do not like being confused. I have read several books that have caused this sort of resentment before. For example, my freshman year the INTD course I took was about metafiction. We read one book in particular that quite literally made no sense. I would read pages and then try to think about what I read and come up with nothing. Looking at the reviews for it, several readers gave it bad reviews for how confusing it was. Now, as a senior, I am here reading yet another book that is confusing. I remember my freshman year getting really frustrated with Lost in the Funhouse and half-heartedly reading it. This year, I found myself in a similar situation while reading Zulus. For example, most of the time I just skim the chapter headings because they make no sense to me. I tried looking up some of the allusions in the beginning, but most of the time they did not help me make any more sense of the book. Even if I could relate them to the plot, I still did not find anything enlightening in them, so I stopped looking them up. When Analiese asked how we should approach the chapter headings, Dr. McCoy’s answer really made me think. She posed the question: what does it mean that some of us may be looking up every part of the chapter headings while some may only be looking up parts of them, and others even none of it at all?

This led me to the conclusion that many of us seem to be very epistemophilic. After all, Dr. McCoy even gave us a question and answer session to try and alleviate our confusion with the novel. Although Zulus and Home are both very different novels, many of us experienced some confusion while reading Home too. Although the confusing parts of Home bothered me, I was more bothered by never finding out what exactly the doctor did to Cee. Like most people in class, I knew immediately that the doctor was going to hurt her because of the context that Medical Apartheid had provided us. However, I was disappointed when I did not find out exactly what he did to Cee to cause her so much injury; I was confused as to why Morrison would leave out that scene.

This made me wonder not only why I care so much but what exactly Morrison is trying to accomplish by not telling us what the doctor did. She quite easily could have added a graphic scene of the doctor hurting Cee or a heartbreaking scene where Cee describes in detail what she experienced. However, Morrison does not do either of these things. Instead, Cee’s pain is implied from the urgent letter Frank receives and the aftermath of the time she spent with the doctor. I think that since Medical Apartheid went into such graphic detail of what black women experienced at the hands of white doctors I was surprised that Morrison was not doing the same. For example, Washington described in great detail how Dr. Sims attempted to heal fistulas by performing surgeries on his slaves without anesthesia (Washington, 64-67). However, as important as it is to read those descriptions, to know what crimes were committed against innocent women, I have discovered while reading Zulus that sometimes it can be just as important to fill in some blanks for yourself.

After all, does exactly what the doctor did to Cee matter to us, as readers? Would knowing all the details change the fact that it happened? Obviously not. Although I found it a bit frustrating that we do not find out what Cee experienced, I understand why Morrison chose to leave it out just like I understand why Everett is adding so many confusing elements in Zulus. We can spend ten, twenty, thirty minutes trying to decipher and dissect every aspect of the chapter headings in Zulus. We can reread scenes, pages, even entire chapters to try to make more sense of the plot. However, what may be more productive than doing that is considering why we have such a deep need to understand every aspect of the novel, why it bothers us so much that we experience confusion and disappointment. I have thus been reflecting on what it means for me personally that I was upset by the “missing” scene in Home, that I started focusing on the more concrete parts of Zulus. I am sure that each of us will have different reasons for why the choices that the authors of these novels make may or may not bother us. I think that discovering what those reasons are is the answer to Dr. McCoy’s question.

 

 

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