Over Thanksgiving break this year, I went home to visit my family, relax, and celebrate the holiday. While I was sitting on the couch lazily watching television, my mother called out to me to come help in the kitchen and make her family-famous mac and cheese. Now, while this may seem like a simple task, it was an incredibly intimidating feat at the time. What if I messed it up and everyone at the Thanksgiving table disliked it? This wasn’t normal mac and cheese! This wasn’t the simple task of boiling water and adding macaroni! My mom’s recipe was both a long and complicated process. When mac and cheese has bread crumbs, you know it’s serious.
When I got to the kitchen, my mother knew I needed guidance. She told me which ingredients to take out, when to start the roux (a mixture of butter, flour, and other ingredients), and how much of everything to use. My mom took what was an originally complex meal and slowly broke it down, making it manageable. By deconstructing the mac and cheese into its lone ingredients, the once intimidating Thanksgiving dish no longer scared me. Even with bread crumbs. Within the hour I had made a beautiful mac and cheese which was served at Thanksgiving dinner.
Similar to the mac and cheese, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man involves deconstruction as well. In Invisible Man, the narrator properly makes Optic White paint only after the complex process is broken down. The narrator’s boss explains the tedious process of making paint stating, “The idea is to open each bucket and put ten drops of this stuff” (6). The boss continues, “Then you stir it ’til it disappears. After it’s mixed you take this brush and paint out a sample on one of these” (6). At first, the narrator cruises through the process of creating the perfect white paint. With the original guidance provided, the narrator perfects seventy-five buckets of paint. However, the narrator soon runs out of dope or, “stuff,” as his boss vaguely calls it, for the paint. At this moment in the chapter, the narrator is thrown into an unfortunate scenario. Without direction, the narrator mistakenly chooses the wrong tank of liquid to use as dope for the paint. After creating a bad batch of paint, the narrator explains to his boss, “It looked the same to me. I didn’t know what I was using, and you didn’t tell me. I was trying to save time and took what I thought was right” (7). The boss did not explain and deconstruct the process of creating paint enough for the narrator to successfully complete the day. The boss’s original explanation was rushed and missing key instructions. What if my mom rushed in explaining the recipe and had forgotten to tell me to add milk to the mac and cheese? Without the careful deconstruction of complex practices, things are often misunderstood, or key factors are lost in the process. The boss’s explanation on how to make the Optic White paint was not deconstructed enough for any person to have successfully located the dope and continue the paint making process. Without thorough deconstruction, the boss’s order remained complex.
In a less physical way, Douglass Kearney’s poem “Floodsong 2: Water Moccasin’s Spiritual” also conveys the importance of deconstructing complex ideas. While the poem deconstructs and rearranges the lyrics to the well-known song “Wade in the Water,” it doesn’t make the song easier to comprehend, rather it highlights other meanings and contends the importance of certain words. Parts of the poem read, “wade in / wade in / wade in” and “water / water / water.” The repetition of these words which originally construct the song “Wade in the Water” draw closer attention to their meaning. Additionally, Kearney singles out certain words in the poem by physically spacing them apart. These unaccompanied words include “trouble” and “children.” While someone could say that Kearney took a complex song and made it less complex by breaking it down word by word, it could also be argued that Kearney made “Wade in the Water” more complex by doing so. The repetition and spacing could allow for more interpretation and more meaning. Although I can never be sure of the intended meaning for the repetition and separation of specific words within this poem, I was drawn to the uncommon arrangement of the lyrics. The deconstruction of “Wade in the Water” through a poem allowed me to focus on its smaller parts and understand how the song works as a whole.
If the boss in Invisible Man had deconstructed his rules as meticulously and carefully as Kearney does to the words in “Floodsong 2: Water Moccasin’s Spiritual,” or as my mother did to the ingredients when she taught me how to make her mac and cheese, perhaps the narrator wouldn’t have run into trouble. Sometimes, the most complex looking concepts can be easily explained or better understood if attentively broken down into steps. Even if it has bread crumbs.