As the semester comes to an end, and as I have began to practice self reflection, one reoccurring concept I have discovered to have been helpful in my growth within this course is perception. In practically every text, article, and discussion in this class, I have analyzed some form of perception. Perception may seem to be a minuscule aspect to conversation and literature, but it has been very prevalent in my studies so far. It can often be overlooked, but in my mind, it has been very prominent upon my analysis of our course texts. In particular, I found the aspect of perception to be vital in my understanding of Zulus by Percival Everett. In this reading, the main character, Alice Achitophel, goes through a peculiar transformation and refers to herself being present in two different forms. Without thorough unpacking of her perception and the perception I held as a reader, I would have found myself utterly confused.
In the text Zulus, the setting is set in the future after a thermonuclear war has occurred. The government controls everyone’s food, handing out rations of cheese, making it the only food source for those placed in this futuristic world. The government also controls the population from growing by sterilizing all of the women. However, Alice did not attend to her sterilization appointment as she was supposed to, and she becomes pregnant. Outside the city and government control, there is a secret village where rebels live. Alice’s coworker, Theodore Theodore, is good friends with these rebels, and offers to take her to them upon finding out she is pregnant. Alice Achitophel goes with him, and gives birth in a strange manner- the child is a grown woman. This woman is told through the text to be Alice herself, as though the birth was a form of transformation. Even Alice herself is confused, but she is sure that she is still herself, just in the new body. She also states that the remaining form of her old self that gave birth is another living form of her. When conversing with a character after Alice’s transformation who knew the “original” Alice that gave birth, the new Alice states, “’It’s me, Alice, Alice Achitophel’…telling herself as much as she was him, feeling the voice different in her throat…” (Everett, 112). From a reader’s perspective, I found this very confusing at first and couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of a birth like this one. In the text it is shown that Alice’s original form coexists with her new form as it is stated, “She could see every step of theirs, every stare and reaction, her brain lying sleepy in her cranium on the ground. Her head was just a human head…by which people walked without glance nor notice” (Everett, 140). Here, the original form of Alice Achitophel is described, and is presented as though she is still alive, and is still at the rebel camp. Upon expanding my analysis of this perspective Alice’s new self holds, I was able to ponder the possible presence of a metaphor. Could this “new self” Alice has birthed represent that she is trapped? Is Alice’s new self meant to be presented as alongside the readers looking in at this “trapped” old Alice?
When taken in a literal sense, it may be interpreted from the text that Alice truly gave birth to herself and is existing as two forms. However, this can be confusing as it is not something we might consider possible in reality. To further unpack, the analysis of this character’s perspective and view presented in the text can open more doors of interpretation, leading to possible underlying meanings or metaphors. Another aspect of the plot that encourages me to further push the possibility that Alice’s new self shares the same perspective as the readers is the fact that Alice’s old self is encased in a glass box. The head of the original Alice is trapped in this case. In the text it is stated as, “She was in a case, a cube, transparent glass on at least three sides, the view for her distorted at the corners, bending forms which stood at her sides, if a disembodied head could have sides…” (Everett, 183). I question, is Everett demonstrating the trapped state of Alice through a parallel of the new Alice’s perception to that of those outside the novel? Could the new version of Alice be herself stepping back and reading the situation from an outside point of view the way those who read the text view it? Through the analysis of Alice’s possible perceptions, I myself perceive a metaphor may be being drawn through this demonstration in the text.
In this course, we are continually unpacking, analyzing, and digging deeper through the possible meanings being brought about by the texts we read. The book Zulus was a particularly challenging text to grasp and comprehend, and I wonder if my focus on perception enabled me to unlock a hidden metaphor. In this course, we discussed the possibility of Everett demonstrating that Alice Achitophel is physically trapped in the novel, which added to my questioning of there being a similar metaphor present. I wonder if Alice is trapped not physically in the book, but metaphorically, as the possibility of her new self being an outside perspective prevails in my thoughts. I hope others reading this question underlying meanings and metaphors through the concept of perception as I did.