The course epigraph, Dionne Brand’s quote, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,” has made me think about appearance in terms of actions taken among characters within literature. After reading the texts assigned up to this point in the semester, I have noticed how deceiving actions taken by characters can be on the surface. This has sparked thought and realization regarding the importance of waiting to make conclusions until the whole context is revealed. In literature, it is dangerous to draw conclusions from isolated sentences; without using the entire context to make judgements, depictions of reality may be misleading. For this reason, it is imperative to place an emphasis on thinkING; a deeper analysis and added context are critical components to revealing true realities. In particular, one thing that I have noticed consistently throughout the texts we have read thus far is that acts that seem to resemble “care” initially have turned out to bring forth the opposite: harm.
To illustrate, Toni Morrison’s novel, Home, demonstrates how supposedly nurturing acts can be rather damaging when unveiled. For example, after Cee’s sickness, Frank brought her into the care of Miss Ethel. Here, she was instructed to be “sun-smacked, which meant spending at least one hour a day with her legs open to the blazing sun. Each women agreed that that embrace would rid her of any remaining womb sickness” (Morrison 124). From an isolated view, by drawing a conclusion just from these two sentences, it appears that Miss Ethel and the other women in Lotus are taking care of Cee through guiding her healing process. However, such “care” is deceiving. As the story continues, Cee “bridling with embarrassment, lay propped on pillows… each time anger and humiliation curled her toes and stiffened her legs” (Morrison 124). This experience was traumatizing for Cee; not only was she dealing with physical pain, Cee was left emotionally distraught from the undesirable exposure to her private parts. She felt ashamed and eventually spoke up crying, “Please, Miss Ethel, I can’t do this no more” (Morrison 124). Immediately, her pain is not taken seriously; Miss Ethel neglects to care for her physical and emotional health, stating, “Oh, be quiet, girl” (Morrison 124). Surely, Morrison affirms that Miss Ethel’s treatment, which Cee expressed dissent for, turned out to be an act of harm rather than care.
Another course text that exhibits care at the surface but is proven to establish more harm in the end is Marilyn Nelson’s Fortune’s Bones. When an African American man named Fortune died, “Dr. Porter preserved Fortune’s skeleton to further the study of human anatomy… working slowly and carefully, Dr. Porter took apart the body of his former slave” (16). Knowing this, one can conclude that Dr. Porter’s acts were intended to care for scientific advancements by using this experience to contribute to anatomy research. In addition, based solely on the quote provided, Dr. Porter seems to be caring in terms of the way he dismembered Fortune’s body. As the story progresses, Dr. Porter’s acts establish more harm than care. For instance, the text reads, “at some point– no one knows exactly when– ‘Larry’ was written on the skull. Fortune’s name was forgotten” (Nelson 20). Changing a skeleton’s name may not seem like a big deal, but it is heavily demeaning and dishonoring. Rather than being honored as a diseased individual, Fortune is stripped from his identity as if his human existence never mattered. Further, such disrespect for the dead continues; Fortune’s “skeleton was lost and found. It was boarded up in the attic, then discovered by a crew of workers hired to renovate an old building” (Nelson 22). Clearly, Fortune’s skeleton was not properly cared for. Although Dr. Porter appeared to be caring for him, it is obvious that the harm associated with his acts outweighs any sense of care.
Harriet Washington’s novel, Medical Apartheid, is another text that diminishes acts of care when entire the context is explored. For instance, in chapter four, Washington introduces James Marion Sims who is well known for women’s vaginal care as the “celebrated father of gynecology” (Washington 66). Sims displayed care for females’ health by reducing maternal mortality rates through the development of a life-saving surgery. In 1849, Sims “perfected the vesicovaginal fistula operation” and in 1852 his “paper on vesicovaginal fistula repair was published in the prestigious American Journal of the Medical Sciences. It made national reputation” (Washington 66). Clearly, his medical advancements were well recognized, and he became a figure known to care for women. Furthermore, Sims “founded the New York Women’s Hospital,” the very first hospital for women (Washington 67). Certainly, it appears that Sims is viewed a hero for his dedication and contributions to the medical field. However, further exploration on Sims’ reveal realities of him purposely inflicting harm. For example, added context demonstrates how Sims did not treat all his patients with care. He “flatly refused to administer anesthesia to the slave women” (Washington 65). African American patients were harmed by Sims; he kept them awake throughout surgical operations, forcing them to endure terrible pain without giving them any numbing drugs. In like manner, he induced harm on young African Americans. Sims “attended many children, but he used only the black infants as subjects for dangerous experiments” (Washington 62). Surely, Sims was aware of the dangerous risks associated with his procedures but continued to proceed, physically harming many individuals. He may be “revered as a women’s benefactor” but deeper exploration reveals “years of [Sims completing] nightmarishly painful and degrading experiments, without anesthesia or consent” (Washington 61). When viewing Sims actions, his negative acts outweigh his positive contributions; he left more of his patients harmed than cared for.
Ultimately, each of these novel’s help exhibit the risk that comes with drawing immediate conclusions: realities tend to be distorted without engaging with the entire context. As shown, throughout the course many isolated acts of care ended up being harmful when reflected upon as a whole. With that being said, one of my goals this semester is to not be “too quick” to jump to conclusions. Whether I am drawing a conclusion about class discussion or a chapter in a novel, I want to challenge myself to consider and engage with the entire context by asking more questions, annotating passages of interest, and challenging the material I have read before establishing my conclusive thoughts. In addition, I need to recognize that any conclusion I make is subject to change; added context may sway previous thoughts. In the past, I have been guilty of playing a passive role when reading new texts; I rarely stopped to think about the material. I kind of rushed through novels and moved on without thinking twice. My goal this semester is to really analyze the texts and keep “unpacking” to establish not only more accurate depictions of realities occurring in literature but to develop thoughts that I would never reach had I not moved beyond the surface. I want to play a more active role by taking into consideration my instructors’ and peers’ contributions so I can determine how their thoughts support or alter any conclusions I have developed. Simply put, my main goal this semester is to prolong the process of which it takes me to create judgements in an active manner that allows for self-growth
Morrison, Toni. Home. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. Print
Nelson, Marilyn. Fortune’s Bones: A Manumission Requiem. Asheville, N.C: Front Street, 2003. Print.
Washington, Harriet. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. First Anchor Books, 2006. Print.