Final Reflection: In relation to The Trees and Course Epigraphs

My semester’s story as told through Percival Everett’s The Trees and one of our course epigraphs could be a long one. But nonetheless, it’s still a story to tell. There are many ways in which to write a story- this could be in the form of a novel (as Everett has done in the writing of The Trees), poems, or even told through the form of oral tradition as Call and Response had done. Call and Response discussed the importance of oral tradition throughout the editors note. This course had a few quotes that would help us as students further understand the overall theme of this course. There were poems, which I wanted so strongly to connect to because I love poems. However, the course epigraph that stood out to me at the end of the semester states:

Oh, no. No, no, no. There’s too much to learn from examining that tension between the power and the impact of the art and realizing where that art comes from and what the impetus behind that art is. The best way to engage with twisted or otherwise problematic art, in my opinion, is to first off acknowledge that that art has an impact, hurts people, and understand that engaging with it could perpetuate some of the harm that that art is capable of doing, but flag it, warn it, put it off to the side where people can engage with it at their leisure, at their choice or at a point where they’re strong enough or capable of doing so, but then engage with it. There’s a line between respecting the work and honoring the person. You can respect the craft. You don’t have to put that person on a pedestal. Artists are human beings and that means you need to examine them in all their facets. You have to recognize that these are people and that the things that make them sometimes horrible people are sometimes the things that make them good writers or good artists and that’s what you want to engage with.

N.K Jemisin

As I continued to read this epigraph, I realized that this is the one that I resonated with the most, as well as understood it to represent what I have personally learned throughout this course this semester. I’m the type of student who always wants to strive for the best in my own work, but to also ensure that when I raise my hand in class or write an essay such as this that I am representing the works in a good light. Jemisin says “You don’t have to put that person on a pedestal.” And upon reading that, I realized that my previous works, participation and way of thinking always praised the author especially when it was a class about one author in particular. I didn’t want this to be the case anymore. So this year in class I made a conscious effort to look towards both good and bad faith and how the authors faith changed with the time. Dr. McCoy had said at one point in the semester that it’s very possible for the author to have said what they did in good faith, but over the decades what their intentions were and how it’s perceived today are very different.

In the middle of the semester, we as a class read brief synopsis of the varying novels written by Percival Everett that we could read to write our final essay. Our class chose The Tree’s which tells a very intricate and interesting story of two detectives solving murders that appear to be connected in Money, Mississippi. With each crime scene the detective’s approach, there is a body of a black man that seems to resemble Emmett Till but once the scene is closed, the body would disappear. The town seemed convinced it was the ghost of Emmett Till coming back for revenge, but what was puzzling the police that were involved was they weren’t entirely sure how anyone could place a body and remove it without them noticing, this in turn left them to make jokes that perhaps it really was a ghost.

            I didn’t want to make the mistake of misinterpreting the author and his words. I found myself puzzled trying to find the words to properly describe how I felt after reading this book and all I had was, “wow”. The characters as depicted by Everett were so detailed, yet humorous at times. I wanted so badly to feel what the characters were going through, but when I turned the page- the detectives, Jim Davis and Ed Morgan would be cracking a joke and I felt bad for thinking it was funny when the book was made to really keep you thinkING.

I found myself thinkING over the title of the book at various times, I asked myself questions such as why the title The Trees? Why not give it the title Rise? Why wouldn’t Everett want to express the importance of rising together to make change? And I don’t have an answer for that. No matter how hard I searched the internet. I’ll be completely honest with you too, it bothers me that I don’t have an answer, but it’s because I didn’t that I had made interpretations in good faith. I thought that it wasn’t titled ‘Rise’ because to condone an ending in which murders had to occur to feel powerful and rise against the hate wouldn’t be a decision made in good faith by Everett. The few times Everett mentions trees would be ““‘There,” Hind said. She pointed. In the trees. Hanging in the trees were the bodies of Digby and Brady, their legs crazy with blood, their pants drawn around their ankles, their boots stopping the clothing from falling off” (256). This mention of the lynchings at the trees may suggest that Everett wanted to open the eyes to the reader that police can experience violence as well. But nonetheless, Everett was determined to guarantee that you as a reader never forget the names of all those who were lynched.

As I continue to apply the course epigraph, I realized that I’m engaging with this complicated piece of work that handles racism, police brutality, and several other difficult topics, I find myself working with this quote of our course epigraph, “The best way to engage with twisted or otherwise problematic art, in my opinion, is to first off acknowledge that that art has an impact, hurts people, and understand that engaging with it could perpetuate some of the harm that that art is capable of doing”.

Everett made it a point to call out the issues that Mississippi, as well as other areas in the South have had on people, specifically minorities. As I continued reading, I found myself upset. I despised the sheer thought that there are still people out there today that feel as though it’s in their right to hurt others for racist reasons. As I write this essay past it’s due date, I find myself even more upset that there aren’t just killings happening for racist reasons such as the shooting in Buffalo by an 18 year-old white male against the Black community, but also because there is a huge mental health issue in our nation, the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

This piece of work written by Percival Everett is nothing short of a twisted problematic art piece and I, as well as the class recognized it’s huge impact on how we felt during and after reading it. This story although having some pieces of history tied into it, is a nonfictional novel in which you need to feel to understand each and every character. As Jemisin pointed out within his quote, the course epigraph, is “You can respect the craft.” And this is exactly what I did. I respected the craft, I analyzed it as well as Everett and his faith in writing the story, I looked beyond the scope of the book and saw implications of real life scenarios and what I’m writing is my direct reflection of these instances. I never thought that I could take the author off the pedestal and just simply analyze the basics of the author. I have always taken it farther than needed every time I read any piece of work. But I’ve learned that by analyzing work over time, it helps you to become a better person, more attentive as well as studious. All traits that I was striving for at the beginning of this semester.