The Effects of Noticing

An Essay by: Katelyn Jacques, Dani Scolton, Claire Miller, Jackson Troxler, Giavanna Lay, and Evan Brown

Dionne Brand’s epigraph on noticing speaks to messages present within many stories. “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” This statement implies that the speaker has a duty to be aware of how much another is capable of being aware. The epigraph applies very well to academic environments where teachers are tasked with getting students to learn about topics that will, at one point or another, require them to notice said topics. Throughout the semester, Dr. McCoy has encouraged us students to become independent scholars by making our own meaning from course materials. She encouraged us to pay attention while we read and also think about what each author was trying to communicate through their work. Using critical thinking throughout these books has allowed us as readers to take control of our learning to conceptualize the texts in a deeper way. Many of the texts Dr. McCoy has chosen for us rely on the reader to put together the pieces, further testing our ability to notice and think about things for ourselves. One such piece is Home by Toni Morrison.  Toni Morrison utilized specific style and language in her novel Home to avoid explicit storytelling to her readers. By leaving details up to the readers to piece together, the message of the story has a deeper impact since we are forced to think about them in depth.

Throughout Home, Morrison leaves a trail of context clues sprinkled throughout the novel for the reader to notice what setting the characters are in. For example, the main character Frank has a purple heart, and when asked later where he is from he states that he is from all sorts of places such as Korea. Throughout the beginning of the novel, Morrison never tells the reader that Frank is an African American living during the Jim Crow era. Morrison leaves clues such as showing multiple scenes where Frank asks people which places and diners are safe for him to go to. Again this shows how Morrison wants her readers to solve a puzzle throughout the novel. Just as Dionne Brand stated, Morrison wrote Home with the hope that her readers could notice the intentional design of her novel.

Rather than telling the reader important details outright, Morrison uses smaller details that point toward a bigger picture for the readers to piece together on their own. One such detail that she does this with frequently is the fact that Frank and other characters are living in the Jim Crow era in the South. The limitations on what these characters are allowed to do, as well as the constant threat of hate groups like the KKK, are constantly mentioned. One instance of this is on page 83, where Frank regards living in his hometown of Lotus, Georgia as being worse than fighting in the Korean War. “Lotus, Georgia, is the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield. At least on the field there is a goal, excitement, daring, and some chance of winning along with many chances of losing,” (Morrison 83). Frank believes his hometown to be a completely hopeless place with no chance of survival and nothing to look forward to, which is something that he has at least been able to find in small amounts on the battlefield. Along with this is the looming factor of not just dealing with the heavy presence of living in the deep south as an African American, but also Frank having PTSD from the Korean War. As stated on page 32, Frank is trying to sleep but he woke up from a nightmare. “But after a few hours of dreamlessness, he woke to the sound of a click like the squeeze of a trigger from a gun minus ammo.” (Morrison 32) It shows how much he suffers from nightmares because of the trauma he was put through when in war.

Frank’s experiences are not the only instances of Morrison placing details that are not obviously noticed by themselves but contribute to a bigger picture. Frank’s sister, Cee, also experiences several things that become part of a larger subject later. An example of this is when Sarah introduces Cee to her new room provided by Dr. Beau. “‘Oooh, this is nice. Look, a little desk.’ Cee gazed at the bed’s headboard, then touched it with a grin. She shuffled her feet on the small rug lying next to the bed. Then, after peeping behind a folding screen to see the toilet and sink, she plopped on the bed, delighting in the thickness of the mattress” (Morrison 63). In isolation, this moment appears to be a young girl being introduced to a new room that she finds pleasant and comfortable. When put in the greater context of the events of Home, however, it becomes clear that the room was made so pleasant in order to manipulate Cee into being more susceptible to the experiments Dr. Beau wished to perform on her.

Another scene that stood out to me was towards the end of Home on page 121. After Cee was rescued by Frank from the experiments conducted by Dr. Beau, she had to be treated. Instead of going to the hospital and finding treatment, she resorted to women in her hometown of Lotus, Georgia. She was able to notice them and the resources around her, as well as taking risks around her healing process that had repercussions of which she may not have been aware of. 

There are many instances in conversations between African Americans in the novel where they speak candidly about the daily normalities they experience due to living in the Jim Crow era. These pieces of conversation reveal both the unfortunate realities they faced and how they thought about them as well. For example, on page 28 Billy Watson is speaking with Frank about the 6 months he spent in Macon hiding from the rent man. However before Watson tells him who he was hiding from, Frank assumes he was hiding from the “white sheets,” otherwise known as KKK members. In a different scene, Frank escapes the hospital and finds refuge in Reverend John Locke’s home. Locke says Frank is lucky to have gotten out because the hospital “sells a lot of bodies out of there.” The hospital sells dead bodies to the medical school and Frank doesn’t understand why. Locke replies and states, “Well, you know, doctors need to work on the dead poor so they can help the living rich” (Morrison 12). Finally, when Frank arrives at Billy’s house for the first time, he is introduced to Billy’s son, Thomas. Frank learns that a drive-by cop shot Thomas in the arm when he was young; Billy elaborates that he was running up and down the street with a cap pistol in his hand. Frank retaliates saying, “You can’t just shoot a kid,” and Billy replies, “Cops shoot anything they want” (Morrison 31). The casual tones in these conversations can sometimes cause readers to fall into a trap if they aren’t actively noticing. However, it is important to observe these details because they convey how racism has influenced the thoughts and behaviors of African Americans throughout American history.

There are some situations in this novel where the characters themselves experience limits to noticing. On page 65, Cee notices three books on a shelf in Dr. Beau’s home. They were Out of the Night, The Passing of the Great Race, and Heredity, Race, and Society. Cee thinks Out of the Night is a mystery novel by its title. She doesn’t open up the books, however. She notices the books but her understanding of the books is very limited. Her noticing is limited by her knowledge and preconceived notions about Sarah and Dr. Beau. She justifies why she ignored the books saying she would find some other time to learn about “eugenics.” Furthermore, her train of thought switches to Sarah and Dr. Beau, who created a safe and comfortable space for her, so she doesn’t assume any bad faith in their beliefs.

Regarding the same passage on page 65, the first time we read this passage as a class, we were limited by our lack of education regarding the specific books Morrison wanted us to notice. Morrison wanted us to notice these books because she calls them out by name, but at first glance, we looked right over their inclusion in this context. As a class, we looked up the book titles online to understand their significance in this scene. Similar to how Cee doesn’t know what eugenics means, we were unaware of why Cee needed to notice them. However, noticing the books may not have resulted in clarity if we didn’t look into them more. That is where Cee’s noticing was limited. After reading about the books online, we understood that the books should act as a warning sign that Cee unfortunately missed. 

We believe this comes from a perspective of assuming that our voices and concerns will always be heard or taken into account. That people are not out to come with bad intentions, especially ones that are supposed to help and protect you. Based on the privilege of that being what we are accustomed to. The ability to notice comes when one can give into the unknown and be able to leave the comfort of their bubble. Being able to broaden their viewpoint to see how the other side views it offers opportunities for growth and obtaining new perspectives. Without the ability to notice, we assume our outlook is the typical and assumed one. Thus, unknowingly, we isolate those who don’t share the same outlooks. This can restrict inclusivity and empathy towards others. Noticing allows us to identify biases and prejudices that may affect our individual behaviors.  

There is a correlation between noticing in the book and noticing in our group collaboration. By working together we are becoming aware of new perspectives we may have not seen before. The collaboration opens your mind to notice new ideas and learn new aspects of the book Home that as a reader we may not have been aware of before. Noticing also enables us to improve our already existing perspectives by providing new information that helps either strengthen our existing notions or alter them to account for the new information. The topics that are discussed in Home, as well as the rest of this class, are important to be aware of and notice outside of literature as well. Morrison sprinkled these instant mistreatments within the novel in a way that might be seen throughout the reader’s everyday lives. The connection between racism and medicine is still ever-present in many people’s day-to-day lives, and keeping what we have noticed in our readings in our minds will help us to recognize the patterns of mistreatment in the medical field.

I, Dani Scolton, believe that our collaborative conclusion statement is true. Throughout the year in both our readings and group work, we’ve become more acquainted with noticing small details for ourselves, and noticing that other people can notice these things as well. Collaborative exercises like these require a certain amount of trust in your group members and the project is made better when everyone contributes ideas of their own. Some of my classmates have had wonderful ideas that I would have never considered had I been alone in my endeavors. Going forward, I will take my knowledge that I can notice that others can notice and apply it to my future classes.

I, Katelyn Jacques, agree with my collaborators and understand the gravity held within the ability to notice. Moving forward, I acknowledge the responsibilities I have regarding the relationships that I foster with others by being observant and maintaining an open-minded approach. After taking this course and reading our course materials, I have learned how important it is to be aware of my surroundings. There is nothing to lose and so much to gain from allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the realities of others. I have grown to understand many uncomfortable truths about our society, and I’m now more comfortable with discussing them. Treating these topics with respect and care is very important to avoid harming, ignoring, or isolating others. Understanding the context under which people act has given me a wealth of knowledge that I will utilize in the future. 

I, Claire Miller, believe that our collaborative conclusion is very accurate. During the semester it is very important to notice details about the books and within yourself. By working together, talking and brainstorming this allows you to comprehend the material at a higher level. You as an individual are able to notice things about your peers and their thinking as well as how that correlates with your thinking. I would’ve never been able to think about things in a new perspective and mindset without the help from my peers. Ambivalence is important because it allows you to speak your mind if you disagree with someone or a statement someone has said. This is important because throughout life you are going to have differences in ideas so being able to speak your mind and your viewpoint is essential in society. I will use these critical thinking skills, peer interaction skills and the ability to notice to my future classes. 

I, Jackson Troxler, found myself agreeing with the conclusion we came to regarding how Toni Morrison uses small details within her novel Home to accentuate the themes of her novel and believe it connects well to much of what we have learned within this class. Many horrid acts have been committed throughout history and have simply gone unnoticed by many who may have the power to stop them. This is especially the case with black people who have been the victim of harmful medical practices, and Home highlights how this pain can occur without outside forces noticing. Morrison’s writing exposes how noticing little details can be important to understand the big picture of everything aids in understanding how people can help others simply by noticing their pain and acting to alleviate it if they are able.

I, Giavanna Lay, remind myself daily to constantly be aware. Since taking this course and reading the novels provided, my eyes have been adjusted. I’ve been aware of racism in general by seeing it firsthand. However, I was completely unaware of the racism in the medical field and truly how deep it goes until this course. Due to my experience always being positive when concerning medicine or medical attention. Also, due to my lack of education. I see now more than ever how important it is to be noticing and how my experience does not correlate to everyone’s experience. I believe that it is incredibly important to treat certain topics like these with care because you never know whom it might affect. The ability to notice is learned not taught. Whether that be through experience or research, we all are able to learn through others how to make something better for everyone. 

I, Evan Brown, concur with the collaborative conclusion that my group has created.  That is that Morrison implants small details within the novel and that it connects to the course epigraph of “My job is to notice … and to notice that you can notice”.  With things as terrible as what happened to Cee in the novel, I now find it extremely important to notice the meaning and reason behind these small details, not only when reading but in my everyday life as well.  Not noticing things can be dangerous, as seen with Cee’s unfortunate innocence and lack of education.  Working with a group allows and provides new ideas that you might not have thought of without communicating with fellow classmates.  I have learned that I can notice by obtaining knowledge from details that my collaborative partners had noticed. 

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