Seed Shape Essay

It is a warm day as the sun seeps through the gaps between the trees. The ground, littered with growth, is lush and green. The sweet song of a bird is there, and off in the distance, the gleeful splashing of water. A glance around shows nothing but greens and browns, the soft hues of nature. From these colors emerge shapes, at first appearing random. A second look will reveal the truth: the repetition of a shape gives way to the leaves, bushes, and vines all around. These are fractals, an unending pattern that often appears in nature. 

Fractals are commonly used in geometry, yielding five essential components: recursion, scaling, self-similarity, infinity, and fractional dimension. In African Fractals, recursion is described as “…fractals are generated by a circular process, a loop in which the output at one stage becomes the input for the next. Results are repeatedly returned, so that the same operation can be carried out again” (Eglash 17). Essential recursion is the repetition of input becoming output and vice versa. Scaling is when multiple parts of varying sizes are taken into consideration. Self-similarity is what aspects of the pattern are repeated and how. Infinity is the tool used to connect fractals to dimensions. Finally, the fractional dimension is the dimension that fills in between the dimensional areas of the plane (Egral 19). Fractals always have a seed shape or the starting shape that is then repeated. In any class, there are seed shapes that connect one part to the next. These appear in course concepts. The central idea that seems to be this course’s seed shape is the concept of the both/and. Through the analysis of the works we go through we find the application of the both/and.

The both/and is the careful consideration of a muli-point-of-view state of mind. It is understanding one side and then looking at a concept from the other. With every encounter with the works in this course, the both/and has been applied demonstrating the recursion of the seed shape. One of the first instances was when working with Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use.” This story features the visit home by Dee/Wangero, the daughter of the narrator, and her partner. The concepts of art versus use and which honor heritage more come into play. Upon the first encounter with the story, the class was practically in unanimous agreement: Wangero is a dislikable character who is condescending and entitled. This is an easy opinion to obtain from the way she is described. However, on a second look, one must recognize that the story is written from one perspective: the mother’s. It is from this perspective that the audience gains all information about Wangero. However, with this knowledge, one can glean an understanding of Wangero’s perspective. Here came a reading with the notion of resentment. Wangero seems to be everything the mother is not, she is confident, beautiful, graceful, and smart. When the mother reflects on how Dee used to read to them she thinks, “She used to read to us without pity; forcing words, lies, other folks’ habits, whole lives upon us two, sitting trapped and ignorant underneath her voice…Pressed us to her with the serious way she read, to shove us away, like dimwits, at just the moment we seemed about to understand” (Walker). Wangero was the only one able to read in the family, placing her above her mother and sister. In the section alone, a sense of resentment can be found from the emphasis on dimwits and ignorant and from how the mother phrases the reading as “forcing words.” with this in mind, perhaps what appears as Wangero’s transgressions might be dramatized from the quiet envy seeping from the narrator. In this instance, the both/and is necessary to fully understand the story. Without it, the work is almost incomplete. 

Another work is Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild.” In this story, the tale of a young man who lives in a human colony on an alien planet is told. It grapples with concepts of pregnancy, insects/parasites, and knowledge. At the end of the story, Butler includes a section titled “Afterword” in which she explains the intentions of the story, “On one level, it’s a love story between two very different beings. On another, it’s a coming-of age story in which a boy must absorb disturbing information and use it to make a decision that will affect the rest of his life” (Butler 30). The story is about so many things and yet, somehow, people reduce it to something it is not: a story about slavery. Here is where the both/and appears in its next iteration. For most of the class, it was easy to interpret the story as about anything but slavery. There is not any subtext that even seems to hint at this being the hidden goal. Despite this, many believe the story is actually about slavery. Since we could see one side very clearly, the next step was to view the opposing viewpoint. This was the tricky part, but with considerable effort, there were a few potentials for why we guessed someone maybe could see it as such. One option was the notion of being owned. In the story, a point is made that the main character is owned by the alien, something that could be seen as justification for this view. The other potential was simply the fact that people believe that African Americans only write about slavery as a narrative. While this is untrue, it is something people genuinely believe. With this story, both/and requires you to think outside of your comfort zone, working actively to see from every perspective, even the ones you do not agree with.

The seed shape of the both/and is imperative to the analysis of literature. Without this careful thought, certain themes, tones, and perspectives can be lost. The intentions and meanings fall to the wayside, leaving a more literal and flat study. Even beyond literature, keeping an open mind to varying perspectives and the simultaneousness of seemingly opposite aspects allows for a deeper understanding of the world and other people. If an open mind was a constant, there would seemingly be a more general sense of respect and acceptance. Trying to see the both/and of any situation or literary work can be difficult, but it is certainly needed. With every iteration of the both/and, the fractal shape of the ENGL 337 African-American Literature begins to take its shape. 

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