Iterations Final Reflection Essay

The idea of seed shapes has become a critical part of thinkING in my journey through Professor Beth McCoy’s English 337: African American Literature. In Ron Eglash’s 2007 TED talk, he defined a seed shape as the starting point of a fractal and to create a seed shape “you start with a shape and iteratively integrate smaller versions of the shape back into the design”. Understanding the concept of a seed shape was pivotal to our first essay which uniquely had the title of  “Seed Shape essay”. “We can look at these kinds of narratives as seed shapes on a fractal that represents Injustice against African Americans throughout history, with the theme of both oppression and resilience in each of many stories. These stories help represent the idea of a fractal, as these narratives serve as microcosms that reflect on the broader struggle of African Americans.” This thesis for my original seed shape essay carried an impact because it illuminated the interconnectedness of individual stories within the larger concept of African American history. These seed shapes helped serve to contribute to the larger fractal of the African American Experience.

Percival Everett is an author that has followed me through multiple of Professor McCoy courses. In this specific course we had the opportunity to read his novel, The Water Cure. Before reading this novel our class was introduced to one of Thomas Jefferson’s written work’s,  Notes on the State of Virginia: Query 14. This work of Thomas Jefferson could be viewed as a seed shape that prompted Percivial Everett to build upon this fractal.The famous quote in question was, “But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration”. According to the Cambridge Dictionary,  narration is “the act of telling a story”, plain is “not decorated in any way; with nothing added”. So in essence plain narration is simply the restatement of fact. Percival Everett must have taken this statement to heart when writing his novel as there is only one account of plain narration in this story. The creation of The Water Cure is the combination of many different seed shapes coming together and building on each other to create a fractal. There is always some sort of real life reflection almost like a mirror that allows you to peer into another world. This allows the reader to see and connect why these ideas are in the novel. 

Our main character of The Water Cure Ishmael Kidder, is an author who writes under the pseudonym Estelle Gilliam. Everett writes that “Since the time of my child’s death I had been unable to make any mark on any surface that might be my own, but somehow Estelle Gilliam found a voice and life, such as it was”. Kidder was unable to write under his own name as there was such a deep void inside of him due to the death of his daughter. The exploration of identity and authorship reflected me back to Harriet Jacob’s novel Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl,  where similarly Jacob’s writes under the pseudonym Linda Brent. as she grapples with the constraints of her identity. Jacob’s was unable to write under her real name as she faced real danger and societal retaliation for attempting to expose the brutal realities of slavery. The use of pseudonyms by both Ishmael Kidder and Harriet Jacobs serves a reflection of the essential sacrifices individuals must make to reclaim their voices. Everett’s use of a pseudonym for his character serves as a mirror that reflects on the seed shapes used to build upon the larger fractal of the African American Experience.

Ishmael Kidder writes directly to his readers in what can be described as anything but plain narration. In a previous exercise given to our class, we discussed the idea of Ishmael’s Art being restrained. This question has so many layers to it because readers can say that the art that Kidder is allowing for us to read is not restrained. Kidder does not follow any formal writing convention, as on multiple occasions he would not use proper grammar, left out punctuation and would sometimes leave scrambled letters that would need to be unscrambled to find out the true meaning. The other answer to this question is yes, Ishmael’s Art is being restrained. Ishmael did not trust the police to find his daughter’s killer and took into his own hand. Kidder may or may not have kidnapped a man who he believed may or may not have raped and killed his daughter. Kidder kidnapped this man and referred to him only as Art. Art is physically restrained in Kidder’s basement, where he psychologically torments him. The very idea that we can discuss both Ishmael’s art, and Art in Ishmael’s basement, brings me back to the idea of Thomas Jefferson stating, “ never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration”. Jefferson’s racism allows readers to reflect on The Water Cure as a powerful rebuttal to such a narrow-mindset. It is through this lens we see the complexities of Kidder’s narrative, allowing for Everett to challenge this idea of  “plain narration” and is able to reflect on this ever growing fractal of the African American Experience.

 Everett challenges the reader’s morals by attempting to justify this torture of Art. We are never certain if Art committed this crime of raping and killing Ishmael’s daughter. The uncertainty surrounding Art leads readers to question whether such extreme measures are ever justified.  Everett mentions George W. Bush multiple through this text and when I began to think and make connections, it reminded me of Guantanamo Bay. This is a place where people suspected of committing terrorism, were detained without trial and subjected to interrogation. The idea that people justify the mistreatment of others on the basis that it is for the safety of the majority follows the same flawed logic that Ishmael uses to justify the possible kidnapping of this man. This idea connects me back to Thomas Jefferson’s plain narration quote, the idea that African Americans were incapable of complex thought and expression. If someone is able to put a label on an entire race of people, then one might also be able to justify the torture of a man who might have committed a crime.  Jefferson’s quote represents a historical seed shape of a racist ideology that dismisses the intellectual and moral capacities of African Americans. The Water Cure builds upon the concept of seed shapes building onto the ever-growing fractal of the African American Experience. The combination of many different seed shapes coming together. Serves as a real-life reflection that allows readers to peer into this world created by Everett allowing readers to connect and understand why these ideas are in the novel.

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