The Importance of Noticing

Over the course of this semester, I have referred back to the course epigraph in order to strengthen my own ability to notice both inside and outside of class. By strengthening my ability to notice, I have modified my way of thinking about how the novels we have read for this course connect to the course epigraph. This has allowed me to relate to some of the characters introduced in these texts. The epigraph for this course has also helped me to improve my perception of accountability, a core theme for this course and others. For one of our first essays, I wrote that my goal for this course was to “…take accountability for my contributions to the class and group discussions.” Strengthening my ability to notice has helped me to overcome my hesitancy to voice my ideas and to contribute meaningful responses to group discussions about the novels that we have analyzed. 

Dionne Brand writes, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” This course epigraph has contributed to my understanding of the novels that we have read over the duration of this semester. It has allowed me to make connections between the novels that we have read in order to expand my ways of thinking. Discussing the texts in class has illustrated the different ways that we can each deconstruct Brand’s statement. The epigraph provides a through line for the literature and ideas that we have engaged in this semester. By noticing, or not noticing, the characters in these novels have illustrated the importance of accountability. I believe that this idea is best illustrated in Colson Whitehead’s post-apocalyptic novel, Zone One and Octavia Butler’s alternate American novel, Clay’s Ark. In these novels, Whitehead and Butler depict the importance of a character both noticing and taking accountability for their actions. 

In Colson Whitehead’s post-apocalyptic novel, Zone One, accountability is an important practice depicted early on in the novel. Zone One follows the main character, Mark Spitz, and his journey through the post-apocalyptic world as a sweeper. As a sweeper, Mark Spitz is tasked with eliminating the skels that remain alive and wander throughout the buildings of New York City. Whitehead depicts the idea of accountability early on in the novel when Mark Spitz refers to himself as an “Angel of Death” (Whitehead, 19). By calling himself an “Angel of Death,” Mark Spitz holds himself accountable for helping to rid the remaining people of the horrible fate that they suffered in becoming a skel. Mark Spitz often personalizes the skels by comparing the characteristics to those of someone he knew in the pre-apocalyptic world. This provides the reader with insight into Mark Spitz’s thoughts about how he views himself and the skels before he ultimately kills them. 

In Octavia Butler’s alternate American novel, Clay’s Ark, the practice of accountability is an important aspect throughout the entirety of the novel as well. A character that depicts this practice frequently in the novel is Eli. Eli was a geologist on the starship, Clay’s Ark, when he and fourteen other crew members were infected with a diseased organism from the second planet. This organism that infected the crew members “…changed, adapted and chemically encouraged its host (a human body) to adapt” (Butler, 50). Eli takes accountability for stopping the spread of the disease to human civilization by establishing his own community. However, he still worries about causing death to innocent people by spreading the disease, stating: “Sooner or later, somehow, it will happen. And ultimately, I’ll be responsible” (Butler, 205). This allows the reader to be more understanding about his reluctance to let the Maslin family escape their captivity. 

In both Zone One and Clay’s Ark, Whitehead and Butler observe the importance of accountability for the sake of humanity’s survival. They further this practice by allowing the characters to ameliorate their ability to notice. This is illustrated in Zone One, when Mark Spitz is asked to identify the skels that he eliminated in the Human Resources office. Mark Spitz passes up this task because it forces him to glimpse into the life they once had prior to being infected.  His actions of eliminating the skels are illustrated to be taken in good faith, showing Mark Spitz’s ability to notice the life that once existed before the disease took over. The ability to notice is also illustrated in Clay’s Ark, when Eli decides that it is best to create a community for the family that he created with Meda. Eli does this to protect those infected with the organism and, more importantly, to protect others from becoming infected. By creating his own isolated community, Eli demonstrates that he notices the harm that he can place on mankind by spreading the organism and in good faith, tries to prevent that from happening.  

This past year has challenged students’ abilities to reflect upon changes that have occurred in learning and that have impacted their outlook over time. In relation to the course epigraph, this time of adjustment has compelled students to spend more time noticing. Personally, I have spent more time this semester focusing on improving my ability to voice my thoughts during group or class discussions. This has allowed me to notice that, oftentimes, my peers have similar opinions about the texts that we have been reading. This has encouraged me to continue contributing to group discussions in this course as well as my other courses. The ability to notice matters in regards to learning and forming an outlook because it challenges a person to improve their way of thinking in order to refine their future. 

When discussing Zone One and Clay’s Ark in regards to both noticing and taking accountability, I realized that I have altered my own perception of these two practices since the first essay that we produced for this course. In the goal setting essay, I was determined to “…take accountability for my contributions to the class and group discussions.” As this course progressed, I began connecting more to the characters in these two novels and how they illustrated the importance of accountability. I was more eager to participate in class discussions after paying more attention to how our current reading connected to a past reading. Noticing details like this made it easier to contribute a more meaningful response and demonstrate my improvement from the beginning of the semester. I believe that this has contributed to my ability to reflect upon the changes in learning that have occurred this semester as well as my own outlook. The year began with many new challenges and adjustments but I have practiced converting these uncertainties into learning experiences that have helped shape me into the student I have become this semester.

Goal Setting Essay: Accountability

The course epigraph, written by Dionne Brand, states that “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”

Since hearing this quote the first day of class, I have thought a lot about how this relates to the idea of accountability. During one of the first few classes, we discussed the importance of accountability within this course. It was established that throughout the semester it is important that we each take accountability for our actions. These include both good faith and bad faith actions. I believe that accountability has been a recurring theme in our class, especially in some of the readings that we have done so far. In literature, it is important for authors to illustrate their characters’ good faith and bad faith actions. This allows the reader to hold the character accountable for their actions and hope for a good faith outcome. I have seen this consistently illustrated in the texts that we have read so far this semester in which accountability is not achieved until the end of the text.

In Toni Morrison’s novel, Home, it is illustrated how easy it can be to avoid accountability for poor actions. For example, Frank flashes back to an occasion in which he witnessed a guard shoot a Korean girl that stumbled upon them while scavenging for food. Frank justifies the guards decision by stating that the guard was not disgusted by the young girl but instead, “..he felt tempted and that is what he had to kill” (Morrison, 96). From a reader’s point of view, they believe that Frank feels accountable for the death of the Korean girl and that is why he is rescuing Cee from the doctor. The reader interprets him watching his friends die and the Korean girl die as motivation to save Cee before she dies. Frank’s accountability for these actions can be seen as deceitful to the reader as they reach chapter fourteen of the novel. In this chapter, it is revealed that Frank was the one who killed the Korean girl by stating, “I shot the Korean girl in her face” (Morrison, 133). This comes as a shock to the reader and their view of Frank is now changed. Frank admits to this because he feels sorry that his sister will not be able to have children. In an effort to take responsibility for the killing of the little girl, Frank enlists the help of Cee. Frank digs a grave and buries the remains of a man that had been brutally murdered by his own son in a death match. The grave reads “Here Stands a Man” (Morrison, 145). I believe that this grave illustrates Frank. He is taking accountability for killing the little girl by burying this man. In a way, Frank is also burying his past self and taking steps to move forward in life. By including the final chapter of the novel, Morrison shows that Frank has taken accountability for his actions and can now peacefully move on with his life.

Another text that has been seen to exhibit the theme of accountability is, Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem, written by Marilyn Nelson. Fortune was an African American man that died. His skeleton was used by doctor Preserved Porter in order to study human anatomy. It is written that Fortune’s bones “..say only that he served and died, that he was useful, even into his death, stripped of his name, his story, and his flesh” (Nelson, 13). Throughout this text, the reader can see that Dr. Porter and his family members were never held accountable for working on the body of Fortune. A line that illustrated importance to me states, “I enter Fortune, and he enters me” (Nelson, 19). In this line, Dr. Porter is taking accountability for advancing science however, he is not being held accountable for violating the basic human rights that Fortune had. Fortune was a slave in his life and in his death to Dr. Porter. Fortune’s skeleton was studied by all members of the Porter family and for many generations. Fortune’s name was forgotten and replaced with the one ‘Larry’ for a century because “ was easier to face him with an imaginary name” (Nelson, 21). This illustrates the lack of accountability the Porter family had for studying Fortune’s bones for many centuries. I think that it also shows that as generations went on, they realized that Fortune was a person and should be treated as more than just bones. The accountability for the actions of Dr. Porter had been reached when Fortune was displayed in a museum. It took several generations for Fortune to get the recognition that he deserved. Many believe that Fortune still has more to teach us. I believe that Fortune can teach us about the importance of accountability. 

Each of these works of literature help to exhibit the importance of accountability. As shown in both Home and Fortune’s Bones, accountability is not achieved until the end of the text. In the case of Home, Frank is able to take accountability for his own actions by burying a man that was brutally murdered. This illustrates the growth of the character throughout the novel. Frank was determined to suppress his memories of the war in order to save his sister from the death that his friends faced. By the end of the novel, Frank had taken accountability for killing the Korean girl by making a proper grave for a man murdered by his son. In the case of Fortune’s Bones, Dr. Porter was unable to take accountability for dehumanizing the life of Fortune. I do not believe that the Porter family, even generations later, was ever held accountable for their actions of using Fortune for advancements in human anatomy. I think instead that justice was received for Fortune when he was placed on exhibit in the Mattatuck Museum. I think that by doing this, people can take their own accountability for the things that happened to Fortune in order to learn from his experiences. 

One of my goals this semester is to take accountability for my contributions to the class and group discussions. I realize that I am often hesitant in voicing my thoughts and ideas because I may be intimidated by the thoughts of my fellow peers. I need to recognize that my thoughts and opinions are also important to the discussions and can help my peers to think in a different way. It is important for me to use my voice in the beginning of discussions so that I do not grow more intimidated towards the middle or end of the discussion. Another goal that I have is to hold myself more accountable for the readings. Oftentimes I feel that I do not set enough time aside to prepare the readings for class. This is often because I am overstudying for another class. This causes me to feel rushed with the readings in order to be prepared for class. I want to set aside enough time to prepare the readings and understand them better by connecting them with our course concepts. I think that by taking accountability for the readings I will be able to contribute more to class discussions by having a deeper understanding of the readings. In other words, my main goal for this semester is to spend more time taking apart the readings in order to contribute my thoughts and ideas to the class more confidently.