Toni Morrison once stated in an essay from Self-Regard, “Black Matters,” how inclusion within the traditional literary canon would open a world where “all of the interests are vested” (Morrison 170). In an essay, “Literature and Public Life,” thereafter Morrison says literature asks us to experience ourselves fully as “multidimensional persons” (Morrison 104). So we keep the thought in mind and when we read the words of W.E.B Du Bois and Bernice Johnson Reagon, it becomes clear to us how song as a method, in whatever form it takes, has been used to resist suffering.
If we turn to Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois moves us through his commentary with paratextual music sections that flow easily with what he suggests on spiritual strivings. The speaker thinks of his experience in the shape of a vast veil as he is isolated from the rest, “[t]hen it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil” (Du Bois 738). A longing that is later presented as contempt for the White society on the other side, which fades into the realization that he and other Black youth are held down by the society. Du Bois goes on to discuss the two-ness of self concept for Black people, which causes them to constantly fluctuate between how they see themselves as White and Black society does. The inclusion of songs is used to introduce the tone of the experience that Du Bois is about to share. For instance, as we read aloud Symon’s poem/song, we hear the struggle and emotion associated with the time. Though, the repetition of mourning and ache in the outcry implies there isn’t much resolution to what is felt and endured, the idea that one can contend for freedom is a hope itself.
In the class notes from February 12th, Professor McCoy reminds us that the “sorrow songs” as Du Bois calls them resemble Reagon’s “freedom songs,” of which the song leader says they are often about love and resistant effort, but as much about the internal process as the expression. In The Songs Are Free, Reagon suggests that there is a commitment that comes with the song that Black folks engage in as she represents the practice one does if they “start to run the sound through [their] body,” it goes separate from how they would decide it would, but it was that “[they] get together and sing to do this to the body.” A greater purpose in the sound is how to get to the act of singing. The singing belongs to you as much as it means to me and us. Yet Reagon doesn’t ignore a concern people have with the tradition’s future that figures without the song, Black narratives would not get to the next phase of society. It is then apparent how the song makes way for layers of experience and self-inquiry along with the embrace of a larger group. Reagon frequently refers to singing in the way that it nurtures the African American experience while it furthers reverence and gratitude for the life before us. When she says, “you cannot sing a song and not change your condition,” we are reminded of the significance of these spirituals as they adhere to the cultural “call” to alter what position they find themselves in. Reagon tells us of the world that resonates about “[Black people’s] specialness in the universe” when they have the access to their own voices. Often the most spirited thing to do in the face of violence and cruelty is provoking the structural powers that suppress one’s freedom, for demanding freedom is “the most-the highest risk” to have the chance of it.
In these texts and others that have informed us of the African American literary tradition, we see references to Call-and-response; such a form that encourages a community by calling upon all people involved. The repetitive interaction emulates what we saw with African fractals, which were brought into effect by the “circular process…referred to as ‘recursion,’ a very powerful concept” (Eglash 17). A dimension of power found in the seed shape of song is its ability to affect the receiving end, partly depending on the singer’s knowledge of it or not; it has value that writers know their readers and listeners closely enough that it may be more than what they are aware of. Here, Gerard Genette’s notion of the paratext comes through as we unknowingly superimpose our own ideas of what song is and means, of what territory should be and conveys. Paratext assumes a process embedded in another —much like when we read, our own thoughts precede and interrupt the words, or lay underneath affecting us. The effect Reagon states in Nobody Knows the Trouble I See, is quite the intentional move of a writer, “[w]ithin African-American culture, there is a very high standard placed on the moment when one not only makes a solid statement of the song or the sermon, but the offering is given in one’s own signature” (Reagon 118). On that same note, in the interview with Reagon, she proposes that the exercise of song for the body is a part of the culture solely because the culture believes it is critical to being a developed person. Whether by personal and structural need, Black artists know how their work can be affective (felt) by employing the power of subtlety in other spoken word. And though the response is mostly expected, it is from this need that the call for it makes itself known to us.
When we proceed to look for the importance of the seed shape within the literature, we find it right in front of us. It is the Call-and-response we are involved in by interacting with the texts. Seeing how said shape varies not just in its look, but also how it is read and iterated onto the next form challenged what I had thought about songs and more generally art in all of its purposes. Based on what is represented to us as an image of a repeated pattern, we see it as such and become accustomed to how it seems to be. So I’m left knowing that a handful of stories I may have encountered thus far and I tried to reach true understandings of were heavily influenced by who told me them regardless. I think about the saying that goes something like, if you want a new outcome, change the algorithm as well as Lauryn Hill’s speech from 2000 where she states to “think in doses, think in experiences, and don’t be afraid of experiences that teach you.” With the rest of our course, I want to test what I thought I knew about the literature alone, I want to test the understandings I currently have and had on narratives and movements within a story. I wonder about the ways in which Call-and-response could not just adhere to spoken or literary traditions, but also other traditions and forms within vast cultures we can learn from and almost infinitely.
The concept of a Fractal “seed shape” stems from Ron Eglash in “African Fractals” which refers to a fundamental geometric form or pattern that serves as the basis for the generation of intricate fractal structures. Fractals are geometric shapes and patterns that repeat at different scales, displaying similarity, meaning that each part of the fractal looks similar to the whole when magnified. Fractals can be as simple as a straight line or as complex as a pattern. In the case of seed shape fractals, the pattern replicates branching structures and curves like nature and natural seed formations. These fractals are typically generated using iterative mathematical equations or algorithms. The process is repeatedly applying a transformation of shapes, which, as a result, creates complex, self-replicating patterns. The level of detail and complexity in seed shape fractals can vary depending on the specific algorithms. In literature, seed shapes are present and help create growth and technique. In my opinion, I believe that recursion is a fundamental concept that we discussed in class. In Ron Eglash’s words, “a sort of feedback loop, with the end result of one stage brought back as the starting point for the next.”(Eglash, African Fractals). Within a seed shape, recursion occurs because one shape is the start of the next, and so on.
Recursion in African American literature, particularly in the context of “seed shape,” can be interpreted through various lenses. In class, we experience recursion every time we start a conversation on the topic of our previous class and use those ideas to lead into the current class topic of the day. We experience this every class, but it is never acknowledged as recursion. Life as well constantly consists of recursion, and it never stops. As said before, recursion can be seen as a pattern of repetition or self-reference. Similarly, systems of racial oppression and injustice can exhibit recursive patterns, perpetuating themselves through cycles of discrimination, bias, and unequal power dynamics. Patterns of oppression often have deep historical roots that perpetuate over time. For example, systems of slavery and colonialism have had long-lasting effects on societies, creating recursive patterns of disadvantage for certain racial groups that persist across generations. Within the idea of racial injustice and oppression for recursion, there is a psychological part of it. Individuals who experience racism and oppression may internalize these experiences, leading to recursive patterns of self-doubt, low self-esteem, and limited opportunities. This psychological recursion can further establish injustice.
Patterns of oppression often have deep historical roots that perpetuate over time. For example, systems of slavery and colonialism have had long-lasting effects on societies, creating recursive patterns of disadvantage for certain racial groups that persist across generations. In our readings, we discussed these issues. In “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet A. Jacobs, recursion is constantly considered. Jacobs explores the recurring themes of oppression and the desire for freedom throughout the narrative. These recurring themes throughout the autobiography start the struggles that Harriet Jacob faced. These themes are echoed in various episodes of her life, such as her attempts to resist sexual advances, her struggles as a mother to protect her children, and her eventual flight to the North to secure her freedom. Repeatedly, Jacobs emphasizes how enslaved individuals resisted their oppression, whether through acts of defiance, escape attempts, or efforts to maintain their dignity and autonomy in the face of dehumanizing conditions. Jacobs often parallels her experiences and those of other enslaved individuals. For example, she compares her relationship with her master to that of other enslaved women, highlighting the recurring patterns of exploitation and abuse. The institution of slavery perpetuates itself through generations, with enslaved individuals often experiencing similar hardships and injustices as their predecessors. This pattern reinforces the systemic nature of slavery and the challenges faced by those looking to break free from its bonds. By implementing recursion, a narrative structure that reinforces the central themes and experiences depicted in “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” provides readers with a deeper understanding of the impact of slavery on individuals and communities.
Not only does racial injustice occur in “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” but also in “Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass”. In class, we used recursion when discussing these autobiographies; it started with Fredrick Douglass and used his ideas and concepts to move into Harriet Jacobs. This representativeness was a matter of pain and harm because the experiences of enslaved people were not the same. This repetition and expansion reinforce the narrative’s central messages and provide a more comprehensive understanding of Douglass’s life and the institution of slavery. Douglass’s reflections on his growth and development could be seen as a form of personal recursion. As he recounts his journey from slavery to freedom, he frequently reflects on his past experiences and the lessons he has learned along the way. This process of self-reflection and self-examination can be likened to a recursive loop, as Douglass continually revisits and builds upon his thoughts and experiences.
Seed shapes serve as the foundation upon which fractals are built, representing the initial element from which recursive iterations unfold. Recursion in African American literature, particularly in the context of “seed shape,” can be interpreted through various lenses. As said before, recursion can be seen as a pattern of repetition or self-reference. Similarly, systems of racial oppression and injustice can exhibit recursive patterns, perpetuating themselves through cycles of discrimination, bias, and unequal power dynamics. There are many new things to consider for the rest of the semester. In class, we experience recursion every time we start a conversation on the topic of our previous class and use those ideas to lead into the current class topic of the day. We experience this every class, but it is never acknowledged as recursion. The idea of recursion will be fresh in my mind for the remainder of the semester. I will always try to connect everything together with what we have learned.
When I was in elementary school, my sixth grade teacher introduced me to my first ever seed shape in the form of a plot diagram. It’s a simple looking shape: two horizontal lines with a triangle in between them, representing the five stages of a plot. Starting on the left straight line is your exposition. How will your story begin? Where will it take place? Who are your characters? Then, as you start to climb up the triangle, you find yourself embarking on your rising action. Things are getting exciting. You’re building up to something big. Then, before you know it, you find yourself on the very tip of the triangle. The peak. Your climax. This is when things are at their most intense. From here, the only way you can go is down, so you find yourself in your falling action. This is when your story starts to wrap up any loose ends, before leveling back out on a horizontal line, and arriving at your resolution, or end. This seed shape was always very helpful for me. I used it to write my own stories, and to place other author’s stories into points on the diagram. I felt comforted by the seed shape. I knew what to expect, and roughly when to expect it. But what happens when authors tell a true story? Can a person’s real life mold into a predictable shape? When dissecting two slave narratives, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave” written by Fredrick Douglass and “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs, I tried to do just that.
Frederick Douglass’s narrative begins in the way most slave narratives do; “I was born…”. This beginning, or exposition, sets the scene on a young Fredrick Douglass, living in Maryland. Douglass was born enslaved. At this point, I would like to introduce another seed shape. Imagine a dome is drawn over the triangle seed shape. On the left side, at the first point of our dome we have “order”. Then arching over our triangle to the right side is our final point: “order restored”. In the middle is “disorder”. Young Fredrick being enslaved is considered “order” during this time period in the south. Now, as Douglass moves away from his exposition of childhood, and up the triangle in his rising action, we are approaching “disorder”. Douglass’s rising action is when he moves to Baltimore and embarks on a journey to learn to read and write. This was discouraged, since white people were scared that once enslaved people learned how to read and write, they would become “unmanageable”, “unhappy” and begin to fight against slavery. Mr. Auld, Douglass’s enslaver at the time, said in response to Douglass learning to read, “It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” (Douglass 287). This takes us to our climax of the narrative. Learning to read and write empowered Douglass, just as Mr. Auld feared. He wanted to fight, and he did. He fought his next enslaver, Mr. Covey. “I resolved to fight; and, suiting my action to that resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose.” (Douglass 302). The decision to fight Mr. Covey is an intense part in Douglass’s narrative, and fits into the “disorder” portion of the diagram because of Douglass’s act of rebellion. Douglass wrote, “This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning point in my career as a slave.” (Douglass 302). We have now reached the turning point on our triangle, which takes us to the falling action. The falling action in this narrative is when Fredrick Douglass puts a plan to run away into action. Douglass’s plan to escape first fails, landing him in jail, thus resulting in more “disorder”. It is not until his second attempt, that he successfully makes it North to New Bedford, which is our resolution and “order restored”. Douglass’s arrival to the North is considered to be “order restored” because the entire narrative leads up to this moment of freedom.
Harriet Jacobs’ slave narrative can also be plotted on the triangle seed shape. We start the same as Douglass with, “I was born…”, where Jacobs shares that she was born enslaved, and hadn’t realized for her first six years of life, due to her childhood being a relatively happy one. This narrative (like Douglass’s) starts on the side of “order”, and begins with the exposition of a young Harriet (who calls herself “Linda” in the narrative), born into slavery. Our rising action, and beginning of “disorder”, is when Jacobs’ “kind mistress sickened and died.” (Jacobs 436). After Harriet’s “kind mistress” died, she became enslaved to Dr. Flint’s daughter. Dr. Flint was not a good man, and he took advantage of Harriet sexually. This takes us to our climax. In a chapter titled “The Jealous Mistress”, we see how Dr. Flint’s wife’s jealousy affects Harriet. “She felt that her marriage vows were desecrated, her dignity insulted; but she had no compassion for the poor victim of her husband’s perfidy. She pitied herself as a martyr; but she was incapable of feeling for the condition of shame and misery in which her unfortunate, helpless slave was placed.” (Jacobs 442). The watchful, jealous eye of Mrs. Flint, along with the sexual abuse of Dr. Flint eventually led to Harriet having children with a white man named Mr. Sands, due to a desperate desire to be free of the Flints. Shortly after having the babies, Harriet decides to run away. Our falling action is when Harriet runs away and stays hidden in the crawlspace of her grandmother’s house for seven years. Eventually, when the opportunity and help arose, Harriet takes a boat North, thus escaping enslavement and finding freedom, giving readers a resolution and “order restored”.
This exercise of putting true narratives about real people into plots on a seed shape diagram got me thinking. Can real lives truly be placed so neatly onto this triangle seed shape? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, I can plot an “exposition” to my own life, but there are so many beginnings to choose from. I could start with my own birth, or perhaps my first day of high school or college. Where you start your story changes the trajectory of your points on the shape. Depending on where I start and end my story, my rising action, climax, and falling action are all different. If I start my story at birth and end at my own death, there is guaranteed to be more than one rising action, more than one climax, more than one falling action, some even going on at the same time. It becomes a repetitive, fractal-like pattern that continues to go up and down through the ebbs and flows of real life. Ron Eglash defines fractals as being “characterized by the repetition of similar patterns at ever-diminishing scales.” (Eglash 4). Imagine off of every straight line, another triangle appears carrying the same points: rising action, climax, falling action; repeating infinitely. Life, like fractals, are repetitive. One’s life could not completely be summed up if using just one triangle seed shape. We have multiple seed shapes going on in multiple directions, infinitely, since our lives are long, complex, and can not be summed up perfectly on one plot with only 5 plot points. We need fractals; we need infinity. By saying all of this, I mean to point out that the authors of these narratives picked where to start and end their story, which was their birth to their freedom. Had the narratives continued past freedom, the triangle seed shape would go on, with new rising actions, new climaxes, new falling actions, and a new resolution. Life was not perfect, and order was not fully restored when Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs made it to the North. There were still struggles, there were still obstacles to be overcome. Their lives, stories, and legacies do not stop when their narratives reach their resolution; their hardships are not limited to the ones they chose to share; they go on much further and much longer, with lots more “disorder” in the middle.
Simply put a fractal is an infinite, recursive shape often occurring in nature. But if one were to look deeper, they would discover that there is much more to fractals than meets the eye. There are five essential components that make a shape a fractal. Likely the the most important self-similarity. Self-similarity is the central seed shape that the rest of the figure is branched off of. (Eglash) The seed shape as described in its name is the start of every fractal and branch of the fractal. It is the commonality that connects every aspect of the very complex and diverse shape. English 337: African American Literature is an in-depth course that examines a multitude of texts written by several Black authors. The course just so happens to follow the rules of fractal geometry.
Although we have explored many texts and various forms of art, gone down many different paths, and branched off into many different directions, there is a central seed shape that connects the texts throughout the course and provides a connection between them. Interestingly enough, I think that seed shape is the diversity and complexity of literature written by Black authors. Every text that we have read, every folk song we have listened to, and every poem that we have investigated displays a different life and experience with Blackness in America. There is a diversity of styles, genres, and opinions within the literature as well. That variety is in itself the connection between all Black literature and is the seed shape that connects the concepts of the English 337 course.
Frederick Douglass is perhaps one of the most famous authors of all time, not to mention one of the most famous Black authors. His autobiography The Narrative Life of Fredrick Douglass: An American Slave was an instant success as soon as it was published and has remained one of the most popular books in America. In the book, he tells the story of his enslavement as a child and a young man. One of the most key scenes in the narrative is when Douglass fights his enslaver, Mr. Covey. Douglass himself says that the “battle with Mr. Covey was the turning point in my career as a slave.” (Douglass 302) It is this conflict that makes him realize that his freedom is something he wants to fight for. Not only is his battle with his enslaver about his freedom as a human being but it can be interpreted as a fight for his manhood. Douglass says “It… revived in me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence…” (Douglass 302) By fighting and winning against the most classically masculine figure in his life, he not only claims his freedom but reclaims his own masculinity.
The Narrative in general could be categorized as a more traditionally masculine presenting story. It is a plot-driven narrative that focuses more on the physical actions and steps Douglass overcame to fight his way to freedom. There is not much focus on deep inner monologue or overcoming thoughts of self-doubt. Also, Douglass did not have to worry about any children or other members of his family while escaping, and there isn’t much discussion from him about them. All of this is in contrast to another story of escaping enslavement we read in the course.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl written by Harriet Jacobs is at first glance a similar story to that lived and written by Frederick Douglass. It is a story of a young Black person risking and dedicating their life to escaping enslavement. On closer inspection, however, one starts to notice massive differences between the two. So much of Jacob’s writing focuses on the intersectionality of “the disadvantages of being an attractive black female and a slave.” (Call and Response 433) Jacob’s story of escaping slavery is long and drawn out because she could not easily run away. Her enslaver was regularly sexually abusing her and would come to her house often asking for sexual favors. Also, Jacobs had two young children to think about. She couldn’t simply pack her things and run away on her own. The solution that she finally arrived at was to hide in the crawl space of her grandmother’s house for seven years until her enslaver finally stopped looking for her and her children were old enough to travel. It was this incredible feat of dedication and sacrifice that led readers and historians alike to dismiss “her narrative as fictionalized when she recounted the incident.” (Call and Response 433) So much of the way Incidents was written and received by the public was because Jacobs was a woman.
A vast part of what makes Incidents so intriguing is the amount of stream of consciousness that is displayed. We get to hear, understand, and become well acquainted with Linda/Harriet’s inner thoughts. It is a deep character study and introspective look at the life of an enslaved black woman rather than an action-focused narrative. It was also the fact that Jacobs was a woman that made her story unbelievable to the public. When Incidents was published, it was not an instant success and it took until the 1980s to be authenticated and treated as such by the public. This is a common phenomenon in literature written by women and it contrasts with literature of the same type written by men.
The differences in both the content of the writing as well as the reception of the two slave narratives are glaringly obvious despite their similarities. It is this that provides us with insight into the vast diversity of Black literature. Both The Narrative by Fredrick Douglass and Incidents by Harriet Jacobs are classic slave narratives that tell the stories of young enslaved Black people who do everything in their power to escape enslavement. But even so, there is so much that is different about the two narratives and the writers that created them. Douglass was an action-based man and his writing followed suit. His story is suspenseful and exciting to read. He describes in great detail the gore he witnessed while being a slave. The Narrative is fast-paced and comes to a satisfying close where Douglass has gained his freedom in the North. Incidents functions completely differently. Jacobs is deeply retrospective and spends a lot of time in her story with her inner thoughts and feelings while experiencing enslavement. She heavily discusses the emotional pain of being sexually abused and experiencing the loss of multiple friends and family members. While both slave narratives pull at the heartstrings of their readers and function as abolitionist works, they do so in very different ways.
One can see through the vast differences in The Narrative and Incidents that Black literature is full of diversity and variety. It is so important to not only recognize this diversity but to respect it. Unfortunately, among White people, there is the assumption that everything made by Black artists has the same meaning and message. Not only is this assumption false, but it is hurtful and damaging. The Black experience is very diverse and therefore the literature written by Black people is just as diverse. To ignore or diminish this diversity is to delete and disregard the Black experience itself. This is the seed shape of English 337… identify and validate diversity in Black literature and in doing so to respect and identify as many Black experiences in America as possible.
So far throughout this course we have talked about and read a lot of stories that contain some idea of ownership. This I would argue is one of the most important seed shapes so far. A seed shape, as explained by Ron Eglash, is the starting shape or point that grows into a much larger pattern or story, this has been exemplified with ownership in the stories we have read, most namely in “Bloodchild” and “Everyday Use”. In both of these texts there is a sense of ownership and entitlement that gets builded on to cause the central conflict or purpose of the story, this can be translated into the greater theme of our class where ownership, of either yourself or your culture, is debated and fought with in the stories we read and the discussions we have. Many main points and themes we have outlined in this class can be traced back to some sort of ownership and the conflicts brought upon as a result.
In the story “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler ownership is the base for the story because of the ownership the Tlic have over the Terrans, although this is said to be an interdependent relationship, there is still a factor of ownership because it is the Tlic’s planet and they ultimately are in charge over the Terrans. This ownership provides a sprouting point for the story because it creates tension when Gan witnesses a birth and realizes the position they are stuck in because of this ownership. We can see some evidence of the loss of self ownership when Gan says “Thus, we were necessities, status symbols, and an independent people” (Butler 5) Gan acknowledges that Terrans have no control over what happens to them and who can say they “own” them. So although the relationship between Tlic and Terrans does have some give and take it is ultimately up to the Tlic to decide what happens to and what the Terrans can do with their lives. We can see the seed of ownership become visible when Gan says “She would have to give one of us to someone, and she preferred T’Gatoi to some stranger” (Butler 8) this creates the jumping point for the rest of the story, the fact that Gan will be given to T’Gatoi to impregnate because the ownership of Terrans is expected in this world. The rest of the story expands on this by creating conflict within Gan and whether they want to go along with this expectation or leave it. We see this doubt grow when Gan says “”I don’t want to be a host animal,” I said. “Not even yours” (Butler 24) This idea of yearning for freedom from the ownership you have been destined to is the main point of this story. Without the initial seed shape of ownership this story would not have had the basis to create a conflict around freedom and making choices for oneself. Many conversations we had about this story in class centered around the idea of this ownership the Tlic have and the effects that had for the Terrans, and more specifically Gan.
In the story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker the seed of ownership takes on many different forms. The first form it takes is one of names, another in the quilts, more generally both of these fall under culture as the debate of ownership, in the story Mama’s daughter originally named Dee comes back home after being away and says she goes by Wangero now because “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me” (Walker 1799) This continues throughout the story where Wangero seems to have come back home completely changed from before. Where she all of a sudden has an interest in her culture and has a certain mindset on how that culture should be owned. This is specifically showcased at the end where Wangero demands she should be the one who gets her Grandma’s quilts because she would honor them the right way unlike her sister. This expands on the concept of ownership, specifically of one’s culture, and the conflicting views on what the “right” way of preserving one’s heritage is. On one hand Wangero insists that the quilts must be hung up and never used, but Mama says that they are meant to be used and Wangero’s sister will do just that. This jumps off of the original idea of ownership because it presents a conflict where the ownership of one’s own culture is debated within a family, more specifically within older and newer generations and viewpoints. Mama, who represents an older generational point of view, believes that the name Dee is fine because it was owned by her mother, and Mama believes that the quilts made by her mother should be owned by a person who is going to use them for their intended purpose, for everyday use. On the other hand Wangero who represents a newer generational way of thinking believes that her old name Dee is a sign of her oppressors and does not belong to her, and that the hand me down quilts should go to someone who is going to preserve them and not wear them down in everyday use to the point where they can no longer be owned by anyone. The newer age of thinking puts emphasis on lasting ownership while the older age is less focused on ownership over experience of culture.
These stories and their seed shapes of ownership contribute to our class as a whole because the majority of our discussions revolve around these conflicts of ownership and its implications. In “Bloodchild” the ownership of oneself relates to a lot of discussions we have had about slavery and control over your own life and your rights as a human. And in “Everyday Use” the ownership of one’s culture is the basis for many conversations we have had about how culture shifts throughout time and new generations develop new ideas or views on how that culture should be represented. Overall, ownership has been the basis of most discussions we have had in our class so far, which leads me to believe that it is the most important class seed shape as of yet. Where the rest of the semester is concerned, I think that the recurrence of ownership is going to continue and pop up in more readings along the way. I expect that we are going to see more conflict with this idea and turmoil over both the yearning to be free of ownership and the clarification of what type of ownership is the “right” type of ownership. I wonder if this seed shape will take form in more of the short story types like I have outlined, or more biographical instances going forward.
Written by: Billy Bogue, Emily Bosworth, Luis Carrillo Rubio, Evelyse Cruz, Miana Ginuto, Sydney Hollister, Danielle Tomasello, and Alexander Ruiz
Throughout this course, Dr. Beth McCoy has provided her students with countless opportunities to engage with the following quote from Dionne Brand: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice”. After the first day of class, when she introduced our class to this quote, noticing quickly became an overarching course concept that was incorporated into most lessons and extracted from all readings. Beth encouraged her students to notice details in the literature and to use conversation to inspire the same behavior in their classmates. Sharing the ideas and questions we have with one another allowed us to gain a better, more complete understanding of the course title: Literature, Medicine, & Racism.
Beth often teaches by example. When she notices something, she will take the time to share this information with the class, inspiring us to view the course materials from a different perspective. She also practices the art of noticing in her role as a professor. About halfway through the course, Beth noticed that students were falling behind on their reading assignments, which resulted in these student’s reliance on the interpretations of the text from Beth and their classmates. Listening to and believing other people’s interpretation of the course materials without cross-referencing their understanding put these students in a dangerous situation where they could not accurately assess what ideas were conveyed in good or bad faith. Upon noticing the number of students who were engaging in this dangerous practice, Beth took time to talk with our class about the dangers of trusting information without verifying it yourself. The same idea about the danger of trusting unverified information appears multiple times in the course materials; Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, which talks about the history of medicine concerning racism in American society, Clay’s Ark, Vaccine: The Human Story, etc. Previously noticing the dangers we learned about in these works helped us to understand the danger that Beth was noticing in our class practices. Realizing the danger that other people and characters have been in due to their inability or refusal to notice encouraged our class to take advantage of the information that is given to us, and to seek out more information when something is unclear. Learning from other scenarios in which people were not directly provided the necessary information or the whole truth when making a decision provided an opportunity to learn about the importance of noticing and actively seeking out the truth for oneself.
From our class discussions and course materials, we quickly gained an appreciation for Brand’s idea that our job is to notice and to notice that others can notice. For example, in Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark, which focuses on a fictional extraterrestrial pathogen whose infection changes the human body and abilities, Blake (the uninfected father of two girls who were captured by infected individuals to infect him and his daughters) was making the conscious decision not to notice or believe what was going on around him. Despite being told and witnessing the effects of the organism, Blake believed that he knew better, convincing himself that it could be solved in a modern medical environment. Similarly, in Toni Morrison’s Home, when Cee (a young woman struggling to gain independence after her husband left her) was looking through the novels in the doctor’s office, she was impressed by the knowledge that her employer had that she didn’t. However, she didn’t have the necessary education to notice that the books she was looking at were about Communism, racism in medicine, and eugenics. We believe that Brand means to say that everyone can notice the world around them. While some people may either ignorantly choose not to notice, or don’t have the necessary education or knowledge to notice, we (through our education and training in good faith practices) can actively choose to engage with the world around us and to be continually learning from our and others’ experiences.
The act of noticing and the effects of noticing can be very different depending on the person, their experiences, and how they adapt to the information they have noticed. The things that a person notices can also change the outcome of their reaction. Noticing may cause a person to reflect on themselves and their actions, and could lead them to make changes or find other ways to cope with their discovery. A different kind of noticing could guide someone to reflect on someone else’s actions and save them from a harmful situation.
In Home, Cee’s interactions with the doctor are linked to medicine, racism, and literature through what we, the readers, noticed, and what Cee didn’t have the knowledge to notice. Although she noticed the books in the doctor’s office, she didn’t think anything of them, not knowing that her safety relied on noticing their contents. Similar to Cee’s unawareness of the dangerous relation between medicine and racism. When Frank leaves the hospital at the beginning of the book, he doesn’t think much of it when John Locke says to him “You lucky, Mr. Money. They sell a lot of bodies out of there” (Morrison 12) to which he responded “Bodies” (Morrison 12)? as he was “only vaguely caring or wondering what the man was talking about” (Morrison 12).
Cee was unable to see the dangers found within the household as she was not able to understand what “eugenics” was. Therefore, she was unable to notice that she was in danger, hence why the doctor was able to take advantage of her. By being unable to notice the environment she was in, she paid the price for not questioning more. This relates to literature because of the literacy gap between the doctor and Cee, to the point where Cee admired the doctor because of this gap when she should have feared him. This also relates to racism in medicine because the doctor read and believed racist books, which Cee didn’t understand, and later experimented on Cee. It proves how sheltered Cee is because when she goes back to Lotus, the women already understand what happened to her and get to work on helping her heal. Morrison illustrates, “The women took turns nursing Cee and each had a different recipe for her cure” (Morrison 119). There were people in this town who had this knowledge. Perhaps if the people who raised Cee hadn’t sheltered her so much, she could’ve seen the warning signs while working for the doctor and avoided the permanent damage she sustained to her body and mind.
Cee is a prime example of noticing and the limits of noticing. Cee begins the story of Home being dependent on others by relying on people in her life to help guide and give her support. This can be from her brother Frank, as he protected her as best as he could in their youth. When Frank gets drafted into the Korean War, she becomes dependent on a man named Prince, who quickly marries Cee and then leaves her almost immediately after, taking Cee’s family car with him. When she gets left by him, she finds guidance from her friend Thelma, who then points her toward a doctor who provides work for her. She feels secure with the doctor and his assistant Sarah, and is prideful about her accomplishment of securing a job at a respectable establishment. However, this is changed when the doctor starts to take advantage of Cee’s innocence and trust and performs horrendous experiments on her, which eventually threaten her life. These experiments left her infertile, taking away a huge part of her essence. This entire course of falling dependent on others for most of her life helped her notice the dangers of her lack of independence. She starts to realize how she must change, noticing her flaws as a person and what she needs to do to avoid making the same mistakes that put her in her current situation. By the end of the story, we can see how Cee is reclaiming her independence. Frank realizes this as well, as he notices how “Cee was not the girl who trembled at the slightest touch of the real vicious world.” Then proceeds to state that “Nor was she the not-even-fifteen-year-old who would run off with the first boy who asked her” (Morrison 127). The story comes to a full circle when Frank and Cee bury the body from the beginning when they were children, which helps to resolve a huge burden within them. Instead of Frank taking Cee home, her first protector of the story, it is however Cee, who takes her role of being this new independent person, showing her new strength emotionally as well, and takes Frank home. This is a moment of notice for Frank, as he realizes he is no longer needed as the protector for Cee, as they are not children anymore, leaving them both to be independent and self-sufficient.
The limits of Frank’s ability to notice fluctuate throughout Home. After coming back from the trauma he experienced from the war, Frank noticed that he needed a coping mechanism to help his constant thoughts of his deceased friends to subside. Therefore, he started drinking to ease his pain, only for him to notice that drinking wasn’t changing anything. When he met Lily, he had finally found a replacement for his coping mechanism, something else to relieve his pain. When he had left for Georgia to help his sister, Frank looked over their relationship, thinking about how Lily had changed. “a tired cruelty laced her voice and the buzz of her disappointment defined the silence. Sometimes Lily’s face seemed to morph into the front of a jeep—relentless headlight eyes, a bright scouring above a grill-like smile. Strange, how she had changed”(Morrison 20) This is an example of a lack of noticing on Frank’s part, as he talked about Lily changing when her behavior only changed because of him. Although he accepted that on occasion he would sit “for hours in the quiet—numb, unwilling to talk” (Morrison 21), or that “he regularly lost the few odd jobs he’d managed to secure” (Morrison 21), he didn’t notice or wasn’t willing to notice, that that the reality was much worse than what he was willing to accept. When Frank left his town, he was without Lily to distract him from thinking of his past and had nothing left to keep him from confronting and accepting it but himself. There were some parts of his life that Frank even lied to himself about to prevent noticing. For example, he lied to himself that he saw another soldier kill the Korean girl when in reality it was him. He couldn’t accept this about himself until the end of the book.
The difference between these two characters and what noticing does for them gives us a better understanding of the effects noticing can have. Frank and Cee take very opposing sides of noticing. Frank willingly chooses not to notice his unhealthy coping mechanisms and the reality of his life. When he notices and acknowledges his wrongs, it puts him in a difficult place as he has to reflect on his past and his decisions. Cee has the resources to notice the dangers around her when she is staying with the doctor, but she lacks the knowledge to recognize the warning signs. When Cee finally sees the harm the doctor is creating, noticing gives her freedom from that dangerous situation. The different kinds of noticing and the outcomes it had for both Frank and Cee demonstrate how the skill of noticing can help or hinder a person.
The reason why people should care about these points is because no one is without biases. Having the ability to acknowledge your own biases as well as some that others may hold can provide a safer and more understanding environment. Noticing the knowledge that one may or may not have can also help in dangerous situations, like how it could have helped Cee in Home. Noticing people’s actions and how and when they act in good or bad faith can tell someone a lot about the character of another person, and help you decide whether that person is safe to be around.
It is also important to remember that everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences, and so everyone learns and notices at a different pace. For this reason, it is important to work without judgment of others to avoid assuming anything about and to be patient with, those around you. We should apply this restraint from assumption to the idea that not everyone acts in good faith. It is just as important to avoid assuming that everyone is acting with good intentions and to make your own interpretations and opinions. When we achieve this by collecting and taking advantage of the information available to us that is necessary to formulate our own opinions, we can start to prevent and avoid being taken advantage of. We can also begin to use our knowledge to spread awareness of, and prevent the recurrence of actions such as those in Medical Apartheid.
Finally, noticing is only the first step on the path to enacting change. Without first noticing the biases and problems that exist in the world, and how people of different backgrounds and identities are affected by them, one cannot begin to make changes in their own actions and encourage change on a greater scale. Translating noticing into taking action is an important skill that all people should continually be developing and practice.
I, Evelyse, agree with the conclusions that our group has come to on this topic. We wrote a lot about the different kinds of noticing. Before breaking down what noticing really meant, both from Dionne Brand’s quote “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” and from unpacking our thoughts as a class and a group, I would have never considered there to be different types of noticing or different effects. We talked about the contrast between noticing something in yourself and noticing something in others. We relied mostly on Toni Morrison’s Home to fuel our conversations. We saw the distinctions in Frank and Cee and what and how they notice, and what it brings them in their life. We saw how Frank’s noticing his own wrongdoings led him to unhealthy coping mechanisms, while Cee’s noticing someone else’s wrongdoings led her to a safer place as a more independent person than she was when she arrived. Neither of these noticings or healing from said noticings are without scars. Both Frank and Cee try to find peace and solace in other areas in order to heal from the new knowledge they have of the world and themselves. We spoke briefly about Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark and how characters like Blake in that novel display an unwillingness to notice the dangers in themselves and around them. If Blake was willing to acknowledge his biases as a doctor and notice what the other members of the Clay’s Ark community were trying to educate him on, he likely wouldn’t have spread the virus because he would’ve had a wider understanding of the effects of being infected. Our collaborative conclusion can help me to consider my work in the course throughout the semester. As we talked about the types of noticing a person can exercise, I was reflecting on myself and the efforts I’ve put into this course. I was usually a person who skimmed through course texts and rushed through assignments, but this class specifically emphasized the dangers of doing that. Not only was I missing crucial information from not fully reading the texts, but I was also relying too heavily on my professors and classmates to have the right details about the books we had read and to be acting in good faith with the information. I have also been encouraged to notice, through feedback from Beth and other professors, how my own writing and responses often require more unpacking. I took those critiques into consideration while working on this final collaborative assignment. I kept in mind that even though my classmates have read the same material, they likely won’t have a full understanding of what I am trying to say about our topic unless I develop my ideas more. Sometimes all it took was talking a little longer to get all my thoughts out, and sometimes it required me to go back into the novels we were using and use evidence to help support me.
I, Danielle Tomasello, agree with the collaborative conclusion. Our collaborative conclusion was about how important it is to be able to acknowledge your own biases along with the biases of your peers which is a very important factor in critical thinking. It opens you up to new perspectives that you may have never even thought about or noticed before. Noticing other people’s perspectives can cause you to compare and contrast your own thoughts and ideas which can then lead to a deeper understanding of the topic. We also brought up the point of Cee in Home not being able to notice actions acting in bad faith which shows how noticing can help you in unfortunate circumstances. Being able to notice people’s actions and how exactly they are meant towards you can say a lot about the character of a person and their intentions. By being able to notice, we are using our knowledge to its fullest capacity and potentially helping ourselves and/or others
I, Sydney Hollister, believe that, yes, educating leads to noticing, and noticing, in turn, leads to change. We cannot change the world without first noticing the flaws around us. And we cannot notice the flaws around us if we don’t first learn that they are. You wouldn’t know something is wrong unless you learn so. There are so many social issues rooted deep in our systems that need to be fixed, but since they are such a normalized part of our society, it’s hard to see them for the faults they are. This leads to the lack of proper education about such topics. What this means for me going forward is that I must always be checking myself for any preconceived notions or beliefs that I gained through living in a society. As I grow to become my own person, I have a chance to grow into who I want to be and what I want to believe in. As I grow up, I will be faced with lots of different ideas and beliefs that I wasn’t faced with before. And with that will come a chance for me to notice more and to fix myself.
I, Billy Bogue, strongly support our collaborative conclusion and the entirety of the exercise. I stand by this claim because of the multiple discussions we had as a group, where we were able to discuss what we agreed and disagreed on, leading to a conclusion that was liked by everyone. The collaboration part was a success, we as a group were able to communicate and share our ideas. We did not diminish anyone’s thoughts; however, we combined everyone’s ideas into the entire piece of writing. No one was excluded. Everyone pitched in as best as they could, which in my opinion led to a strong final conclusion. One of the big concepts that we all tended to agree on was noticing and its importance. The term noticing came from our course epigraph “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” from Dionne Brand. We were given this idea right at the start of the class, which made all of us think of what it could mean for us in the long run. Throughout this course, I’ve become familiar with the concept of noticing and the dangers of not noticing. At the start of this semester, I was a different student. I came from a place of not needing to notice and never facing the severity of not. Once I entered college, my knowledge and realization changed. I learned that noticing is the first step towards making a change, a change that could help me become not just a better student but a better person. This leads to my own reflection on my work in this course. Coming from high school with very little experience of caring for my writing, my abilities were not at their peak. I was struggling with slowing down, like Beth had told me at the start of the semester, to slow down, take my time, and try to really notice what I’m writing. This was confusing at first, but with time and careful examination of the concept of noticing, I began to see a change in my writing. I’m not a perfect writer, and I still make the same mistakes. The big difference however is how I am to acknowledge my mistakes and grow from them. I can handle criticism and notice what Beth is trying to help me with. I hope I can continue to grow even outside of this class because nothing can help solve problems, create realizations to avoid problems and help make a positive change.
I, Miana Ginuto, find myself agreeing with the notion that noticing gives an individual power to make educated decisions. I also agree that it is important to notice the diversity that exists in the world around us and how diverse populations are affected by our society. I think that these two ideas are intertwined with the final point that it is most important to notice in order to take the next step in enacting change; in order to take action, one must be educated on a problem that exists so they can notice it in real life practices and choose the best path to achieve a solution. In my own professional life, I plan to engage with these notions, seeking to always be learning and committed to noticing so that I may actively decide to involve myself in the efforts to correct mistakes and injustices in our society. I am hoping that my decisions will guide me into a career in the medical field, giving me a unique opportunity to engage with our course concepts and apply the course epigraph to my daily life and medical practice. Noticing is an essential practice for medical care providers. While a patient may be able to explain their symptoms (which can also be complicated by barriers such as a difference in language comprehension between the patient and provider, inability to speak due to age, awareness, and/or consciousness), there are often other crucial details that a healthcare professional must notice in order to make an accurate diagnosis and prescribe the best course of treatment. Further, healthcare providers must also notice when there are gaps in care due to the structure of our healthcare system. Noticing how access to and provision of care differs from one population to another can give a medical professional the evidence to become a stronger advocate to change the system to better support all people equitably. By committing to noticing the details of my career field, I hope to be a participant in the efforts to make healthcare more accessible and equitable for all populations and their diverse medical needs.
I, Emily Bosworth, agree with our collaborative conclusion. Mindfulness is an important skill in reading as well as communicating with others. Being aware of your surroundings, and choosing careful word choice when talking to others, is something that one must learn in order to communicate effectively. This collaborative exercise teaches us, as well as the reader, an important lesson in learning to notice what is happening around you not only for yourself, but for those around you as well. As a group, we learned to be aware of those around us and make sure that everyone was heard. Before writing something down or editing someone’s work, it was made clear beforehand that we had everyone’s consent to do so. The ability to notice is one that everyone needs to learn in order to make their own decisions, interpretations, and make choices on who to trust when it comes to information given. From our interpretations of Medical Apartheid to that of Clay’s Ark, I believe that we as a group have learned the importance of noticing our surroundings. Noticing is something that we can apply to ourselves and our own individual choices, as well as to our communities in order to attempt to make a difference in our society. There is so much suffering and loss in our world because of people who act in bad faith, and for this reason, the act of noticing is one that society must learn in order to prevent further suffering. I believe that from this collaborative exercise, we as individuals have become more aware of our surroundings, and my hope is that the readers will experience the same impact on their lives.
I, Alexander Ruiz, agree with our collaborative conclusion. Throughout our discussion, it was clear that the role of noticing responsibilities us to continue to cognitively think about our environments including our peers. Using education and experience as the vehicle for continuous noticing, we must be devoid of any practice of avoidance as it places our education as a tool to act in good faith. While discussing the epigraph in totality as it related to our course work, it was evident that the collaborative nature of this group ensured that we had to be vigilant about the input we may add to one another’s work, almost as if a compromise of thought was expected in order to truly respect the space. A true highlight of this tool existed when discussing Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark and its story full of strange harm. Investing in an experience genuinely foreign to all, the internalization of details hits our canvas (minds) uniquely. As themes and anecdotal retellings come to us legitimately alien- we had to ensure the work of overstanding each other was the basis of our noticing. I also acknowledged prior, that for many identities you are expected to notice for your own safety regardless. Before the definition of a condition given by the epigraph, it was something we had to learn and often let it take its course in our lives as a burden. The noticing is the telling of always seeing and understanding that you are always being seen. A double-edged sword that is difficult to grapple with as you attempt to act in good faith- as the fear of nonreciprocal movement is often expected. Reference the trust someone should have when seeking medical aid- now consume that statement with the reality put forth by Harriet Washington’s work- to see is to be critical and pessimistic for some. Even a consistent noticing that never ends in classrooms, halls, or everywhere else you seek to preserve your agency… a disdain that I think has become naturalised exist: The burden of noticing.
I, Luis Carrillo Rubio, agree with multiple of the conclusions that our group has come to. Noticing is essential when it comes to literature, and most importantly the world around us. “Home” by Toni Morrison is a great example of the extreme danger of not noticing. Cee being in the doctor’s office and not “noticing” that the books on the shelf were an indication for her to try and get out of that place. However, this does bring an excellent point to the forefront. That being that noticing with ignorance is futile. Cee saw the books in the doctor’s office, but she didn’t realize those books contained extremely racist undertones and she should not be there. This just goes to show that noticing is not the only thing that is needed, what is needed is also the knowledge to notice the “correct way.” And I don’t say noticing the correct way as if there is some form or right or wrong way to look at the world, but rather noticing while having prior knowledge and making an informed decision. This again, comes back to Cee and how Cee’s sheltered life was their downfall. One great thing that Dr. McCoy does is that they try not to maintain this sort of sheltered life. Dr. McCoy constantly throws us out and gives us the knowledge to learn by ourselves. It is only after receiving this knowledge that she begins a conversation with the class, not directing the conversation in any particular way but always making sure that viewpoints within the class are well informed. This class is a valuable lesson on not only noticing but also noticing the “correct way” and acting on what we notice making sure that nothing is ever thrown by the wayside.
Jessie Seifert, Aleah Barrett, Lauren Conover, Paige Loucks, EJ Rouse, Jayne Zygaj, AJ Forte
In this course, we’ve done a lot of careful consideration to always follow our course epigraph. An epigraph is a short quotation intended to suggest a theme and in this case, ours is a quote from Dionne Brand, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” It helps remind us that there is always intention behind the books we read and presentations we watched this semester, and each serves a purpose to further our understanding of medical racism. Many of the books we have read this semester have tested our ability to notice for ourselves and be aware of what our peers notice during group discussions. Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington was meticulously read throughout the semester, many of the stories correlating with different scenes in fictitious books we were reading at the same time. This helped remind us that, even though the people in the novels may not be real, their experiences are not limited to the world they live in. Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson uses poetry to exemplify each person involved in stealing and experiencing Fortune’s Bones. Nelson does this intentionally to not only give humanity back to those whom it was stolen but also to help us notice how painfully unpunished and normalized medical experimentation and the dehumanization of Black people is, spanning generations. Toni Morrison utilizes the reader’s ability to notice by expecting the reader to always be aware as they’re reading. She does this to stress the normalization of medical malpractice and how racism in America affects all aspects of life. Home by Toni Morrison has us notice big-picture ideas like the White Supremacist and Eugenics books on the Doctor’s bookshelf, and the lack of concern the Doctor has when Cee is left infertile because of his experimentation. She also adds smaller literary details that add to the narrative as a whole, including the symbolism of them living in Lotus, and the irony of Frank fighting in the Korean War in an integrated Army but coming back to a segregated home. Morrison presents these ideas very casually, oftentimes leaving the reader to notice them on their own. Many of these stories have left us with rather uncomfortable moments, detailed excerpts about bodies being prodded and maimed, the authors want us to notice this confining feeling. They don’t want their work to be palatable for readers so they feel more comfortable reading it, they are writing it for a reason. When we finally allow ourselves to notice and live with that uncomfortable feeling, we are allowing ourselves to connect to their characters and come with them on their journey to understanding. Home by Toni Morrison is a novel that can contribute thoughts and knowledge in many different ways. We discussed that creating one throughline is a hard task- especially with several different opinions and understandings. We developed one that we hope can be established and grow in different ways. The throughline will highlight the profound connections between personal identity, the concept of home, and the broader socio-historical context within which the characters exist in Morrison’s work. An important motion that Home proved to readers was that accepting the past is typically the only way to start the healing process and move forward from the traumatic experiences. Being able to face trauma, even just as the reader in noticing everything but being ok/opening communication. Growing from these experiences is the largest step you can take in healing and moving forward. Also, it is important to acknowledge and recognize them to prevent them from happening again in the future. Each book and short story that we have read and examined in our course has proven the importance of our throughline. Without the hard task of healing, communication, and honesty, growth cannot happen.
The flows between literature, medicine, and racism are apparent in Home because of how Toni Morrison introduces these ideas in her story. She uses direct storytelling to show injustices happening in the background and foreground of her stories. She mentions real experiences of segregation and de facto segregation in the North and South while also addressing medical experimentation on black people. An example of this is Cee working as a medical assistant, but being treated very poorly. The doctor does gynecological experiments on her and deprives her of her freedom. He inflicts cruel and tortuous punishment on her, making her infertile. When Frank bursts into the doctor’s home he yells “There’s nothing to steal here”, ironically, the doctor already stole Cee’s fertility, peace of mind, and health. This can be related to chapter two of Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington where she discusses James Marion Sims, “the father of modern gynecology”. He subjected enslaved black women to invasive surgeries and experiments with no anesthesia. Sims claimed that the procedures done were “not painful enough to justify the trouble and risk of attending the administration.” He also believed that black people were less intelligent and therefore had a higher pain threshold so they could handle more than their white counterparts. He would use his findings from his unethical practices on black women to find cures to help white women, it would help him become one of the most important figures in medical history. In the doctor’s office in Home, there is a selection of books out in the open, for anyone to read. Among these books are Out of the Night, The Passing of the Great Race, and Heredity, Race, and Society all of which are books on White Supremacy and eugenics. Cee says she hopes to read them one day, without realizing that eugenics is used to justify the mistreatment and killing of minorities.
At the beginning of the book, Frank meets Reverend John Locke and explains how he escaped from the hospital, where they were selling black people’s bodies to be experimented on. The reverend defends the hospital saying that it helps further medical research to help people, which can be compared to the real John Locke who justified slavery saying it was a form of punishment. John Locke is praised for his creation of natural born rights, just like how the reverend was praised for helping Frank.
In the first chapter of Home, Frank and Cee see men burying a body, but they don’t understand what is happening. Throughout the book, they learn that the town had black men fighting each other as entertainment, which they compared to “dogfights”. They explain how a son had to kill his father to survive these fights. They realized that the body they saw when they were younger was from these fights. So, Frank and Cee went back to where the body was and gave him a proper burial.
As the epigraph by Dionne Brand mentioned before, noticing is an important aspect of this novel as the reader. The ability to notice has limits, which has been shown to us throughout the course. This novel by Toni Morrison, however, is very direct in its connections, and it is easy for the reader to notice, interpret, and make connections. Toni Morrison’s Home relates directly to Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington in the way that they both speak of doctors conducting gynecological research on black women against their will. These concepts are very important to learn about and understand.
On the other hand, as Home does have a very straightforward approach to its story, it also includes smaller details that enhance the meaning of the story. These details can easily be overlooked by the casual reader. To see these details and make connections the reader has to notice. This is where the limits to noticing play a big role in this novel. An example of one of these details is that the main characters Frank and Cee are from a small town called Lotus. A lotus is a flower that grows in the mud and blossoms into a beautiful flower. This can be related to Frank and Cee, and their individual stories in the novel. Frank fought in the Korean War, and throughout the book had flashbacks of a specific moment that he experienced during the war. Cee had been left by her husband and found a job as a medical assistant, but the doctor used her for his gain, by conducting procedures and experiments on her. These procedures were very traumatic and took her fertility. We see at the end of the novel that even through these hardships, Frank and Cee were able to grow and heal together. So similar to a lotus they grew through the mud of their past.
Another example of a small detail in the novel is, at the very end in chapter seventeen. Frank is looking at a tree “I stood there a long while staring at that tree, it looked so strong, so beautiful. Hurt right down the middle but alive and well” (Morrison 147). This is a very small piece of the book, with few words but Toni Morrison makes it known that this tree symbolizes the lives of Frank and Cee. Having that pain in their lives, physically and mentally, they were able to move past it and heal. Even if that past trauma might be noticeable from the outside, like on the tree, they grew into strong and beautiful people.
It is in common agreement that the material we have covered over this semester complements our course concepts in a significant manner. The topics we discussed regarding novels like Home and Medical Apartheid have set slightly new standards for the way the course is viewed as a whole. The significance involving these prime connections between literature, medicine, and racism fully defines this course and the implications through the material covered. Not only that, the novels have brought out many traits in the way we think and perceive things; having group discussions to further strengthen our thoughts and bounce off other ideas to get a flow of information into discussions. With practices that were encouraged, the use of good faith has contributed to stronger communication skills. Not only is the material important for the course, but the course itself is crucial to Geneseo’s learning outcomes involving traits such as critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. All of these traits are relevant to concepts that have been extensively used throughout this course. Even with most of our topics being fictitious, their concepts are very real and with very specifically strange wording, enable us to think deeper with certain phrases and decipher their true meaning. Home and other novels we’ve covered throughout have shown examples of medical malpractice and racial injustice in very harsh and inhumane ways. By reading these, they have been introducing new ideas that could be very difficult to handle, but important to discuss because they open up new questions and offer new perspectives that many of us have never thought about before.
I, Paige Loucks, found myself conflicted on whether or not I agree with the limitation of noticing. To be expected to notice every detail an author might add to their work is unrealistic, not everyone is going to have the resources to even be able to know what they have to notice. I believe that the concept of ‘limitation of noticing’ is less about how much a person notices, but is rather about their efforts put into trying to notice. If someone puts in good faith, their ability to notice increases dramatically. Inciting a conversation with peers to get their understanding alone helps open up a much larger opportunity to recognize key concepts and ideas that we may have passed over without realizing. Going forward, it will push me to not be so closed-minded or scared to ask about other perspectives, nor be hesitant to offer my view on the material. As we were reading Home by Toni Morrison, there were a lot of small and seemingly insignificant details that my mind grazed over. This wasn’t because I didn’t care to get a deeper understanding of the material, it was because I didn’t know to see the underlying meaning. When we had group discussions and were tasked with researching the books that were on the Doctor’s bookshelf, it changed the entire tone of the scene where Cee found them, conversation helped fight against the personal limits of noticing.
I, Aleah Barrett, agree and disagree with the limitations of noticing. I believe the act of noticing is created by the reader. The desire to go further than the physical words on the page takes a lot of effort from a reader- and that typically does not happen from a casual reader. To understand more than what is given you must have a desire to grow. Personally moving forward, understanding a text is more than being able to summarize or answer a question based on it, you want to explain what you learned or what you disagree with. You must notice your desire to dig deeper, and search for more within a text. In a different light, not each piece of literature will spark a reader’s interest and with that- noticing is too big of a task. Being so disengaged makes it impossible to notice more than what you are given, and that is solely because you will not put that effort in. After this course and a reflection on the act of noticing I will take care and notice how fast I typically move. I want reading and discovering to feel less of a task and more moving for growth. I want to slow down, understand more than just the words but the overall ideas, and understand the author’s word choices, now that I have noticed this desire- I will work towards achieving.
I, EJ Rouse, am stuck in the middle on whether I agree or disagree with the limitations of noticing. As we move forward it makes me think that I should not overlook small details. When reading I should dig deeper to understand these details and why they are important. With noticing people will slow down and connect with the reading more. When I read usually I only pay attention to big details and completely miss the little details which sometimes are the big details. While taking this course I have found it really important to take your time while reading and when you do not understand words to look them up. Also in class listening to your peers on how they understood something may help you see things differently. I feel as if it is important to listen to your peers because not only is it respectful but also a learning opportunity.
I, Jayne Zygaj, have trouble agreeing and disagreeing to the limits of noticing because the reader is choosing what they would like to get out of the novel by the end, so it is up to them to take notice and think more deeply into what the author may be writing. Many believe that once a page is read, they are free to move on, but they could be missing out on many deeper thoughts and connections that the author may be trying to give to them. Throughout this course, I have become more aware of not skipping through the text and talking with peers in class to see what their perspective may differ from mine. By being able to share different ideas, it opens up new questions that may have never been thought about. As I go forward, I will be paying more attention to detail and focusing on the overall idea of the text and what I would like to get out of it.
I, Jessie Seifert, agree and also disagree with the limitations of noticing because not everyone is able to take time to read carefully and notice small details throughout novels. Many may not have this privilege and read for enjoyment during free time. Personally, in Home, there were many small details that I missed and didn’t notice until we discussed them in class. This includes the scene where Toni Morrison lists the books on eugenics. Until we looked them up in class, I didn’t notice that they were these racist and harmful books. Also, talking with peers in the class allows for these small details to be noticed more because people may pick up different things. It also allows for different perspectives to be given which can help readers notice things they didn’t notice before. As I go forward, I will take care in noticing more in articles or books I will read for my other courses. I will also make sure to discuss it with my peers because it can give me a different perspective and help me notice even further. However, I will not worry about things I may not have noticed, because it is impossible for one person to notice every small detail within a novel.
I, AJ Forte, am confused about whether or not to fully agree or disagree with the limitations of noticing. Trying to get a full message and understanding of a novel is half the fun of reading it in the first place but trying to decipher it all for the full meaning of the book is sometimes near impossible. Especially when there are instances that readers themselves find meanings in the novels that the author didn’t even intend to portray. Overall, trying to notice every single detail of metaphor, symbol, reference, and others, can be quite difficult for readers especially casual readers. To go more in-depth, your understanding also portrays how actively you’re paying attention or whether or not you are interested in what you are reading. I can say for myself that, am not the biggest fan of reading through most of the novels there were small details briefly mentioned in a small section that I indirectly ignored thinking it was just to add depth to the sentence. The reason I realized the significance was through the group discussion and breakdowns. For future reference, Putting more effort into anything I read will with more passion to help me better understand what I am trying to break down and notice.
I, Lauren Conover, agree and disagree with the limitations of noticing. I Believe everyone notices things to a certain level, but people who notice more, might have more time, or have increased background knowledge. For example, in the novel Home by Toni Morrison, the main characters live in Lotus. I would not have made the connection between lotus and the lives of the characters because I did not know the meaning of a Lotus beforehand. I also believe that people who tend to notice more put more effort into noticing. They might do research about certain things they did not understand, or have conversations with others about things they want to know more about. In the future, I will try my best to put more effort into noticing. Over the course of the semester I have learned that there are so many details that completely go over my head. I only notice these details when one of my peers would acknowledge them. This was not because I did not care enough, but because I did not possess the knowledge to think deeper. I think this concept is very important for my future, and I believe it has already made me a better person.
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.
Written by: Kaileigh Baudier, Rachel Fedison, James Mcnaughton, Cristiana Nuzzi, Liv Rayburn, Caitlyn Sullivan, and Logan Theofield
During a question and answer session in 2013 after her reading at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto, Dionne Brand remarked “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” This quote became the epigraph for our course entitled “American Lit: Literature, Medicine and Racism” and all of the works that we have read in this class can be connected back to it. The concept of noticing that is brought up by Brand suggests that people’s thinking can be driven and assessed in a way that allows professors, authors, and peers alike to learn to see things from different perspectives and learn to see the deeper meaning in areas of literature and life. The idea of noticing, but not acting is a recurring theme throughout our course materials.
Over the course of the semester, the novels that we have encountered have prompted us to notice the underlying meaning contained within them. For instance, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One provides a unique interpretation of the zombie genre and presents readers with a moral dilemma regarding whether or not infected individuals have an internal life, and if so, if it is thus wrong to murder them indiscriminately. Just as the protagonist, Mark Spitz, notices and is disturbed by the mistreatment of infected people by his comrades, we as readers are forced to confront our own biases and acknowledge how we might treat people differently based on their appearances.
In addition, Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark centers around an alien organism that is brought to earth and confers superhuman abilities along with insatiable physical desires to those who come in contact with it. The organism compels its human carriers to spread the disease to others which creates a difficulty for those with the disease as they are forced to contend with issues surrounding consent and bodily autonomy. The original carrier of the organism, Eli, decides that he must contain the spread of the disease by selecting a few individuals from the streets every so often and bringing them to his enclave where they must remain forever or risk spreading the disease globally. When Eli chooses Blake Maslin and his family as the next people to be brought into the community, he notices that Blake is particularly resistant and disbelieving but underestimates Blake’s determination to protect his daughters. Eli also feels conflicted about these repeated kidnappings and subsequent infections, and we as readers are led to notice his dilemma regarding the victims’ lack of informed consent. This moral issue can be extended to real-world scenarios in which it is imperative to understand the terms of agreement associated with a particular situation before fully committing to it, whether it be a college course, a medical procedure, or any other circumstance in which consent is of paramount importance.
Also, in Toni Morrison’s Home, the protagonist, Frank Money, spends much of the novel struggling to come to terms with his PTSD from his time in the Korean War while also journeying to save his sister, Cee, from the hands of a doctor who has been performing dangerous experiments on her. Throughout the book, Frank attempts to shield himself from the reality of his experiences in the war but is ultimately forced to confront them when he discovers that Dr. Beau’s experiments have left Cee unable to have children.
As seen through Cee’s desire for community in Home and Blake’s determination to escape in Clay’s Ark, noticing is only the beginning. For example, Blake does notice that Eli and his people on the ranch are different, but he doesn’t truly understand why or even make an effort until he begins to experience the symptoms associated with the organism towards the end of the novel. If Blake had done anything effective earlier in Clay’s Ark, the novel likely would have had an entirely different resolution. There is also the fact that the community on the ranch failed to notice the extent of Blake Maslin and his daughters’ extreme, albeit reasonable, agitation. If they had noticed, they would’ve had the opportunity to react and stop Blake from ultimately spreading the Clay’s Ark organism to the rest of the world and turning the epidemic into a pandemic.
Toni Morrison’s Home brings a lot to unpack as a reader with Morrison’s clever moral dilemmas and her characters’ differing perspectives. We as her audience are almost forced into noticing to actually understand the novel itself as well as the complexities that come along with it. And we, much like the characters in Home, must notice and act on things in our day-to-day lives that are often difficult to address such as trauma and injustices. From Frank’s mishandled PTSD to Cee’s subjection to racist ideologies in the medical workplace, readers witness the effects of noticing and a lack thereof. The traumas of the Korean War experienced by Frank are one of the most topical instances of ‘noticing’, seeing as the novel starts in his past and goes on to depict him in a mental institution. Frank spends much of the novel downplaying the severity of his trauma, and although he has noticed that there is something wrong with him, he refuses to unpack these horrible experiences. It is likely that if he had addressed the demons from his past at the outset of the novel, his character would have been less defined by his PTSD. And as a critical part of the novel centers around Frank’s trauma, the story would have been markedly different as well.
Throughout the novel, Morrison gradually alters the manner in which Frank’s PTSD is portrayed which is mirrored by Frank’s interpretation of his PTSD. The reader and Frank’s journeys of realization and noticing are essentially adjacent, as we learn more about him as he simultaneously learns more about himself. But even as his PTSD becomes more apparent, and he reveals more about the circumstances leading up to his PTSD, because of the time period that he lives in, there isn’t much that he can do. PTSD only became recognized as a medical diagnosis in 1980, meaning there was little that Frank could’ve done regarding properly handling his trauma. Along with this, as a working-class black man in the 1950s, real therapeutic treatment would have been very hard to come by. Although Frank did come to terms with some of his trauma at the end of the novel, ultimately his PTSD remained unresolved due to his circumstances. But maybe if others who noticed how evidently troubled Frank was had acted on his behalf, he would’ve been able to form a decent support system, or at the very least the foundations of one. This could have made a significant difference in Frank’s progress towards accepting his actions in the war and thus learning to process his grief and guilt in a healthy manner.
Home affirms the idea that people are capable of noticing when it comes to things including the flows between literature, medicine, and racism. For example, Home confirms that folks can notice the connections between medicine and racism as the Black women of Lotus, Cee’s hometown, are appalled to discover that Cee decided to work for a doctor. They admonish Cee for this choice and believe that she should have known better. In fact, one of the women tells Cee “‘You ain’t a mule to be pulling some evil doctor’s wagon’”. This immediate response indicates that the Black community in Lotus has been well aware of the abhorrent treatment of Black people at the hands of doctors for quite some time. These women likely witnessed similar events prior to Cee’s circumstances that informed them that doctors were not to be trusted. Their reaction also reinforces the idea that iatrophobia, or the fear of doctors, was oftentimes a sensible phobia for African Americans to possess as they continued to notice the differences between their medical care versus that of white individuals.
In addition, the novel emphasizes the inherent link between medicine and racism through Frank’s institutionalization at the beginning of the novel. It is implied that Frank has been placed there for a PTSD-related episode, and we as readers are left to wonder if perhaps this wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t a poor Black man. In fact, when Frank escapes the mental institution and seeks asylum at a church, the reverend who welcomes him remarks that “‘They sell a lot of bodies out of there…doctors need to work on the dead poor so they can help the live rich’”. This chilling revelation indeed appears to confirm the reader’s suspicions that Frank was institutionalized for nefarious purposes. It also relates to the previous example in that many members of the Black community within Home are indeed aware of the racism that is prevalent within the medical field.
Moreover, Home highlights the connection between literature and racism during the scene in which Cee observes several of the books contained within Dr. Beau’s study. Readers are able to glean from their titles that the books emphasize racist ideas regarding the superiority of white people and the inferiority of Black people. In researching these books further, one learns that they advocate for the removal of “undesirable” traits from the gene pool by means of preventing particular groups from having children, such as African Americans. These books very likely contributed to the doctor’s desire to perform dangerous experiments on Black women as a means of limiting their ability to reproduce. We as the audience notice and are immediately taken aback by these revelations but it is only because we understand the general contents of the books that we know that Cee should leave the premises immediately.
On the other hand, Home examines the limitations associated with noticing as well as the ramifications of failing to notice. For example, Cee notices the doctor’s books but is not alarmed because she is unaware of their contents. As Cee stands in Dr. Beau’s office, she observes her surroundings and looks at “the medical books closely, running her finger over some of the titles: Out of the Night. Must be a mystery, she thought. Then The Passing of the Great Race, and next to it, Heredity, Race, and Society. How small, how useless was her schooling, she thought, and promised herself she would find time to read about and understand ‘eugenics’”. She is ignorant of the fact that they contain racist ideologies and were written by eugenicists which implies that the doctor himself holds such views. Cee’s naivety is dangerous in this particular situation because she is unknowingly at the mercy of a doctor who will likely not have any regard for her consent. This example highlights the importance of both noticing one’s surroundings and understanding the deeper meaning contained within them. Had Cee truly noticed, she would have escaped and would not have been subjected to experiments that left her on the brink of death.
In addition, Home discusses the consequences of noticing someone in peril but deliberately choosing not to intervene. This is exemplified through the actions of Sarah, (a Black woman who has been working at Dr. Beau’s house for years), as she is aware that the doctor is conducting experiments on unsuspecting Black women but she decides not to report him to the authorities. In particular, when Cee begins working for Dr. Beau, Sarah has the option to inform Cee of the dangers associated with the job but she remains silent on the matter. It is only when it becomes clear that Cee might die at the hands of Dr. Beau that Sarah elects to reach out to Frank in an attempt to save her life. Sarah’s inaction makes her arguably as culpable as Dr. Beau, as she regularly witnesses these atrocities and continues to do nothing about it. She even states, “She blamed herself almost as much as she blamed Dr. Beau. She knew he gave shots, had his patients drink medicines he made up himself, and occasionally performed abortions on society ladies. None of that bothered or alarmed her”. While Sarah demonstrates a sense of self-blame and guilt for the practices that she has witnessed, due to the societal norms of the time, she may not have been believed if she were to report Dr. Beau to the police or if she was believed, she might have been indicted along with the doctor. Sarah’s fear prevented her from acting in good faith until she suspected that Cee might die. In fact, Sarah is relieved to admit that “If the girl dies, she thought, it wouldn’t be under her care in the doctor’s house. It would be in her brother’s arms”. Although Sarah did care for Cee’s life, she was caring with the wrong intentions. Sending for Frank instead of calling the authorities demonstrates Sarah’s apprehension about being caught and potentially losing the only home that she’s had since she was a teenager. While Sarah’s actions ultimately saved Cee’s life, her initial intentions were questionable and they reinforce the idea that one can both notice injustices and choose to do nothing as well as notice injustices and choose to do something about it.
Furthermore, Frank and Cee witness a Black man being buried in a field at the outset of the novel when they are children, but they are not able to understand the reality of the situation until several years later when they are adults. Toward the end of the novel, Frank discovers that Black men were forced to participate in fights to the death in the same place where he and Cee saw the body being buried at the beginning of the book. In fact, he learns that a father and son were pitted against each other and that the father insisted that the son kill him. After receiving this information, Frank is compelled to perform a sort of reparation by unearthing the man’s bones and giving him a proper burial. These events suggest that one can notice but remain powerless to prevent terrible situations from happening as well as the idea that the true meaning of an event can elude someone until they are prepared to learn the truth.
The concept of noticing, as well as acknowledging what we haven’t noticed is important in both the confines of this class, as well as our greater Geneseo education. A major course concept students encounter in this class is the both/and. Professor McCoy has emphasized all semester that a topic can, and often should be viewed in more than one light. This is relevant to the concept of noticing as it is easy for many to only consider their initial interpretation of an event or idea while neglecting other interpretations. In order to be able to view something through several different lenses, students must work to notice as much as they can whilst also acknowledging what they don’t know. This coincides with the importance of acting in good faith, which sometimes can require outside perspectives to notice if one’s actions are performed in good faith. For example, if one is engaging in conversation with others and isn’t very knowledgeable about a sensitive topic, it would be a good faith practice to say “I don’t know” instead of trying to offer input that might be perceived as a bad faith contribution. On that note, it is important to keep an eye out for bad-faith actions and intentions in all aspects of one’s everyday life.
Another course concept that relates to the idea of noticing is the “art of scaring” as one must recognize the impact that their words and actions can have on others when delivering difficult information. If one fails to take into account the manner in which they are conveying a message that may be hard to hear, they run the risk of alienating their audience. These course concepts are pertinent to our class discussions but are also valuable tools to have moving forward through life. The GLOBE (Geneseo Learning Outcomes for a Baccalaureate Education) mission statement speaks to finding “strength in diversity” which is an essential outlook to have for the future. Since students will go on to encounter all different kinds of individuals throughout their careers and in everyday life, this concept of noticing and not standing idly by is crucial. Regardless of their major or career interests, students need to practice noticing to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, and they need to be prepared to intervene in the event that one person is dominating conversations. This is an imperative skill to carry forward into the workforce as collaboration is often a large component of one’s job, and it is essential to ascertain each team member’s opinions during meetings and while working on projects in order to ensure the success of the company.
I, Liv Rayburn, feel that the collaborative conclusion we have reached conveys my thoughts and sentiments on the topic of noticing. I think that we, as students, have practiced a great deal of reflective thinking throughout this course and in all of our collaborative exercises, and I commend us for that. It isn’t always easy to apply course concepts to real life situations, but I genuinely think Dr. Beth and my peers have broadened my perspective and made me a more considerate person. Going forwards into the field of adolescence education, I will use the tools this course has given me to make sure all of my future students feel safe and heard in my classroom. I hope to make positive impressions on them, just as Dr. Beth and other educators have done unto me.
I, Caitlyn Sullivan, agree with the collaborative conclusion that is created. I believe that the art of noticing goes further than just throughout college. This concept of noticing has strongly resonated with me as an individual who wants to act in good faith toward all. Reflecting on this class throughout the semester, I have found that working on collaborative exercises with a group helps us as a class to practice the art of good faith that Professor McCoy has shown us throughout the semester. Working directly with my classmates has helped me to become more comfortable and understanding with conducting group work. Physically practicing the concepts that Dr. McCoy presents in class creates a safe and welcoming environment in which all students can thrive from. As I carry on throughout my next couple of years as a student, I look forward to bringing the art of noticing into my career as well. I hope that I can carry onto others the good faith and noticing practices that Dr. McCoy has left with me.
I, Logan Theofield, concur that the concept of noticing is crucial to carry with oneself when moving forward from this course. I will be furthering my education with the hopes of becoming a physical therapist and will need to carry out all of my future actions with a good faith mindset. I will encounter all kinds of people in the future and hope to aid in the healing process. This course and its emphasis on noticing is important to any field but especially medicine, the iatrophobia that has been created because of certain parts of history is something that all medical personnel from brain surgeons to the receptionists at a pediatrician’s office need to be aware of and need to ensure will never be repeated. Therefore, I will ensure this practice of noticing will be carried out in any facility where I work in the future.
I, Kaileigh Baudier, am in agreement with the group’s conclusion. The concept/art of noticing is about engaging in the world and connecting with others, but it is also about being in touch with yourself and what really matters to you. Being able to work in a group instead of on my own had opened up my mind to more different thoughts and ideas I hadn’t thought of before. Once you start noticing you are able to help others notice. For example, Medical Apartheid, taught me so many things and made me notice the mistreatment of humans that I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. Taking this concept out of this course and into the world allows me to be able to act in good faith towards the people I will encounter throughout my life, and further into the future, my career as an educator.
I, Cristiana Nuzzi, am in agreement with the group’s conclusion. The idea of noticing, I feel, is an understated act of caring. Oftentimes, it takes so little to notice, yet we are so absorbed with ourselves that we don’t. Meanwhile, others feign noticing to seem as though they do care. However, I can only account for myself and my own actions. As I continue my academic career at SUNY Geneseo and eventually begin my work as an English teacher, I will do everything in my power to go through life with good faith. I hope to showcase these skills that Professor McCoy has awarded me to my peers as well. Ultimately, noticing in all its dichotomy is a salient part of life.
I, Rachel Fedison, concur with our collaborative conclusion but I would like to expand upon a few of the points that were made within it. For instance, I would contend that people who act in good faith often take the time to really notice others and respect opinions that differ from their own whereas people who act in bad faith might simply dismiss others’ viewpoints instead of attempting to understand the reasoning behind them. This notion is perhaps best represented within the political arena as individuals who are engaged in good faith debating practices are willing to listen to their opponents before offering responses while those who are operating in bad faith prefer to assume that their opinions are correct without contemplating the merits of their opposition’s arguments. In addition, it is apparent in our daily lives that the concept of noticing is closely intertwined with the “art of scaring” as we are inundated with news on a regular basis regarding sensitive topics such as war and natural disasters. As human beings, we have a responsibility to notice the impact of the delivery of such information not only on ourselves but also on the members of our communities. Furthermore, I believe that my experiences in the workforce demonstrate the importance of noticing regardless of one’s discipline. I have spent time in the accounting field as well as in a speech-language pathology graduate program, both of which required a significant amount of collaboration with folks from disparate backgrounds. While these disciplines are completely unrelated to one another, both taught me invaluable lessons regarding how to interact with various personalities, and to not only notice but value the input of people who are different from me in terms of age, race, and gender. Finally, I hope to incorporate the aforementioned course concepts into my remaining semesters at Geneseo as well as throughout my future career in the field of mathematics.
I, James McNaughton, agree with the conclusion presented by our group. As more of my time in this class has passed, I became more aware of the recurring theme of noticing. This concept has manifested itself in a variety of ways throughout the class, notably through Professor McCoy’s concepts of the “both/and”, as well as “the art of scaring”. Both of these concepts emphasize the importance of noticing, and being aware of both what we do and don’t know, as well as how we present such knowledge. I realized eventually that noticing was, in my opinion, the theme with the most importance for the class, as well as the thing with the most application for my future studies. It is with focusing on noticing, and being aware of our limitations of what we know and what we have noticed, that we can further understand those around us, and alternatively understand why people have their differences. Along with this, as students, an emphasis on noticing can bring greater meaning and truth to the literature we read, and bring more value in other academic disciplines.