Integrity is not a physical characteristic: Sidney Poitier’s the Measure of a Man

 

Sidney Poitier performs magic in The Measure of a Man. Only true nobility can write the personal history and experience of a 70-something black man from the Bahamas with such power to speak profoundly to a 22-year old white girl from Grand Rapids. The same page will draw the reader to tears both from laughter and from sorrow. At 243 pages, Measure is not difficult, which makes reading from cover to cover relatively easy in one sitting.

What’s most powerful about Poitier’s “spiritual autobiography” is that he’s not trying to manipulate the reader one way or another. It’s entirely possible to be completely changed by the end and yet leave the book disagreeing with him in some areas no less than at the beginning. He doesn’t expect his readers to agree with him, he’s simply telling his story. And an interesting story it is. As a boy, Poitier lived in intense poverty, but this poverty was nothing like anyone in America would understand. He says in the first chapter, “In a word, we were poor, but poverty there was very different from the poverty in a modern place characterized by concrete. It’s not romanticizing the past to state the poverty on Cat Island didn’t preclude gorgeous beaches and a climate like heaven, cocoa plum trees and sea grapes and cassavas growing in the forest, and bananas growing wild” (3).

Through his journey from Cat Island to Florida to New York to Hollywood, Poitier never lost the sense of self given to him by his parents, especially his father. This is possibly one of the most profound themes of the book: the identity instilled by a parent to his son. This dignity guided him through the roles that he chose, or didn’t choose, as well as how he saw his success in Hollywood and even the industry of Hollywood itself. Any reader, once reading this book, will understand the privilege just experienced from Poitier opening the door, even if only slightly, to his life and the influence his father had on him and, consequently, the entire American film industry.

Sidney Poitier. The Measure of a Man. HarperSanFrancisco (2000). ISBN: 978-0-135790-0

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About katepadilla

I write for the Spencer Daily Reporter in Spencer, Iowa. I keep blogs lifebythebooks, Save Me, San Francisco, and Beauty and Beast Buy a House. I'm also hard at work writing a short story collection inspired by the music of Train.

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