In August, 1831, a few dozen slaves in Southampton, Virginia, revolted, slaughtering whites mercilessly.
The confession of the revolt’s leader, Nathaniel Turner, presented at his trial and subsequently published as a pamphlet, is the factual basis of William Styron’s novel.
The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
Random House, 1966, 1967; 428 p. 1967 bestseller #2. My grade: A.
Nat Turner’s capture.
Nat’s mother was a cook, so Nat became a “house nigger.” The Turner family taught him to read and figure, gave him carpentry training, bought a Bible, and promised he’d be given his freedom at age 25.
By the time Nat was 25, faced with dwindling income from over-worked land, Turner family had sold all their possessions—including Nat—and left Virginia for good.
Nat’s freedom disappeared with Marse Samuel.
Nat’s Bible reading and his ache for companionship with like-minded people, gradually twist into the conviction that God wants him to lead a slave rebellion.
Styron avoids the familiar clichés of slave novels. Characters, both black and white, are victims of conditions they can’t control. The worst physical and mental suffering among blacks and whites occur among those least affluent even at the best of times.
Styron’s tale could easily be moved to Baltimore or St. Louis in 2015.
His novel is a wrenching reminder that how we treat individuals matters more than our opinions about race.
© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni