In 1968, The Confessions of Nat Turner, a book based upon the most significant slave revolt in American history, won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. William Styron’s novel about Turner continues to provoke discussion in the decades since its publication because it addresses the complicated relationship between black versus white, fact versus fiction, and art versus history. The Confessions of Nat Turner has been a controversial novel, but it is also a book that can stand on its artistic merits. To create a rounded character, Styron expanded upon the limited material of the slave’s life presented in the actual confession. The result is a fictional character who is credible. The negative side of Styron’s approach is that it left him vulnerable to charges of racism and historical falsification.
Nine months after publication of The Confessions of Nat Turner, a book of vehement disapproval appeared. William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond attacked the novelist for distorting the image of a black hero. They complained that Styron turned a strong black man into an indecisive and emasculated figure. In reality, Turner’s revolt had far-reaching effects because of the strength of its leader. Most slave revolts never got as far as Turner’s Rebellion. The significance of the revolt is easily seen in the reaction to it. Turner undermined the theory that slaves were docile and happy, intensified the always-present fear of slave revolts, provoked the tightening of slave regulations, sparked the enactment of harsher policies toward slaves and free blacks, sped the decline of abolitionism in the South and its rise in the North, and influenced John Brown’s ill-fated 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. The reception of the novel, especially the ferocity of attacks from black readers, shocked Styron. He mistakenly assumed that Turner’s “heroic” deeds were erased from the historical memory of African Americans.
Styron’s work appeared in print in 1967 as the United States experienced a round of riots and other forms of rebellion by blacks who protested their second-class citizenship. The social and political context of the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power movement shaped the public response to The Confessions of Nat Turner. At the time, some black revolutionaries embraced black philosopher Frantz Fanon’s belief that oppressed peoples could liberate themselves psychologically as well as politically only through murderous violence. Styron convicted Turner of moral blindness and sent him, a penitent, to Judgment. Styron’s critics challenged the presumption that Turner’s actions lacked morality. Vincent Harding, in William Styron’s...
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... among the slaves and whenever giving a religious sermon he would always say things with passion and used great body language. These actions of Nat's produced people in the audience to yell out 'Amen, " 'Hallelujah' and 'Tell it to them preacher!' In 1821, master Samuel hired an overseer. Clearly, the overseer beat Nat because he ran away.
He became a fugitive and dweller deep into the swamps of Southampton. For thirty days Nat was gone and for sure the 'slave patrol' was put on the task of searching for him. All the slaves prayed for his safe return, and finally one night he did return, but he returned on his own. There was no patrol, no hound dogs, nothing with Nat. He just decided to come back because as he put it, 'the lord hath found something more for me to do. ' ('Fires of Jubilee'). Nat married another slave named Cherry and they lived on Master Samuel's farm.
In 1822 though, Master Samuel died of an unknown affliction at age 31. The overseer having left and Master Samuel's wife inability to run the farm caused it to sink into despair. Eventually the slaves were sold including Nat and his wife Cherry. They sold Nat to a man named Thomas Moore and sold Cherry to another slave master. Nat was determined that the rest of his life would be spent 'behind a shitting mule in Moore's cotton patches. ' ('Fires of Jubilee').
Nat said to many slaves that he was just waiting for a sign that was coming for the lord to tell him what to do. On a February day in 1831 the sign Nat had been waiting for appeared. A solar eclipse appeared this day and Nat told his four closest comrades: Hark, Nelson, Henry, and Sam. He told him that they were to stir all of the other Negroes on the plantation because the revolt was going to happen on July 4.
The same day as the country would celebrate its freedom Nat said, Negroes will celebrate theirs. This day proved not to work out well because on July 4, 1831, Nat got very sick and the revolt was called off. This caused Nat to wait for another sign, and the sign that would signal Nat came. Saturday, August 13, 1831 the sky was supposedly a 'greenish blue color' ('Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion by Herbert Aptheker), and this caused Nat to again to tell his four men to spread the word. All that were to be involved in the revolt, would wear red bandannas around their necks to signify cooperation. On the afternoon of Sunday, August 21, the conspirators gathered and Nat decided that was the day the rebellion would begin.
The last thing Nat Turner said to his followers was this": Remember that ours is not a war for robbery nor to satisfy our passions; it is a struggle for freedom. Ours must be deeds not words. Then let us away to the scene of action. ' ('Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion'). It is plain to see what Nat Turner's desires are about this revolt but some of his followers had different desires. Some wanted to get back at mean masters and others were doing it just for money. This is one of the reason's why the rebellion was crushed.
Not all the slaves were following the rebellion for personal gain though, most of them were doing it to get their freedom just like Nat was trying to do. The number of conspirators is a number that has been in question for sometime. Some estimate that there was between sixty and eighty slaves and some say the number was between three- hundred and eight-hundred slaves. The latter number is probably the least accurate.
The rebellion probably had from about eighty to one hundred conspirators. Accuracy of what happened exactly with all the killings is also in debate. There are many accounts on what went on but most of them are the way the reader reads and interprets what happened. Nat Turner is quoted as saying 'indiscriminate massacre was not their intention after they obtained a foothold, and was resorted to in the first instance to strike terror and alarm. Women and children would have afterwards been spared, and men too, who ceased to resist. ' ('Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion').
Mostly what Nat and the group did was go from house to house and killed all white people in the house, this included women and children. Nat and the conspirators killed and burned some plantations down for about seven days. On August 28, 1831, most of the conspirators had been jailed or killed except Nat Turner and five or six other slaves. The state militia had put down the revolution.
The biggest reason that the revolt was put down so fast was because of insubordination from some slaves toward Nat. Other reasons for the put down were, there were only about eighty slaves and there were at least more than five hundred militia men. Also the slaves were tired and did not have enough ammunition to compete with the militia. The revolution was crushed but not before Nat Turner had struck some fear and got people to listen up that slavery should be abolished. About 55 whites were killed in all, most of them were women and children.
Nat was able to out run the law for about three months until he was captured sometime on October 30, 1831. There were many rumors about where Nat was. Some people heard he had run away to Maryland, or escaped to the West Indies. What Nat really did was hide in a cave in Southampton, Virginia, and was caught by a man named Benjamin Phipps while Nat was looking for food.
Nat was brought to trial after his escape and on November 5, the Honorable Jeremiah Cobb sentenced Nat Turner to death by hanging. This sentence was carried out on November 11, 1831 and showing complete calmness and apparently unafraid, Nat was hung for the crime of murder, thus ending Nat Turner's life and his slave revolt. Nat Turner's slave revolt led to many other things significant in the abolishment of slavery. This revolt seemed to show people how horrible slavery was and what happens slaves do not put up with it.
After the revolt, there were many steps taken in the process of abolishing slavery. The climax of the steps was President Lincoln's 'Emancipation Proclamation. " Nat Turner's slave revolt and the abolitionist movement really helped bring an end to the cruel and unjust reality of slavery. Without the Nat Turner slave revolt the abolitionist movement would have never come about. Some critics complain that the revolt was very violent and unnecessary, but so was slavery. The slave revolt opened America's eyes to the ills of slavery and paved the way for less violent revolutions such as the Black Muslim uprising and the Civil Rights non-violence movement. Bibliography 1.
Aptheker, Herbert; Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion, Johnson and Williams Inc. , New York, New York, Copyright 1921 2. Farina, Reggie; Nat Turner's Rebellion, Snyder Publications, Chicago Publishing House, Chicago, Illinois, Copyright 1963 3. Friedman, Jesse; Nat Turner: Prophet, Visionary, Slave Revolt leader, Adu publishing inc. , New York, New York, Copyright 1892 4. Gray, Thomas R. ; The Confessions of Nat Turner, Thomas R.
Gray publishing, Lucas and Denver printing, Copyright 1831 5. Oates, Stephen B. ; Fires of Jubilee; Nobles, Turner and Smith, Los Angeles, California Copyright 1899
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