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The Confessions of Nat Turner by William…
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The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)

by William Styron

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Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
By sword and ax and gun you run a swath through this county that will be long remembered. You did, as you say, come damn near to taking your army into this town. And in addition, as I think I told you before, you scared the entire South into a condition that may be described as well-nigh shitless. No niggers ever done anything like this.

During my arrogant youth I signed up for a History of Slavery course, you know, so I could marshall evidence against The Man. I went the first day, inspired by Huey Newton, wearing a Ziggy Marley t-shirt, cargo pants and my Barca soccer cleats. I entered the room with Wretched of the Earth prominently displayed and discovered that the class was 80 percent black. This is southern indiana, mind you. I tried to participate and often did, the undertow of history kept clipping my thoughts and outbursts. The instructor was also white and spent most of the semester bursting into tears. The term project required reading a literary treatment of the period (Gone With The Wind, Beloved) and comparing it to slave narratives. I chose William Styron's novel, well, because it concerned Nat Turner. I did listen to Public Enemy after all.

I did enjoy the novel and can remember a number of aspects. Reading the critical responses to such, i can certainly empathize with those that felt that were being disinherited or disabused somehow by this nuanced portrait. The chanteuse Abbey Lincoln proclaimed on Ken Burns' Jazz, in this country they'll steal your ancestors. That's a great deal of baggage for a goodreads review. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
This was an interesting book set from the perspective of the infamous narrator. I felt that the book had a lot to offer, especially for an aspiring writer such as myself, and I was only put off by the style and the constant (though perhaps necessary) religious overtones and reminders of the book. As stated in the introduction, this book is a social commentary on the times rather than direct historical fiction. That is the power behind it. ( )
  DanielSTJ | Dec 20, 2018 |
This book won the Pulitzer prize and deservedly so. This may be the best historical fiction book every written ( )
1 vote ForSusan | Apr 6, 2018 |
"Though it is a painful fact that most Negroes are hopelessly docile, many of them are filled with fury, and the unctuous coating of flattery which surrounds and encases that fury is but a form of self-preservation."

"Not since the day years before when I was first sold had I felt such rage, intolerable rage, rage that echoed a memory of Isham's fury as he howled at Moore, rage that was a culmination of all the raw buried anguish and frustration growing inside me since the faraway dusk of childhood, on a murmuring veranda, when I first understood that I was a slave and a slave forever."

This controversial novel is the fictionalized story of Nat Turner, a slave who led a rebellion in southeast Virginia in 1831. Though ultimately unsuccessful, this is apparently the most sustained slave revolt, at least as documented. Styron's novel starts in a jail near the eve of Turner's anticipated execution as he is being interviewed by his defense attorney who is depicted as trying to understand one particular fact of the rebellion: that Turner's own hands murdered but one of the several victims, that he left most of the murdering to his compatriots. The narrative gradually shifts to an uninterrupted first-person telling of Nat's life as a slave, his experiences at the hands of a variety of owners, and the impact of his intelligence and the willingness of one owner to teach him to read.

Published to much critical praise in 1967, the novel quickly came under fire from the African American community, in particular, for (in Styron's words in my edition's afterword) "...having unwittingly created one of the first politically incorrect texts of our time." He decided to tackle the story, one that provided a benefit for a novelist: an intriguing historical event about which we know very little. Styron says he held fast to what seems incontrovertible, that Nat Turner was a brilliant madman with a delusional and grandiose sense of his place in God's universe. Then he took broad liberties with Turner's childhood and young adulthood, creating a historical narrative that was inconsistent with time and place (the kind of plantation on which Styron placed Nat simply did not exist in that region). Anyway, his novel came under tremendous criticism and, according to him, it became essentially novel-non-grata in college literature classes all across the country while the critical essays regarding the novel were widely read.

Essentially, Styron was tagged as racist. I can't argue one way or the other on this. As I read the novel, I was aware that a white man was writing about an experience, perhaps the ultimate American experience of abasement, degradation, and oppression, with which he could probably not really empathize. He was writing from the distance not only of time but the distance of history; had he been born in America in a different century, he would not have been enslaved. I was also aware that his novel was falling short of communicating the despair, rage, helplessness, terror, and numbness that must have lived within the souls of the Black men and women held in chains in our country's early existence. Who could ever capture what it may or must or could have felt like? I know that I can't, truly can not imagine. It is beyond my privileged capacity. And perhaps it is beyond the capacity of anyone living just far enough away from it. Reading first-person accounts of slaves themselves is the only way to truly hear their stories.

And perhaps it is because of my privileged location in our society that I can say this: setting aside those inevitable failings, the novel was brilliant. Styron's Nat Turner is a character who emerges richly from the pages. He is cold and distant as he tells his story but he evokes compassion and warmth. Perhaps one can only tell a story like this by adopting a voice as close to a reporter as possible; "I'm just telling you this story." When he describes his rage, it is not much different than when he describes the heat and the mosquitoes in the fields in which he worked or the bland food on which he usually survived. But somehow it all comes together into a compelling story and one which has stuck with me over the weeks since I finished reading it. ( )
1 vote EBT1002 | Apr 10, 2017 |
Nat Turner was a negro preacher, an educated slave, born and raised in Virginia. He felt he had been ordained by God, to fight a cause and start an insurrection against the horrors of slavery.
This is a fictionalized account of this story, narrated by Turner, as he lies in his cell, shackled, awaiting his execution.
There was rampant controversy surrounding this novel, on it's release in 1967. America was in revolt at the time, over civil rights issues and having a white southerner pen this story, caused an uproar. I can not address those allegations, with any authority but I found this to be a deep, ambitious examination of a man, fighting against injustice. He did not get the results he hoped and many people were brutally killed, but I think this planted the seeds that led to the events, thirty years later.

This was my first book by Styron and I was impressed by his vision and his craft. ( )
1 vote msf59 | Mar 10, 2017 |
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To James Terry and to Lillian Hellman and to my wife and children
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TO THE PUBLIC - The late insurrection in Southampton has greatly excited the public mind and led to a thousand idle, exaggerated and mischievous reports.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679736638, Paperback)

In the late summer of 1831, in a remote section of southeastern Virginia, there took place the only effective, sustained revolt in the annals of American Negro slavery...

The revolt was led by a remarkable Negro preacher named Nat Turner, an educated slave who felt himself divinely ordained to annihilate all the white people in the region.

The Confessions of Nat Turner is narrated by Nat himself as he lingers in jail through the cold autumnal days before his execution. The compelling story ranges over the whole of Nat's Life, reaching its inevitable and shattering climax that bloody day in August.

The Confessions of Nat Turner is not only a masterpiece of storytelling; is also reveals in unforgettable human terms the agonizing essence of Negro slavery. Through the mind of a slave, Willie Styron has re-created a catastrophic event, and dramatized the intermingled miseries, frustrations--and hopes--which caused this extraordinary black man to rise up out of the early mists of our history and strike down those who held his people in bondage.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:17 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In the late summer of 1831, in a remote section of southeastern Virginia, there took place the only effective, sustained revolt in the annals of American Negro slavery. The revolt was led by a remarkable Negro preacher named Nat Turner, an educated slave who felt himself divinely ordained to annihilate all the white people in the region. This story is narrated by Nat himself as he lingers in jail through the cold autumnal days before his execution. The compelling story ranges over the whole of Nat's life, reaching its inevitable and shattering climax that bloody day in August.… (more)

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