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The Confessions of Nat Turner by William…

The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)

by William Styron

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This book won the Pulitzer prize and deservedly so. This may be the best historical fiction book every written ( )
  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 |
I didn't finish this so I probably shouldn't write a review but I feel like I have a perspective to offer anyone considering reading it. I love Sophie's Choice and Styron is a great writer. He effectively captures how deranged Turner is but reading a non-stop interior monologue of a deranged killer punctuated by long bible passages is punishing. I felt claustrophobic being in his head and frankly, bored after 150 pages. So I stopped reading. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
Based on the true story of Nat Turner and his actual confession, William Styron tells the tragic tale of the infamous uprising of slaves in 1831 in Virginia which left 60 white people massacred.... a large portion of them women and children. Nat Turner was the leader of the insurrection. He confessed with no remorse, pleaded guilty and was hanged. Although this book won the Pulitzer Prize and is considered a classic of American literature, it drew controversial reviews.

Told in four parts, the opening scene finds Nat in prison awaiting his trial. eventually pronounced guilty, then awaiting his execution. Part two drops back to Nat’s childhood and life in servitude of several “masters”. Part three is his memory of the uprising and ensuing massacre, and part four is focused on the day of the hanging.

William Styron had a personal interest in the history of Nat Turner because he too grew up in Virginia in the vicinity where the story takes place. Styron says in the forward, “During the narrative that follows, I have rarely departed from the known facts about Nat Turner and the revolt.. However, in those areas where there is little knowledge in regard to Nat... I have allowed myself the utmost freedom of imagination in reconstruction events...” the author creates descriptions, dialogue, and a captivating analogy of the events that occurred during the 31 years of Nat Turner’s life.

On the positive side- Styron draws the reader in, telling the story from Nat’s point of view which illustrates just how brutal life was to be a slave- living a sub human existence with no hope of a better life. Even the “house darkies” who at least sometimes had more comfortable living conditions like sleeping on a straw mat on the floor of the estate kitchen pantry and eating leftovers rather than living on a diet of cornmeal and fat salt bacon soaked in molasses still suffered inhumane treatment. Beatings, torture, and rape were common. Spouses and children were often separated and sold off to slave traders never to be seen again. Nat lived through this. And say what you will- those innocent women and children who were butchered did not deserve to suffer- but all men have a breaking point. Nat’s “spiritual vision” to try to end the suffering and get revenge may have been a shrewd lucid act of evil or an insane psychotic breakdown. However, because he was a black slave, that point was never raised. The one clear observation as a reader is that if you are white and had encountered Nat during his organized rampage… you were a dead person. Period. And yet, I can genuinely say when I finished the book, I felt sympathy for Nat along with all the other slaves.

On the controversial side, the story drew criticism for a white author having the audacity to “fabricate” some “stereotyped” details about Nat’s life… for example, the depiction that Nat had a fetish for white girls. Was it fabricated or real? Who’s to say? It’s a moot point. And anyway, what self-righteous “authority” designated that as a “stereotypical” characteristic? If the glove fits... oh, excuse me, that was the coined phrase in the O.J. Simpson trial when he was accused of killing his white wife. What I mean is, if the shoe fits... If the author had been black, it would not be an issue. Doesn’t that make the critics racist?

There are many offensive things that occur in the book such as Nat’s attorney pleading for leniency because “ the Negro is a biologically inferior species” and literally compared him physically and mentally to a baboon, that the “white girl fetish” hardly bares mentioning.

"The Confessions of Nat Turner" is a stark reminder that slavery was an integral part of the history of the United States which cannot be denied or ignored. Reminding ourselves of the atrocity should strengthen our resolve to always strive to be better human beings. ( )
  LadyLo | Jun 3, 2016 |
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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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