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Nat Turner and what not

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Ben Johns

on 27 February 2013

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Transcript of Nat Turner and what not

The Confessions of Nat Turner Historical Accuracy Nat's Social life Nat's Life Love Life Education Bias William Styron Bias from time period William Styron's novel is classified as Historical Fiction, and as such, is not entirely true.
The book was written in 1966, more than 130 years after the events.
The first person account of what actually happened from the point of view of Nat Turner can be found in Thomas R. Gray's "The Confession's of Nat Turner" which was published in 1831
The flourishes added by Styron help to enhance what was one of the most violent slave revolts in American History.
Born in 1800 to a master Benjamin Turner, Nat Turner grew up as a slave in Virginia.
Over time Nat passed from the ownership of Benjamin Turner to Samuel Turner, to Thomas Moore, to Joseph Travis.
before 1831, Nat made plans to kill all white people to end slavery in a god-ordained mission.
beginning august 22, 1831, Nat and his followers killed between 55 and 60 white men, women and children before being utterly destroyed by a white militia in Jerusalem, VA.
Nat was captured after months of hiding, convicted, and killed by hanging. Working days The novel suggests that as a slave, Nat worked lightly in a carpenter's shop, was treated kindly by Samuel Turner and was promised his freedom by Samuel, but was then abandon to the ownership of a perverted clergyman.
In reality, Nat was worked as a field slave at Turners plantation until Samuel died and his estate was liquidated, when Nat ended up in the hands of Thomas Moore.
Styron may have added this change to give a reasonable cause for Nat's anger in the novel. Nat's social status among other slaves was accurately portrayed by the novel.
Although Nat worked in the fields along side other slaves, he rarely mingled with them, and as such, gained a reputation among the slaves as being special.
As a child, Nat didn't play with the other slave children as his mother was a house slave.
By growing up in the house, Nat learned a "white" dialect of English and thus further proved himself to be special among the slaves.
Also, Nat was imprinted with ideas of freedom at a young age, as before he was 10 years old, his father escaped successfully to the North. Mingling... Although the novel explains that Nat was hired away as a laborer and carpenter to various plantations over the years, there is little evidence that this actually happened.
The author may have added this to explain possible grudges Nat held against the local white people. By William Styron Literary Devices Styron depicted Nat receiving a grand education in reading, writing, and arithmetic while owned by Benjamin Turner, even being praised for stealing and trying to read a book titled "The Life and Death of Mr. Badman."
Although in reality, Nat did learn the basics of reading and writing, he was not by any means highly educated.
In a sense of more practical education, Nat did learn basic carpentry skills as portrayed in the novel.
Even such a rudimentary education was still quite rare at the time, especially among slaves...this prompted other slaves to see Nat as a natural leader. In the novel, Nat is characterized as having some obsession with white women, being infatuated into hatred by many characters in the novel, such as Miss Elizabeth, Mrs. Whitehead, and Margaret
This develops partially because Nat witnesses his mother being raped by a white man as a child, providing a psychological hatred of white people associated with sex.
This obsession plays a role as one of the great contradictions to Nat's plan...Even though he has a sick obsession and daydreams about abusing white women, he makes certain among his "soldiers" that no women are to be raped during the insurrection.
PLOT TWIST: In reality, Nat had no such girl troubles, and happily married another slave girl named Cherry in 1821, and had several children together.
Although these two lovebirds were separated in real life when Nat was sold to Thomas Moore, Moore did allow Nat to leave and visit Cherry regularly. Religion Although the book does explain how Nat was religiously motivated on his mission by some godly visions, it does not accurately portray the depth and frequency of these visions.
Nat was forced as a child into going to church with Benjamin Turner, beginning his religious path
Later on, Nat, in reality and in the novel became a preacher, spreading his hateful twist on Christianity to many slaves.
The novel does talk about 2 visions that Nat had...
One being when the sky opened up and Nat saw angels battling... "white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened—the thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in the streams—and I heard a voice saying, 'Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bear it.'"
The other being when the solar eclipse (which did happen) gave Nat the go ahead permission from heaven to perform his deeds.
However, Nat had many more vivid visions than just these two in this time, many of them violent and demonic. Progression of the Slaughter Although only touched upon shortly at the end of the novel, Styron does history justice in his portrayal of the actual bloody events of the massacre.
Nat and a small band of close followers began by murdering Nat's owners, and weaved a 10 mile, 6 day trek through Virginia killing all white people, until they were stopped outside Jerusalem, VA.
There is one sentimental bit with no historical evidence to support it though...When Nat kills Margaret and regrets it...In reality Nat proved a remorseless killer among his band of soldiers. So Generally as a Conclusion... In reality Nat was a violent fanatical radical who used religion to justify the cold blooded killing of 55-60 people innocent of things other than slave holding.
The book as a whole supports this reality, but adds in certain elements such as his hatred of Samuel Turner, his hatred of those who overworked him, and his vengeful hatred of white women to try to explain the thoughts and actions of a mass murderer. Consequences One important factor historically that is not significantly discussed in the novel is the aftermath of Nat's rebellion.
After the big hullabaloo was over, most whites, in fear of future revolts, actually became more ruthless and brutal in their treatment of slaves.
New laws were passed restricting the already laughable rights of slaves
A few angry whites simply took to killing any Blacks they could find, and as a result, more than 200 Blacks were killed in retaliation to Nat's Rebellion.
Also, unlike his "soldiers", who were buried properly, Nat was posthumously dismembered, and parts of his body were sent throughout the south as a reminder of white supremacy...(same thing happened to William Wallace of Scotland) "He is a complete fanatic, or plays his part most admirably. . . . The calm, deliberate composure with which he spoke of his late deeds and intentions, the expression of his fiend-like face when excited by enthusiasm, still bearing the stains of blood of helpless innocence about him; clothed with rags and covered with chains; yet daring to raise his manacled hands to heaven, with a spirit soaring above the attributes of man; I looked on him and my blood curdled in my veins." - Thomas Gray Literary Criticism


The thoughts of the public on Styron's work are decidedly mixed. Some see Nat Turner depicted as a hateful fanatic and a madman, and take the novel as a racist explanation for his uprising. Others see a black martyr who fought injustice and died for his cause. The novel is definitely up for interpretation, because it mixes the perspective of the slave with that of the slaveholder. However, neither side can deny that it was groundbreaking. Prior to "Nat Turner", with a few exceptions, authors did not dare to take on the evils of slavery in a literary work. More importantly, no one had ever described the world of the slave in such a visceral and deeply psychological way. Although William Styron was a white man and his novel is a work of fiction, even the harshest critic must admit that he tuly gets inside the head of his Nat Turner, making him real and very human. "Then she flits away and I watch the pantalettes receding, the firm young flesh beneath nearly visible in a pink nimbus behind teasing cotton, a translucent concealing infuriating veil... Again the rage returns and I cannot tell why my heart is pounding so nor why my hatred for Margaret is, if anything, deeper than my hatred for her mother. "God damn her soul," I whisper..." This Book was written during the 1960's, a time of great social upheaval in the United States
The influence of the author's opinion on the events of his own time are weaved in throughout the novel. William Styron was against the war in Vietnam.
He went so far as to sign the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest," which was a pledge to not pay taxes in an effort to protest the war.
Perhaps by portraying Nat as the protagonist, and explaining his thoughts throughout the novel, Styron may have been trying to inspire his contemporaries to oppose the war and rebel in a way. The book was published during the era of the civil rights movement in America, and thus catered to the audience, being a book about slavery and racism.
Styron characterized Nat with several racist stereotypes, such as his desire to rape white women and his ability to fall sleep anywhere.
He also portrayed Nat with uncommon intelligence as well, expressing his thoughts in well thought out and intellectual ways.
Perhaps Styron did this to simply increase sales, as a controversial book was likely to attract readers from all sides of the race argument in his time. Point of View Story is told from Nat’s point of view in first person.


The actual novel itself is written by a white southern man. Book’s time frame is the early 1800s. Place: Southampton, Virginia.

Jail cell.

The setting is integral to the story. The south was very pro slavery during this time period. Language Story told mostly in monologue, not dialogue.
Put to uses of different dialects and abbreviations.
There was corruption of Nat’s original words because Gray rewrote them in the professionally accepted way. Imagery “One must try to visualize a river estuary below this cliff, wide and muddy and shallow, and a confusion of choppy waves where the river merges with the sea and the current meets the ocean tide.” - Page 1, The Confessions of Nat Turner Litwak, Leon F. “Turner, Nat (1800-1831).” Encyclopedia Americana. Grolier Online, 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2013. <http://go.grolier.com/>.

“The Confessions of Nat Turner: Characters.” Enotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2013. <http://enotes.com/confessions-nat-qn>.

Murphy, Alan. “William Styron: Overview.” Literature Resources from Gale. N.p., 1994. Web. 24 Feb. 2013. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/I.do?&id=GALE%7CH1420007795&V=2.1&u=nysl_ca_sara&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=w>.

“Slavery in United States.” Economic History Service. Economic History Association, 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/wahl.slavery.us>.

www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/books/review/Row-t.htmlthe1968exhibit.org/.../confessions-nat-turner-pulitzer-prize-fiction-1...encyclopediavirginia.org/The_Confessions_of_Nat_Turner_by_Willi...

"Nat Turner's Rebellion." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.

"Nat Turner." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. Nat held a bitter tone, tries very hard to justify his action throughout the story.

The setting of the jail cell painted a gloomy sense of death. Mood Structure Divided into four parts
First began with Nat in prison
Reads like a memoir Part 1 Part 1 describes Nat Turner already captured after the rebellion, awaiting his trial, and he is now being forced to face the consequences for his crimes by the racist Virginian county justice system. Part 2 Part 2 explains Nat’s life before the rebellion in 1831, starting with his childhood. This section details Nat’s life as a slavery, and events that occurred in his life that caused him pain and frustration, and his growing desire to get revenge. Part 3 Part 4 Part 3 describes the period of Nat’s life in which he begins his rebellion plans. It describes the mechanisms of how he planned the rebellion. Part 4 is the shortest section, and it summarizes Nat’s situation of being held accountable for the rebellion. The novel begins with Nat’s capture, then reviews and details past, and Part 4 brings the novel back to Nat’s present, which is his capture, awaiting his fate. Styron begins the novel with an overview of the entire plot, then he gradually goes back to certain events and explains them in more detail.
The book starts with Nat imprisoned, then it reviews his life and his choices, and by the end, the novel cycles back to Nat’s present (from the beginning of the story), which is depicts him in prison, waiting to meet his fate. Structure Themes Freedom – The whole reason why the rebellion was fought in the first place.

Racism- The discrimination against the black in the south

Moral vs. Immoral- Is it alright to kill to get what you want?

Justice- What is justice? Who defines it? The victor? The loser? The customs of the society at the time? The people that later look back at this event (you and me)? Does the end justify the means? Setting Characters Nat Turner - slave preacher, learns to read, intelligent, believes God "speaks" to him through the Bible

Hark- Nat's best friend, had the ideal build for a slave, valuable, obedient to masters, thought that in order to survive he must keep his owners happy

Margaret Whitehead - teenage child of a plantation owner, the "belle" of the county, loved and hated by Nat simultaneously, against slavery, one person who Nat is personally responsible for killing

Thomas Gray - white South Hampton county lawyer, grew up wealthy with powerful connections, sold his farmland and most of his slaves Literary Criticism - In general, the reviews of "The Confessions of Nat Turner" have been fairly positive.

-The novel was featured on a best-seller list shortly after its publication in 1967, and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1968.

-Styron's work was praised by many critics of his day, including author James Baldwin, who stated that Styron had "begun to write the common history - ours."

-Modern-day literary critics admire Styron's bold undertaking of a serious and controversial subject, as well as the risk he took in integrating so many of his own ideas with the minimal historical records left of the real Nat Turner's life.

-However, there is and has always been some controversy surrounding the novel, specifically involving the great deal of elaboration and imagined detail used by Styron to bring Nat Turner to life. - The most well-know anti-Styron review came from a piece called "Ten Black Writers Respond". They criticized the work as dishonest and accused it of misinterpreting the workings of the mind of a slave and encouraging black stereotypes.

-Like several other African American critics of the novel, these authors found it presumptuous that a white man felt he could describe the experiences of a black slave in such detail.

-However, this review was widely ignored during its time, contributing to the overwhelmingly positive response to the novel.
The Ten Black Writers were met with a backlash that claimed their piece was simply the work of African Americans who were afraid of and prejudiced toward any work focused on race.

-Returning to the previous comment on "The Confessions of Nat Turner" as a common history, these protesters felt that the history of slavery belonged not just to the black race but to the entire nation. Literary Criticism Literary Criticism "dr.ballard, a big nosed, long jawed, bespectacled man of middle years garbed entireley in black
from the tip of his wide brimmed parson's hat to his flowing cloak and gaiters buttoned up along his skinny shanks, emitting delicate coughs behind long white fingers as thin and pale as flower stalks..." pg 157 Biography Early Years William Styron was born in the Hilton Village historic district of Newport News, Virginia
He was born less than 100 miles away from the site of Nat Turner's slave rebellion Childhood Through College Styron had a difficult childhood
His father was a shipyard engineer who suffered from clinical depression
His mother died from breast cancer in 1939 when Styron was a boy following a decade-long battle
Styron attended public school until third grade, when his father sent him to Christchurch School, an Episcopal college-preparatory school in the Tidewater region of Virginia
He enrolled in Davidson college but transferred to Duke in 1943 as part of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps V-12 program
Styron was made a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps but the Japanese surrendered before his ship left San Francisco
He returned to Duke and obtained his Bachelor of Arts in English in 1947 Early Novels After his 1947 graduation, Styron took an editing position with Mcgraw-Hill in New York City
He provoked his employers into firing him however and three years later he published the novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951)
This was the story of a dysfunctional Virginia family and it received the prestigious Rome Prize
During his military service, Styron was able to transform his experience at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina into The Long March (1953)
During his travels in Europe, Styron met a poet, Rose Burgunder and they married in Rome in the spring of 1953
Some of his expriences during this period inspired his third published book, Set This House on Fire (1960)
The novel was about intellectual American expatriates on the Amalfi coast of Italy
The novel received mixed reviews in the U.S., although in Europe, its translation into French achieved best-seller status Controversy in Nat Turner Styron had predicted that there would be controversey surrounding The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)
Many black critics found Styron's portrayal of Turner as racist stereotyping
What was particularly controversial was a passage in which Turner fantasizes about raping a white woman
Despite the controversey, the novel became a runaway critical and financial success
It eventually won the 1968 Pulitzer prize for fiction as well as the William Dean Howells Medal in 1970 Controversy in Sophie's Choice Styron's next novel Sophie's Choice (1979) also sparked significant controversy
This controversy was due to Styron's decision to portray a non-Jewish victim of the Holocaust and in part due to its explicit sexuality and profanity
It won the 1980 National Book Award and was a nationwide bestseller
A 1982 film version was nominated for five Academy Awards Death Styron died from pneumonia on November 1, 2006, at age 81 in Martha's Vineyard
He is buried at West Chop Cemetery in Vineyard Haven, Dukes County, Massachusetts Works Cited
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