Nat Turner, a black slave, was born in the year 1800 and was executed in the year 1831 after he was tried for leading an insurrection in Southampton County which led to the killing of dozens whites and also many blacks. He was known to his fellow local servants in the County as "The Prophet." He carried out the rebellion in an evening, killing whites in their homes, including infants but it was stopped by the white militias. He escaped but was captured in the vicinity the following month after the insurrection.
He was interviewed by Thomas Ruffin Gray after he was captured, explaining the motives behind the rebellion he started. The Confession of Nat Turner was the pamphlet that appeared a week later after the execution.
In the confessions, Nat Turner appears to be more of a fanatic than a practical liberator as he tells of being spoken to by the Holy Spirit, of seeing visions and signs in the heavens and that he was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty. He tells of seeing black and white angels fighting in his dream. This could have been a just way to convince the black congregation to join his slave army. By involving a Mighty Being, it is easier to convince the fellow slaves to carry out the murderous insurrection.
The insurrection as portrayed in the confession was a total failure, and it ended up with the execution of the leader and almost all his supporter. The rebellion was not a total failure, even though he was captured and hanged, he gave hope to the slaves and encouraged more slaves to fight for their freedom. Even though not instant, it is also brought some changes in the legislation in some counties. His sacrifice played a long way in the ending of slave trade and slavery in general in America.
The book, however, has faced literary criticism from other scholars. It was mainly criticized by black Americans, for example, Clarke, John Henrik. 1968. Introduction. In: John Henrik Clarke (ed.), William Styron's Nat Turner. Ten Black Writers Respond. Beacon Press: Boston.
The main criticism arises from the different perception and controversies on The Confessions of Nat Turner. Some of them include, William Styron's treatment of historical facts and events; and, his representation of the historical character Nat Turner.
Critics are on the faithfulness to the historical facts and events the novel draws upon. Concentration is on the issue of the extent to which any literary fiction derived from real events should avoid violating data integrity as well as personal rights of historical figures. They also check the acceptable levels of modification on them for the sake of art itself, and as George Core (1981: 212) points out, Styron did not follow this.
On the other controversy, Styron is strongly criticized by Thelwell and other black critics for his representation of the character Nat Turner, who is shown as a man who is lost, confused, starving, most of the time drunk and dependent on others. According to Styron's novel, the drunken Freeman called Arnold is commented on by Turner as "unschooled, unskilled, clumsy by nature, childlike and credulous," and as a result "more insignificant and wretched than he had ever been in slavery" (Styron 1967: 261).
The many black critics argue that such an image of the Slave is misleading since the black freemen, who were present in every community, worked as skilled artisans and some even owned slaves this meant that despite being immoral they were successful, and, therefore, represented a constant inspiration for the slaves.
Turner, Darwin T., and William Styron. "The Confessions Of Nat Turner.". The Journal of Negro History 53.2 (1968): 183. Web.
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