Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Report

The Confessions of Nat Turner
William Styron

I've read Sophie's Choice a long time ago and before this book and I marvel at the fact that an author can ask us to accept so many questions and contradictions that are never resolved, and we are yet inevitably satisfied. In fact we close the book looking more closely at our own mysteries and suddenly start thinking of them as less than mundane.

In 1831, a black slave sits in a jail cell, after leading a slave revolt that let over 50 whites dead, contemplating his impending hanging and running over the contradictions that led him there. Sometimes the voice of God calls to him clearly, sometimes he ponders whether the voice of God is one that only exists in his head. He preaches hate and butchery, but cannot himself kill except for a mercy killing of one who he a strange attraction and yet repulsion for. His revolt lead to the retaliation of the white population against the blacks so that 200 blacks that had nothing to do with this revolt died. The small emancipation voice in the legislation fades and stricter slave laws are put into effect.

So, what was the point?

Nat Turner is caught up in this world of contradictions, capable of feeling love, he is also capable of quelling it to act out his revenge. His curious choice of eliminating everyone - not just the whites that have been cruel to their slaves, but their small children, their kind daughters - make him a monster. But his observations and insight also make him a man of compassion - and since ne'er the twain shall meet all of us are left wondering, what did he really expect to accomplish and why?

And the larger theme being, do these dangerous contradictions exist today? Which road to we take and what reasoning must go with it? Was Nat a folk hero or a lunatic?
Styron deftly forces us to decide for ourselves. And in the end, we somehow are compelled to make that choice, aware that that what really shows through Styron's stylishly winding prose is that the heat of life will keep on humming and confusing us, with its offal and its flowers.

Poignant prose. 5 out of 5 and a Pulitzer thrown in.

Highly recommended.

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