Confessions of Nat Turner

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Novel by William Styron, published in 1967 and awarded a Pulitzer Prize. It stirred much controversy, mainly from blacks, who considered the interpretation of Turner to be inaccurate.

Told in the first person, yet, in the author's view, “less an ‘historical novel’ in conventional terms than a meditation on history,” the account of an actual person and event is based on the brief contemporary pamphlet of the same title presented to a trial court as evidence and published in Virginia a year after the revolt of fellow slaves led by Turner in 1831. Imagining much of Turner's youth and early manhood before the rebellion that he headed at the age of 31, Styron in frequently rhetorical and pseudo-Biblical style has Turner recall his religious faith and his power of preaching to other slaves. Embittered and frustrated by the evils of slavery, including the failure to obtain the freedom promised by his first master, Turner is portrayed as unable to find surcease in human relations, black or white, sexually or spiritually. Impelled by supernatural visions, the basically kind Turner becomes the leader of a small band of Southampton County slaves, who raise a violent insurrection in which many white men and women are killed but which is put down with great speed and brutality so that more than twice as many blacks die. Those captured and hanged include Turner.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

William Styron (1925—2006)

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