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Nat Turner’s Stolen Book

The Confessions of Nat Turner is a heavy novel.

But one of William Styron’s strengths is balancing that heaviness with light humor or just observations on the normal day-to-day lives of slaves in the 1800s.

Styron uses flashbacks to show how some events—such as Nat Turner witnessing his mother getting raped by a plantation manager —affected him throughout his life. He shows Nat’s desire to educate himself, despite the enormous obstacles in his way.

Even as a child, Nat Turner was extremely smart, risking a lot for a small pleasure so many of us take for granted—just the opportunity to “read” a book.

In Samuel Turner’s library, where my mother had gone to fetch a new silver ladle for the kitchen, the books had been locked up behind wire, row after row of lustrous leather-swaddled volumes imprisoned as in a cage. On the morning I accompanied her there, I lingered long enough to be captured by the sight of two volumes, almost exactly alike in size and shape, lying together on a table. Opening one of them, seeing that it was aswarm with words, I was seized with the old queasy excitement in my guts, and fright clashed with my greedy desire. My yearning worn out, however, so that later that I crept back to the library and kept the book, covering with a flour sack and leaving behind its companion—something which I later learned was called Grace Abounding. Just as I had expected, and to my wild anxiety, the fact that the book was missing was gossiped throughout the house. Yet I was not alarmed as I might have been, since I think I must have instinctively reasoned that although white people will rightly suspect a nigger of taking almost anything that is not nailed down, they would certainly not suspect him of taking a book.

Little Nat Turner’s entire experience of “literature” to that point in his life had been reading the labels on sides of jars in a kitchen cellar. Labels like, “Sugar, “Salt” and “Molasses.”

This library adventure reveals so much about a young, impressionable Nat Turner—a lot of it revealed in that final sentence of the passage. This was a world in which no one would ever expect a black man, much less a black child, to steal a book.

The Confessions of Nat Turner is a winner so far.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I agree you are spot on , I am reading this now.

    Like

    October 9, 2014
  2. The only Styron I ever read was Sophie’s Choice and it struck me that he was a very erudite person trying to impress with his vocabulary. Or maybe just enjoying the power of words, I’m not sure. Maybe one day I’ll attempt this book.

    Like

    October 9, 2014

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