The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)

The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967)

infobox Book |
name = The Confessions of Nat Turner (1st edition)
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = William Styron
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Random House
release_date = 1967
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 480
isbn = ISBN 0-679-60101-5 (1st ed)
preceded_by = Set This House on Fire
followed_by = Sophie's Choice

"The Confessions of Nat Turner" is a 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by U.S. writer William Styron. Presented as a first-person narrative by Nat Turner, the novel is a fictionalized account of the historical event of a slave revolt in Virginia in 1831.

Plot introduction

The novel is based on an extant document, the "confession" of Turner to the white lawyer Thomas Gray. In the historical confessions, Turner claims to have been divinely inspired, charged with a mission from God to lead a slave uprising and destroy the white race.

Styron's ambitious novel attempts to recreate the character of Nat Turner from Gray's account and does not purport to describe accurately or authoritatively the events as they occurred. Indeed, most historians consider Gray's "confessions" to be told with predjudice.

Styron takes liberties with the historical Nat Turner, whose life is otherwise unchartered. The "Confessions" is largely sympathetic to Turner, if not to his thoughts.

Literary significance & criticism

Despite defenses by notable African-American authors Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin, the novel was strongly criticised by some black Americans for its treatment of Turner as a brooding and sexually disturbed figure.Fact|date=February 2007

Turner and one of his supporters are shown fantasizing about sexually assaulting white women. The "myth of the black rapist", painting black men as prone to sexual violence (particularly against white women), represented a longstanding racist stereotype that was sometimes used as an excuse for lynching black men.Fact|date=February 2007

However, Styron's book does not paint black men as prone to sexual violence. Throughout the novel, the author explores male sexuality, its development, and how it can often weave with notions of vulnerability, rage, love and power. The protagonist witnesses two acts of rape with pain and disdain. First, as a child, when he sees a white overseer raping his mother while their owner - who would not allow it otherwise - was away. Second, a the start of his revolt, in an act of rage by a deranged black man when killing a white woman. The protagonist had expressly ordered that his followers not rape women during this fight.

On two occasions, the protagonist does finds himself imagining sexual assaulting a white woman. These passages explore the nature of rape as an expression of power and rage. There are no words in this book that explicitly or implicitly imply that rape is uniquely a black man's expression.

This aspect of the book is controversial.

Despite these criticisms, Styron's novel won critical acclaim; it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1968. Perhaps its greatest accomplishment is its portrayal of the ways in which slavery corrupted and twisted ideals such as Christianity and innocence.

Time Magazine included the novel in its "TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005". []


*Clarke, John Henrik, ed. "William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond". Boston: Beacon P, 1968.

*Genovese, Eugene D. "The Nat Turner Case." The New York Times 12 Sept. 1968. 20 Apr. 2008 .

*Mellard, James M. “This Unquiet Dust: The Problem of History in Styron’s "The Confessions of Nat Turner".” "Mississippi Quarterly" 36.4 (Fall 1983): 525-43.

* Ryan, Tim A. “From Tara to Turner: Slavery and Slave Psychologies in American Fiction and History, 1945-1968.” "Calls and Responses: The American Novel of Slavery since Gone with the Wind". Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2008: 63-113.


External links

* [ Photos of the first edition of The Confessions of Nat Turner]


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