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Jubilee is a historical novel based on the true account of slavery that author Margaret Walker heard as a child from her grandmother, on whom the character Vyry’s daughter is based. Walker researched her story for over 30 years so that she could tell the truth about Vyry, an intelligent and strong woman who is the child of a white plantation owner and his black mistress. Walker said, “ I wanted to tell the story that my grandmother told me and to set the record straight where Black people are concerned in terms of the Civil War, of slavery, segregation and Reconstruction.” To that extent, this is a novel based on the oral tradition—the passing down of stories from generation to generation.
The thirteenth of fifteen children, Vyry loses her mother in childhood and has no significant females in her life until she attaches herself to Aunt Sally, a slave on the Dutton plantation and the cook. Vyry learns everything she knows from Aunt Sally until the day Aunt Sally is sold:
“The darkest day in Vyry’s young life came without warning. Big Missy and Marse John had arranged to sell Aunt Sally. She would go first to Savannah and then by boat to New Orleans, where she would go on the auction block and be sold to the highest bidder. The morning she was ordered to go, she and Vyry went as usual to the kitchen. Big Missy came out in the kitchen after breakfast and told Aunt Sally to get her things together; there was a wagon in the backyard waiting to take her to Savannah. Now Aunt Sally was ready. She had her head-rag on and she had tied in a bundle the few things she had in the world including the few rags of clothes she wore…. Tears were running down her fat black cheeks and she could not control her trembling lips. Vyry stood dazed and numb. Even when Aunt Sally hugged and kissed her, Vyry did not cry. She could not believe this was real, that she would be forced apart from Aunt Sally, that Aunt Sally was leaving and going somewhere.”
The loss of Aunt Sally is as sharp and painful to Vyry as a death would be, but it is a loss through the cruelty of slavery and the selling of her mother figure, not Aunt Sally’s physical death.
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