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Using reading, "The Confessions of Nat Turner," examine the different reactions that...

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tonii956 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 3, 2013 at 5:38 AM via web

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Using reading, "The Confessions of Nat Turner," examine the different reactions that Proslavery Southerners, Antislavery Northerners, and slaves might have held when reading this document.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:25 AM (Answer #1)

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For Southerners who owned slaves, there is a stark reaction regarding Nat Turner's narrative and his confessions.  Southerners who owned slaves would very likely invalidate the idea that Nat Turner be given a platform to air out his grievances.  Turner's status as a rebel slave who encouraged other slaves to take up arms against their owners undermines the very system that Southern slaveowners supported and embodied.  Turner's conversion at the end of the narrative would reflect how he "came to his senses," and would be seen as invalidating his narrative in the first place. The ending in which Nat's body did not receive a proper burial, but was skinned to the bones would be seen as a warning to other slaves not to do the same thing.  For Southern slaveowners, the fundamental reaction would have been to doubt the veracity of the claims made by questioning the messenger or source of such claims.

For the Northerner who most likely would have been an abolitionist, Turner's narrative reflects the horrors of slavery.  A Northerner who was committed to the abolitionist cause would read Styron's work and be overcome with the true horror of slavery.  They would point to Hark's narrative being almost as sad and as forlorn as Nat's.  The separation of family, the physical and sexual degradation of slaves, and the condition of being that would inspire one man to physically assault another would represent reasons in which slavery had to be condemned in unequivocal terms.  As an institution, slavery would be argued as dehumanizing to both the slaveowner and the slave.  Nat's condition is one that is caused by slavery.  His suffering and thus his drive for vengeance would be conditions that demonstrate how slavery dehumanizes both aggressor and victim.  For the antislavery Northerner, nearly every detail of the narrative demonstrates a repudiation of slavery.  This repudiation would be embodied by a call to all necessary social and political forces to take a defiant stand against slavery.  

For the slave, I think that some type of affirmation would be present.  The most important element of Styron's work is that he seeks to give voice to the voiceless, a sense of power to the powerless.  Nat Turner is revealed to be a multi- dimensional character.  He is not the simple mad man that history texts depict him to be.  Rather, he is awfully complex and intricate, reflecting how slavery twists consciousness into so many different forms.  For a slave, there would be a necessary condition of understanding in reading about another's condition similar to their own.  Nat Turner's struggles and hurt could not have been an aberration.  The physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological forms of torment and subjugation that he experienced were endured by millions of slaves. For a slave to be reading Turner's narrative (something that in its own right would be noteworthy), there might be a sense of affirmation and solidarity built with what is being experienced.  It would translate to a "That's like me" moment, in which the reader and subject of reading merge identities for both are experiencing similar conditions of being in the world.  One can see how Nat's story was appealing to other slaves, helping them join his cause. Styron's work would have exacted profoundly different reactions from different readers because Nat Turner inspired different reactions from the public, reflective of the divisive nature of slavery and race in American society.

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