As seen in William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner and Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog, how do the actions of the main characters, such as Nat Turner, the Colonel, and Kathy, compare...

As seen in William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner and Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog, how do the actions of the main characters, such as Nat Turner, the Colonel, and Kathy, compare and contrast with respect to how their actions are shaped by the cultural and personal contexts of their lives?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In the novels The Confessions of Nat Turner, by William Styron, and House of Sand and Fog, by Andre Dubus III, we can definitely see both similarities and differences in the characters Nat Turner and Kathy Nicolo Lazaro, especially in terms of their weakness to take action.

Nat Turner was described as an unusual slave because he was educated. He worked inside the house at Turner's Mill, and taught himself to read by sneaking a book out of the house's library. Samuel Turner, his master, was happy to find out Nat knew how to read because Turner believed that slaves were just as capable of intellectual development as whites, and Nat's actions confirmed Turner's belief. Hence, Nat was encouraged in his education. It was Nat's education that helped led to his desire to form a slave rebellion. His education made him see himself as intellectually equal to his masters, which made him all the more resentful of being treated as property. Plus, his ability to read led to his reading the Bible, which made him feel he was called by God to lead the rebellion. Hence, his personal experience of becoming educated helped develop his desire to rebel, plus his cultural experience as a slave coupled with his education helped shape his rebellious actions. However, it's also interesting to note that, while Nat led the rebellion with the intention of killing every white person seen, Nat found himself to be incapable of killing anyone, except for, ironically, Margaret Whitehead, who was the only white person who treated him as an equal, even treating him as a confident. When Nat's lawyer Gray asks why he didn't kill more people, Nat's only response is to say that Gray couldn't understand even if Nat explained it. However, Nat's inability to kill those who are most to blame can actually be related to things Nat says about his fellow slave Hark in the very first section of the Novel. Nat tells the story of Hark's treatment and reflects that, despite being physically strong and knowledgeable, Hark is unable to act with strength and dignity because, since "he is treated like an animal, he believes he is no better than a dog" (eNotes, "The Confessions of Nat Turner Chapter Summaries: Section 1 Summary"). The same can be seen as true for Nat. Because he was treated as being no better than a dog, like a dog, he was unable to find the inner strength to rise up and attack his masters. It can further be said that since Margaret Whitehead was the only one who treated him with dignity and equality, he had no trouble finding the inner strength to rise up against her, despite the fact that such a rebellion against her was not actually needed. Hence, we see other ways in which Nat's slave culture influenced his actions. True, his slave culture gave him the urge to form a rebellion, but when it came to it, being treated like a dog prevented him from finding the inner strength he needed to actually attack.

In contrast to Nat, due to her upbringing and poor relationships, Kathy Nicolo Lazaro in House of Sand and Fog is actually unintelligent and uneducated. She is described as the type of person who consistently makes bad personal choices and uses drugs, cigarette, and alcohol to hide behind her poor choices and problems, which of course is an even worse personal choice. Hence, when the county tax office makes a mistake in billing her with unpaid taxes and threatening to evict her if the taxes remain unpaid, Kathy is unable to make the correct decision to fight the charge against her. Instead, unable to cope with the problem, she throws away all of the letters from the tax office rather than fights it. As the editor of Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction states, "It takes a strong, persistent, and intelligent person to fight 'city hall' in such an instance, and Kathy does not possess the strength or education necessary to make the fight" (eNotes, "House of Sand and Fog: Characters"). Hence, due to Kathy's own personal and cultural background, unlike Nat, she is uneducated and unintelligent; however, similar to Nat, again due to her personal background, Kathy is also much more submissive towards adversity than she should be.

Therefore, Nat and Kathy are different with respect to education, but despite that difference, they are similar with respect to being submissive towards adversity, making both unable to act to the fullest of their capabilities.

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