The Book of Night Women

by Marlon James

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How are readers supposed to react/judge Lilith throughout the novel?

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Lilith’s changing self-awareness in terms of her racial identity and related social status occurs throughout the novel. Although she shows personal growth as she moves away from her desire to fit into white society, she seems less a fully rounded individual than a symbol of the effects of colonialism, racism, and repression. Being a very light-skinned mixed-race person, the young Lilith has been led to believe that she might advance socially. Several harsh experiences teach her that is not the case. She had either been unaware or had refused to believe that disobedience or carelessness would have such severe consequences. She seemed to believe that the dire warnings from the other slaves were expressions of their jealousy.

Despite the severity of the punishments Lilith endures, the author suggests that developing empathy for others marks the point of no return. It is after Roget, one of the white masters, kills another black slave that Lilith embarks on her vengeful course, burning down the house and killing the people inside. Still, she remains unable to completely turn away from white society, as she becomes involved with Quinn, bears his child, and tries to save him during the revolt. The numerous changes Lilith undergoes, therefore, will elicit different opinions, both from different readers and at different points in the novel.

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