What does Vyry's childhood in Jubilee reveal about slavery?

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The reader of Jubilee can learn about slavery from Vyry’s childhood that included sexual domination, separation of babies from their parents, and forced labor of even very young enslaved children.

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From Vyry’s childhood, the reader of Jubilee can learn that slavery included male slaveholders’ sexual domination of enslaved women, the separation of babies from their parents, and the forced labor of even very young enslaved children.

Vyry’s father was a white man, John Morris Dutton, who repeatedly sexually assaulted and...

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impregnated Hetta, an African American woman he owned; the last child he fathered with her was Vyry. The light-skinned girl was taken away from her mother as an infant because her appearance reminded Salina, Dutton’s wife, of her husband’s sexual involvement with slaves. Living on another Dutton family property and raised by a different female slave, as a toddler, Vyry could not even recognize her mother. Later, she was brought back to the Duttons’ home, where she was forced to work as a house servant. Enslaved children were forbidden from attending school. The work of children often included waiting on their fathers and half-siblings, such as Vyry had to do for Lilian.

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What can we learn about slavery from Vyry's childhood in Jubilee?

We learn from Vyry's childhood that life is harsh for a slave, but also that slaves look out for each other as much as they possibly can.

Vyry's mother, Hetta, is worn out at age twenty-nine from having had too many children too close together because her owner, Marster John, has impregnated her since her early teens. Hetta has had children, too, by her own husband. This shows us that a young slave could end up in sex slavery to a male owner. By the time Hetta dies at twenty-nine, she has had fifteen children, and childbirth without a doctor's care is what finally kills her.

When Vyry's mother dies, Vyry is only two, and the other slaves keenly feel how vulnerable Vyry is. As she grows up and plays with Marster John's daughter Lillian, the master's wife, Salina, is angered by how much Lillian and Vyry look alike. When Vyry is sent to the big house to be Lillian's maid, Salina treats her abusively, something that could have gone on indefinitely if Marster John had not interfered.

We also see slaves being purchased and marched in chains by a cruel overseer to their new home, wearing only ragged pants. Slaves such as Hetta's widower husband, Jake, worry about being sold away. But Walker also shows slaves, such as Granny Ticey and Aunt Sally, looking out for slave children like Vyry, teaching them skills and making their lives bearable through their care.

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