“Jubilee” is the biblical name for amnesty and forgiving of money debts every forty-nine years. The novel is organized in three parts. Chapter 1 (1837) is titled “Sis Hetta’s Child—The Ante-Bellum Years.” The novel opens with the birth of Vyry in 1837, Hetta’s last child, on the John Morris Dutton plantation, in Dawson, Georgia. The thirty-five-year-old Dutton was her father. Vyry would be able to pass for white. Hetta then died in pregnancy when Vyry was two. Mothered by Mammy Sukey until she is old enough to work at the age of seven, Vyry looks like the twin of Miss Lillian, Dutton’s child with his wife, Salina. In this chapter, nearly all the important characters of the story are introduced.
Chapter 2 takes place in 1844. At age seven, Vyry becomes a house servant, to be brutalized by the jealous Dutton wife, Big Missy Salina. Grimes, the plantation overseer, is a poor, white man. Vyry breaks a dish and is punished by Big Missy by being hung by her wrists in a closet. The beautiful natural landscape of Georgia is described once again.
Chapter 3 (1847) describes ten-year-old Vyry’s world of work, often using the inventories of things such as food, work tasks, animals, sicknesses, and children’s games to go with the folk songs and slave songs that regularly punctuate the narrative and make Jubilee into a discourse for oral telling. The religion of the slaves has a biblical connection, but it is not the same as that of the Southern whites. The slave Brother Ezekiel can read and write. Near the Dutton plantation, white antislavery agitators appear in the late 1840’s.
Chapters 4 through 7, taking place around 1851, depict Ezekiel the minister, who is also an agent of the Underground Railroad. Vyry is more warmly dressed and better fed in winter than many poor whites. Randall Ware, a freeman blacksmith with his own...
(The entire section is 768 words.)