Ol' Prophet Nat Critical Essays

Daniel Panger


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

It is obvious from his own comments that Turner wrote his journal in an attempt to explain and justify his life and actions to others who might find it later. He composed it after the rebellion had already failed and he was hiding from the dogs and posses of the vengeful whites. With his life’s work a failure, he felt the need to tell others the reasons that he had attempted it in the first place.

In a work as personal as this one, the reader obviously sees everything through the eyes and feelings of one individual. Despite the possibilities for biased reporting, Turner’s journal comes across as genuine and clear-sighted. Although he gives free expression to his feelings about events, he reports those events in a clear, unemotional manner. His treatment of people usually follows the same practice. Thus, he can describe Putnam Moore, his second owner, as a man whom he hates because of Moore’s brutality, but Turner still sees Moore objectively enough to temper his hatred with an explanation of how alcohol and sickness were responsible for Moore’s actions.

Throughout the book, Turner spends much time examining the personalities of whites and the common white mentality. He differentiates between slave owners and other whites. The slave owners, he believes, are all unredeemably bad—even the kind ones such as Benjamin Turner, who teaches Turner to read, or Putnam Moore’s widow, who has compassion for him. He sees them as evil because of the domination under which they force slaves to live, rather than for any individual character flaws. Common whites who do not own slaves, however, receive a kinder judgment from Turner. He forms opinions about them based on their actions and their ways of living. Some he regards with sympathy as very similar to African Americans.

Turner never judges African Americans harshly in...

(The entire section is 758 words.)