A provocative take on politics and culture from a skeptical, libertarian point of view

Location: Long Island, New York, United States

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Novel About Slavery

I just finished the novel A Known World by Edward P. Jones which examines freed blacks who owned slaves in the South before the Civil War. Set in the fictional town and county of Manchester, Virginia it focuses on Henry Townsend, who was redeemed from slavery but remains mentally enthralled by his former master, William Robbins. The richest man in the county, Robbins mentors him in the ways of planters and slaveowners.

There is a scene which would be intensely cinematic. Henry's father, Augustus, bought him out of slavery. Henry visits his parents and mentions that he has purchased his first slave. His father is enraged and bids him depart. Augustus swore that no slaveowner would set foot on his property. Before Henry leaves, Augustus takes one of the ornately carved canes with African influence that he makes for a living. He brings it down on his son's shoulder. "That is what it feels like to be a slave." The son seizes the cane and snaps it in half. "That is what it feels like to be a master."

The novel is interesting and the characters develop naturally. I found somewhat annoying the jumping back and forth in time, although I understand Jones's view that slavery affected the decades and century which followed its demise.

It is worth reading.

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