Foster’s fictional portrayal of 19th century slave Nat Turner is of a man is filled with religious intensity that leads him to preach to his fellow community members, black and white. Taught to read and write at a young age, Turner had standing in the slave community of Jerusalem, Virginia and even influenced white people with his preaching. The reverse side of the coin is that some slaves resented his advantages while some whites hated or feared him because of his education and public speaking ability.
Foster’s characters, the witnesses, include Will, a male slave who participated in the rebellion; Nat’s mother Easter, who tells poetically of her family life in Ethiopia before being captured and sold into slavery; Sallie Travis, who had sympathy for Nat and whose husband owned him; and Harriet Beecher Stowe, among others. Stowe learned of Nat from William after he escaped to the North through Frederick Douglass, Stowe’s friend.
Each witness has a different story to tell which includes Nat Turner and descriptions of life in the early 1800s. It is not until late in the novel that the slave rebellion of 1831 occurs and the horrendous aftermath in which upwards of 200 slaves and free blacks were killed, some after trial but most random victims of vigilantes in fear of rebellion spreading throughout the South.
Foster’s writing is evocative and detailed of place and time. Her words create understanding in the reader of each character’s makeup and how their points of view and actions follow logically from their station—rich or poor, educated or not, slave or slave owner. This novel presents a balanced, non condemning view of a hard time in American history. See also William Styron’s 1968 Pulitzer Prize winner The Confessions of Nat Turner.
Sharon Ewell Foster along with several other local authors will be at East Regional Library on September, 11th, and at South East Regional Library on September, 27th, please visit our website for more details.