Michael's Reviews > The Confessions of Nat Turner

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
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's review
Jun 13, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: literary-novels

Styron's prose is exciting, but as with so many American lyrical realists, he sacrifices voice for erudition, which is entertaining, but in the end, disingenuous (even for fiction) and forgettable. The Confessions is more of a defensive of Styron's Virginia tidewater than a believable narrative of a slave revolt.


Nat appreciates and elaborates on the lush beauty around with a keen eye for nature and the gritty decay of bodies and cloth and the disparity between inner thought and speech. Nat's view of his situation and the social predicament of all those around him reminds me, dynamically of Caribbean literature's stratification and social games. Styron's narrative style is affected by film techniques, the dream-like flashbacks and abrupt cuts between scenes, with heightens the haziness of these confessions.

The question of God is a legitimate one, even untangled from race, and Grey's prodding of Nat about Christianity is complicated by the fact that he has some good point about the violence of religion. There may be things Styron could not relate to in Nat's character, but others, the sexuality and frustration are wrought so convincingly, he must have had his own similar experiences. The homosexual encounter between Nat and Willis is an understandable extrapolation and opens many questions about isolation and sexuality and oppression.

Nat is disillusioned by Samuel's lapse into white profiteering from the sale of slaves, and his whole world collapses thus. Nat's hatred for whites is much more complex than a hatred for cruel men, as we see he hates the hints of kindness almost more than the torture. Styron, at a ll times, defends his Tidewater region, showing how the real brutality took place in the deeper south and how northerners profitted when they could from slavery. Nat's comparison of himself to Napoleon evokes thoughts of Haiti. The violence is delirious and raging, Manson-like.
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Carol Storm The vital point is that the novel is indeed a defense of Styron's Tidewater and in no sense an honest picture slavery as an institution or Nat Turner as an individual.

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