The Fires of Jubilee
This book by Stephen B. Oates describes a sad and tragic story about a man named Nat Turner who was born into slavery and his fight to be free. Ironically, his willingness to do anything, even kill, to gain his freedom leads to his own demise. From the title of this book, ‘The Fires of Jubilee,’; a reader can truly grasp the concept that there is trouble, chaos, and mayhem brewing in the month of August.
This story was not only riveting, but also one that kept me on my heels for almost the entire time that I was reading it. Stephen B. Oates, a prize-winning author of thirteen books and more then seventy articles, is currently a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Some of his best novels have been ‘With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln,’; ‘Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King. Jr.,’; and ‘Rip Ford’s Texas.’; His writing is riveting as well as courageous. His willingness to get to such length to capture the mind of the reader and hold them in suspense has earned him several awards throughout his lustrous career. Some of the awards that Oates has received are the Christopher Award and the Barondess/Lincoln Award of the New York Civil War Round Table. His work has gained worldwide notoriety and is currently translated in four different languages: French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.
‘The Fires of Jubilee’; took place in Southampton, Virginia and County Seat, Jerusalem during the 1800’s. The story takes shape during a time in which slavery was the norm, especially in the South. It describes the struggles and turmoil of one such slave named Nat Turner in his quest to gain his freedom. It tells the tale of a man who’s destiny was forever to be a slave and his quest to alter his destiny, which in the end leads to his tragic death.
Born into slavery, Nat Turner was perhaps one exception to the rule; he was a master’s worst nightmare come true. Nat Turner was not only an intelligent man, he knew how to read and write; but he was also determined, willing to go to tremendous measures to gain his freedom, even if it meant killing. He was liked by both the whites and fellow slaves, some of whom came to think of him as a prophet, a savior of slaves.
Nat use to go to church every Sunday and the more he learned about the Christian belief, the more fascinated he was with it. As his fascination grew, he began to read the Bible, about the Old Testament. With this newly acquired knowledge, he began preaching the Old Testament to the other slaves, about what freedom meant and how they should fight for it. He mainly preached to a group of five other slaves, with the addition of two more later on about the concept of freedom. Nat felt as if he was driven into some corner of slavery from which there was no return, only his imagination was he free. He had a burning rage to fight against the Serpent, and slay the enemy with their own weapon.
During their ‘March of Destruction,’; things began to get out of hand. Though he was willing to go to extreme measures to gain his freedom, the events that ended up taking place ended up becoming a massacre. Due to Nat’s rebellion, 60 whites and 200 blacks died. Though Nat did in fact partake in the killings, the author makes it out to seem as if in the end, Nat did not really want this to become a bloodbath. Although he thought that it was getting out of hand, he stood idly by, watching the massacre take place. In the end, a total of 50 stood trial, and 21, including Nat Turner were hung for the rebellion.
After the rebellion and the death of Nat Turner, Garrison and Knapp, whom believed that Negroes had as much to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as whites enjoyed, published the ‘Liberator’; in Boston, demanding that slaves be emancipated and freed. Though it cannot be said with certainty that this was the one major event that sparked the freeing of slaves of everywhere in the United States, but is without a doubt an important aspect in opening the eyes of the American people about the concept of slavery.
As I would really not consider ‘The Fires of Jubilee’; a true reference guide to American history, I would consider this to be a good reference for understanding how detrimental and harmful racism can be. After all, that was what the Civil Rights was fought for, to gain the freedom of slaves all across the nation, to try and give them back what whites had taken from them for so long, something in which they had taken for granted. In a sense, this story about Nat’s quest for freedom correlates with the concept of probably the most important event in American history, the Revolutionary War. The theme of the book seems to be the ‘fighting for independence.’; Was that not what the people of this country fought the Revolutionary War for? It is hard for me to grasp the concept that the people of the United States, who were willing, and did, go to war to gain their freedom and declare their independence from Britain would oppress and enslave African-Americans for so long. The United States did what ever it took to break away from Britain, just as Nat and his followers tried every which way to break away from slavery, but unfortunately he died fighting for his freedom. In reading this book, I believe that Nat Turner, in his quest for freedom was a precursor to the modern day Civil Rights Movement.
The author supported his thesis of Nat’s liberation well, ‘thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning’;(ix). I believe that Nat did everything in his powers to fight for freedom. It shows how dedicated. He was willing to go to drastic measures to gain the freedom that he so much desired, and deserved.
My first impression upon seeing this novel was that I would probably hate it, after all, I am not much of a history buff. Yet, when I began to read it, I found it quite intriguing. The more I read, the more I wanted to finish the story to find out what was going to happen to Nat. I must admit that I wanted to jump right to the last page just to get a peek of the ending, but I resisted my temptation to do so. As I read the story, I began to feel for Nat. Though I really can’t agree with how he went about trying to gain his freedom, the author’s way of writing left me little choice but to urge Nat on.
In all, I was captivated and moved by the story. Though this really did not change my interest in history, I really did enjoy reading it and would really recommend it to anyone who wants to get a total grasp of how horrible slavery was. Stephen Oates has a way of writing that transforms the reader into the actual rebellion and allows one to see and feel the circumstances of Nat Turner’s insurrection and the consequences of it to the South. I can tell that Oates performed rigorous study to present an accurate portrayal of Nat Turners’ story. His many insights and uses of secondary sources were quite evident and his use of examples and storytelling is quite impressive. Though it seems as if he leaves little to the imagination, I couldn’t help but think of what and could have happened if some of the events leading up to the capture of Nat Turner had been changed.