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Book Reveiw (Revised)

Book Reveiw (Revised)

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Published by Jim Danchus
Review of "The Fires of Jubilee"
Review of "The Fires of Jubilee"

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Published by: Jim Danchus on Jun 29, 2007
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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04/02/2014

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James DanchusSex and Violence in the Old SouthA Book Review of 
The Fires of Jubilee
by Stephen B. OatesThe work entitled
The Fires of Jubilee
by Stephen B. Oates is an account of the Nat Turner slave rebellion that occurred in 1831 in rural Virginia. The book, as a whole,is a very loose historical account of the events that led to the bloodiest rebellion inSouthern history. Oates makes statements that he has no proof of and cannot possiblyconfirm. He is also very vague in his stance on the event. It is hard to tell if he isattempting to play the part of a neutral bystander or the sympathetic historian. The tale of the events, the character development, and the storyline is obviously more important toOates then the actual evidence based descriptions that historians are typically known for.That being said, the book is a good read that is based on an historical event to oftenignore in today’s academic environment. The problem with that is that the booksspeculation can give people a tainted historical perspective about one of the most viciousmaniacs in American history.The guesswork is very apparent throughout the book. It mostly stems form Oates’attempt to make the book more interesting for the reader. The speculation is illustrated inthe following excerpt that describes the first conference between Turner and his chief cohorts: “For Nat, the eclipse was a sign of what he had been waiting for-could there beany doubt- removing the seal from his lips he gathered around him four slaves for whichhe had complete trust-Hark, Nelson, Henry, and Sam”
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(Oates 52). There is no way thathe can be writing this for any other reason than for the sole purpose to entertain and
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1. Stephen M. Oates,
The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion
(New York:Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975; reprint, HarperPerennial, 1990), 52 (page citations areto the reprint addition).Danchus-1
 
entice the reader. Did he really have empirical evidence that the solar eclipse inspiredTurner to go on his much deliberated rampage? He asks the reader if there “could be anydoubt?”
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The obvious answer is yes, there could be a lot of doubt that a solar eclipse is asign from God. Oates went even farther by commenting on the physical appearance of Turner during his initial success in the rebellion. He wrote, “His fierce eyes, his broadshoulders, and brisk knock kneed walk made him seem larger than he was” (Oates1975).
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How could he have known such detail about the way Turner carried himself andhow he looked without having seen him personally? Was it a second hand account? If so,where is the reference? Oates does not do a very good job of citation in this piece. Aswith his description of the first meeting between Turner and his lieutenants, Oates fails tocite any specific reference for a statement that he makes with such confidence.The actual stance that Oates takes on the rebellion is vague throughout the book as some parts he is objectively analyzing the event while other times he is sympatheticwith the plight of Nat Turner and his band of slaves. Oates’ gory depiction of the murdersof numerous whites was done with his aforementioned style and flare that it really givesthe reader a sense of the terror and fright that gripped Southampton County that day. Onthe other hand, he seems to deify Turner. There is no other better example of this than hisconstant reference to Turner as “the Prophet”. The constant allusion to Turner by thisname is a step away from neutrality and a step toward compassion.Oates writes the book much like a novelist writing an epic tale about mass murder with plenty of characters in a well developed setting. The setting is the naïve andcomplex Southampton County, whose residents believe that their kindness towards their 
2
2. Stephen M. Oates,
The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion
(New York:Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975; reprint, HarperPerennial, 1990), 52 (page citations areto the reprint addition).
3
3. Ibid., 67.
 
Danchus-2
 
slaves would spare them from any violent occurrences like the one that Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey had planned years prior. He does a fairly decent job at painting the picture of all the characters beginning with Nat Turner, the bright and self-embattledslave who believes he was chosen by God to free his people from bondage. There are his benevolent masters, the Moores. But perhaps the most memorable character is Will theaxe wielding maniac who gets his jollies from windmill swings and decapitating white people. The characters play a huge part in this book as Oates spends a large amount of time defining who they are and what they are all about. All this makes for a compellingnarrative.Some parts of the book are informative, however. Oates drops in a lot of historicalfactoids concerning the setting, what events lead up to the rebellion, and its legacy in theopening and ending chapters. All of this is very helpful except for the fact that he fails tosupport some of the events that he says happened during the actual insurrection, telling itas if it were a piece of fiction than of a historical incident . Therein lies the duel nature of the book because it seems as if it is a narrative in some parts, yet a text-book in other  parts.The perspective of this piece exclusively centers around Turners view of therebellion and doesn’t take into account any other experience. Oates never really attemptsto delve outside of the psyches of the rebels and doesn’t really take any other positionthroughout the book. Criticism of the rogue mob and their methods were few and far  between in this book and much of what they do goes along unchecked by the author. “Hewas like a powerful angel whose wings were nailed to the floor”
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 (Oates 1975) Oates
4
4. Stephen M. Oates,
The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion
(New York:Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975; reprint, HarperPerennial, 1990), 69 (page citations areto the reprint addition).Danchus-3

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