Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Reconstruction and Reaction": Black Resilience and Survival in the Post-Civil War South

I've now finished reading "Jubilee," the classic novel of slavery written by Margaret Walker. I have put up two previous blog entries on the book -- the first an introductory post on the novel laying out some reflections on the black predicament (and discussing my modest expertise on the topic), and a second post on how Southern planters kept their black slaves from rebellion.

I found the book at Book Junction, a used bookstore in Huntington Beach -- and what a discovery it was! I recommend this book to each and everyone who loves a moving historical drama that combines epochal storytelling with a fundamentally heartwarming look at personal strength and the essential goodness of the human spirit. I wish I was able to post lengthy excerpts of key episodes of the novel (as it is, I've keyboarded the book's quotes in my previous posts), but it's better off that I didn't, because I don't want to spoil the story for those inclined to pick up a copy for a good read themselves.

I can quote from "Jubilee's" blurb on the cover, which proclaims the book as "THE 1,000,000 COPY BESTSELLER ACCLAIMED NATIONWIDE AS A "JOLTING EPIC OF SLAVERY" AND AS "A NOVEL OF SIMPLE FAITH FOR ALL WHO REFUSE TO BE DEFEATED." The blurb goes on to say that:

This stunningly different novel of slaves and slavery during the Civil War is steeped in knowledge of and feeling for the times and people, and boasts a heroine to rival Scarlett O'Hara. Daughter of the white plantation owner and his beloved mistress, Vyry was conceived, born, and reared to womanhood behind the House... 'One of the most memorable women of contemporary fiction... In its best episodes, and in Vyry, Jubilee chronicles the triumph of a free spirit over many kinds of bondage.' -- The New York Times Book Review.

A magnificent tale told with devastating new truth! 'A revelation.' -- Milwaukee Journal.
I mentioned in my initial post on the book that I hadn't read many books on slavery. I did read, however, Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain," the story of Inman, the Civil War deserter, and a novel later made into a panoramic fim directed by Anthony Minghella. A key problem with Frazier's novel, of course, was that the book was about the white South -- there was really no discussion, well, maybe a bit mention here and there, of black slaves and their predicament as part of the Old South's peculiar institution. "Jubilee's" graphic detail of the life and times of everyday slaves -- with its penetrating and profound scenes of black hardship, death and loss, of slave auctions and family breakup, and of hunger and poverty, to name just a few subjects in Walker's magisterial treatment -- more than overcomes for the dearth of black coverage in "Cold Mountain."

Perhaps more important is the book's fundamental moral foundation, its treatment of Vyry as the human embodiment of proud perseverance, ethical goodness, and economic endurance and stability. The book has a staggering portrayal of Vyry's personal survival skills, for example, at building and keeping an independent black freedman's home after the South's surrender, focusing especially on her prodigiously wonderful cooking, as well as her family's robust talents in animal husbandry and farming.

Read this book! These scenes, which compose the last third of the novel, demand a fresh look at the African-American predicament in the U.S. today. Vyry is a model of industriousness and self-sufficiency. Her life contrasts dramatically with the life of blacks as told by the "cult of victimology" peddled by the post-civil rights activists of today's multicultural left (on this point, be sure to read John McWhorter's book, "Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America"). Blacks today in America, if they could adopt in greater numbers the moral and ethical individualism found in Vyry's story, would not be among the worst-off socio-demographic groups in the country.

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