Friday, June 20, 2014

Book Review - The Confessions Of Nat Turner

This year one of my goals is to read the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction and review them here on my blog. I've just finished reading the 1968 winner, The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron.


I have to admit that it took me a long time to complete this book as it was a difficult read for several reasons. First, the book is based on the true story of a slave uprising led by Nat Turner in 1831. Fifty-nine white people were killed during the revolt. The insurgent slaves were either killed during the uprising or were tried and executed. Before his trial and hanging, Nat Turner gave his confession to a white lawyer. In the published confession, Nat Turner claimed to have been divinely inspired, charged with a mission from God to lead a slave uprising and destroy the white race. This book is a fictionalized account of Nat's life and his motivations and actions leading up to the revolt.

Second, the book is narrated by Nat Turner and his thoughts (as fictionalized by the author) range from simple observation to highly emotional (particularly passions of intense hatred) with forays into crude, vulgar, and sexually explicit scenes. The writing is extremely well-done and draws the reader into the story and almost seems to take an emotional toll - if that makes sense. I often needed to just stop and digest a section (and read something lighter!) before moving on.

Also, it's sometimes hard to imagine that it really wasn't all that long ago that slavery still existed here in the US. I think the book does a good job of portraying slavery and the varying relationships between owners and slaves, as evidenced by this quote from the book:
I think it may have been seen by now how greatly various were the moral attributes of white men who possessed slaves, how different each owner might be by way of severity or benevolence.

And finally, I found this book difficult to read because of the vernacular of the Southerners and slaves, which tended to slow down my reading. Here's an example - a reply from one of Nat's followers as they were preparing to begin the revolt.
"All my niggers is ready an' rarin' to go," he said. "Austin say he could maybe sneak away from de Bryants' dis evenin' an' jine us at Travis's round' 'bout nightfall. If'n he can, he gwine bring Bryant's horse."

In all honesty this book is extremely well-written and thought-provoking, and I can definitely see why it won this coveted prize. I'm glad I've read it, however it's not one that I'll return to every few years to re-read. Have any of you read this book? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. I haven't read this, Melissa, but - as always - I have enjoyed your thoughtful review.

  2. I haven't read this one, no; but I do remember reading about Nat Turner in my first year at college when I took a course in American History. It stayed with me

  3. Like Sian, I remember Nat Turner well from history classes, but I've never read the book. I have read his memoir, Darkness Visible, which was a very moving story of his crippling depression. It gave me a new understanding of the disease.

  4. I haven't read this one Melissa, but a few weeks ago read 'THE LAST RUNAWAY' by Tracy's about slavery , Quakers and eclectic but very enjoyable mix!
    Alison xx

  5. Thanks for the review, as I haven't read it either. My daughter has to read Beloved by Toni Morrison for AP English this summer. It's a pretty brutal rendition of slavery with tough language, as well. So I'll be reading it along with her. Her other summer novel for AP English is The Road, another very dark novel. We watched the movie over the weekend and it was much better than either of us expected.


Thanks so much for your comment - it's like a ray of sunshine in my day!