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The Fires of Jubilee: Nat Turner’s Fierce Rebellion is a historical non-fiction narrative written by Stephen B. Oates. Oates narrates the life of Nat Turner, a boy who grew up in Southampton County in Virginia. The book takes place in the early 1800’s, a point where slavery was on the rise. Slavery around this time was a very common practice. African-Americans in the New World would perish just for the sole reason of their skin color. Oates vividly describes the social and economic events that led up to the courageous rebellion of Nat Turner and his fellow slave mates, which would inevitably make one of the greatest impacts on America in 1831. Oates captures the reasoning behind the revolt by narrating through the eyes of Turner and telling about the hardships of his life as a slave, which effectively conveys how Nat’s actions and decision for rebellion were completely justifiable.
Through Stephen B. Oates, Nat is introduced as a gifted child with God-given powers. Having qualities different from other peers such as being intellectual and a quick learner, Nat knew about events before he was even born. While these are seemingly traits that Nat is born with, he also encouraged himself to study the Bible and gain more knowledge as he grew older. He was determined to have a purpose in life, and ultimately his goal was to change the lives of others with his gift. Nat should be viewed as someone who had a gift with opportunity. He would be very different from society. Very knowledgable and close to faith, he would form his path with God right by his side. Determined for things to change, Nat Turner would be known for leading a very bloody and gruesome outburst in his very own rebellion. During the 17th century, slaves were mistreated and were classified as below human. The treatment of the slaves in this time period would be one of the biggest factors for the revolt. Stephen B. Oates would explain the harsh treatments and extensive labor that a slave would endure. Slaves were lashed constantly, fed meager amounts of food, and were left little time on their own. Nat and his other slave peers faced very rough conditions and suffered from poor health conditions as Slave masters would neglect all of these problems. Nat would also share his own experiences in how it functioned.
In The Fires of Jubilee, Oates gives detailed descriptions of Nat’s everyday life, which consisted of picking cotton “until their shoulders and fingers ached to the bone”, planting and harvesting crops on the field, moving plows, repairing fences, pulling and stacking hay, and other various tasks of his seemingly never-ending list of chores. Religion would be important and would play a major role in Nat Turner’s ideas and thoughts. Religion is stressed a key point in Nat’s realization of his deserved liberty. His faith would be one of many factors that would encourage him to start the rebellion. Being knowledgeable, Nat’s thoughts would make him realize that this rebellion is needed. Voices and whispers would guide him to thinking that slaves such as himself, deserved as much freedom as any white man had ever had. Nat displayed his strong feeling for freeing his fellow people. Turner let God and his religious beliefs guide his actions and would not let emotions take control of him. As mentioned before, religion also played a major role in the way of life for white citizens and slave owners. If it came to the slave owner’s benefit, the would not mistreat the slaves. They forced Christianity onto their slaves, hoping to convince them through religious teachings that if they were “patient and submissive” with their masters, that they would be saved by the Lord in the afterlife. They warned slaves that if they did not obey and oblige to tasks, they would be be burned in Hell by God. This displays how slave owners were hypocritical of their own beliefs. This might have meant that they only supported Christianity, religious beliefs, and liberty when it came to their own benefit. Even though Nate Turner was captured, Nate’s rebellion would be an important step into a anti-slavery society.
The mistreatment of the slaves added with hypocrisy of the slave owners would contribute to the start of Nat Turner’s rebellion. The false idea of a “free nation” was nonexistent during this time period for the slaves. Nat would be very religious with his actions and let God lead his actions. These reasons would justify Turner’s rebellion to be needed. Changes needed to happen and this would be a step in the right direction. This event would turn out to be very successful to a degree, but the death toll for both sides would scar US history.
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