Plantation and Oral Tradition in Margaret Walker's Jubilee

Topics: Slavery, Slavery in the United States, American Civil War Pages: 3 (1008 words) Published: September 13, 2013
Margaret Walker’s novel Jubilee focuses on the life of a slave girl by the name of Vyry who gains her freedom at the end of the Civil War and sets out with her children, Minna and Jim, and husband, Innis Brown, to make a new life for their family in the Reconstruction Period. Walker’s awareness of the southern plantation tradition is made clear throughout Jubilee in the way that she debunks the negative tropes placed on the shoulders of African Americans by the nostalgic white writers of the South; Walker also incorporates her knowledge of black oral tradition by way of small snippets of text on every page which marks the start of a new chapter in the text. The first section of Jubilee covers the antebellum years, before the Civil War ripped the southern United States apart. Traditionally, a plantation narrative is narrated from the perspective of a slave, frequently portrayed as “happier and better off under slavery than they would be if they were free” and established the stereotypical “happy darky” (Campbell). “The happy-go-lucky darky images of the antebellum South could be contrasted favorably to the images of impoverished, potentially dangerous blacks of post-Reconstruction." (Warren, 119).Walker fractures this trope by incorporating her ancestors’ harsh treatment on a real plantation. The plantation tradition has the enslaved narrator holding the plantation in high esteem, as if it were a golden utopia, when in reality slaves face inevitable punishment and death; they are neither happy nor enjoying the treatment delivered to them by their masters. Walker shows this through the story arc of Lucy, one of Master John’s slaves and friend of Vyry. Lucy tries to escape, but is caught and branded with an “R” on her face for “runaway.” Determined to take her freedom into her own hands, she learns to cover her mark with makeup, “a mixture of yellow ochre, red clay, and charcoal, until it had blended into her skin” (Walker, 127). Lucy runs away again, and is...

Cited: 1. Campbell, Donna M. "The Plantation Tradition in Local Color Fiction. "Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. 07/04/2013. Web. 09/03/2013.
2. Staggers, Gail. “Talkin’ Loud: Black Oral Tradition.” Yale-New Haven Teachers’ Institute. Web. 09/04/2013.
3. Walker, Margaret. “Jubilee.” New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1966. Print.
4. Warren, Kenneth W. “Black and White Strangers: Race and American Literary Realism.” Black Literature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1995. Print.
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