Monday, June 13, 2016

Walker's Jubilee | Me and Vyry Had a Fight

I’m super, super behind on my Final Thoughts regarding the books I’ve read.  Like, behind.  As far back as my February reads.  I kind of left off with Margaret Walker’s Jubilee, and it’s where all my written thoughts stalled out.  It’s a tough book to breakdown and shape my perspective around.  And it's also increasingly difficult to do with more than a few months stacked between now and my reading.  And that’s okay.  That’s cool.  
Nonetheless, to break it down, Jubilee chronicles the story of a bi-racial slave named Vyry; Vyry’s story travels through the South’s Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction years.  In the beginning of Vyry’s story, her slave master–and consequent father–comes rushing to his slave mistress' (Vyry's mother) deathbed.  One outcome of this death pulls Vyry closer to her father’s home.  Here she becomes a house slave and witness/bearer to his wife's mistreatment, and Vyry's half-sister's obliviousness to the running circumstances.  Nonetheless, though however torturous of the exploits, Vyry’s given small cycles of grace by her father.  Even if his moments of kindness inflames his well-aware wife.  And she's a lady who has no problem excising her power and control over other slaves.

So, stuck as a baby-sitter and house slave, Vyry's years are spent avoiding some outside fray while quietly absorbing the secrets surrounding the plantation.  However, it isn’t until a free black man–residing near the area as a blacksmith–comes to propose her hand in marriage.  Vyry see her way out and proceeds with the marriage.  But, per usual, her plans go array as Southern politics and directives take steam in the wake of the Civil War.  And, essentially, all hell breaks loose and a slew of circumstances and open roads land in Vyry’s lap.  By this time Vyry has grown to become a mother of two, now released from the confines of slavery.  Sounds like a dream, right?  The problem is, like many released slaves, Vyry doesn't know her new place in the world.  It's an intimidating and frightening reality where–I found–drew out the strength (and equally witless missteps) of her character. 
Resoundingly, Vyry is a champion of her (subjective) struggles as a bi-racial slave and heavily depended upon mother and wife.  Additionally, a bi-racial slave served and carrying a minor complex developed from living within the glacier of her father's household.  Nevertheless, her story is filled with this seemingly upright sense of developing one’s placatory nature, especially in the face of threats.  And it's a nature that consistently put Vyry underneath the criticisms of her family, friends, and even children.  Also, let alone, the trials she faced surviving a black household through the terrors of the unrestrained and diplomatically precarious Reconstruction era.  Still, almost surprisingly, Vyry’s pacifist beliefs come out mostly unchanged.  Though cautious in the right areas, she leans all of her worries and troubles on hope for the future.
My Funny Thought
I kind of laugh when I write this, and I’ll tell you why.  There’s always been this running thought between a friend and I.  After experiencing a book or movie addressing slavery, black history, and Civil Rights atrocities, we would always concluded how we would be the ones who didn't “make it.”  Faced with the level of strife, injustice, and cruelty placed before our black ancestors and foregoing generations, our instincts (though only marginally dubious to our current state of affairs), would be to fight back to the furthest extreme.  We would, essentially, find ourselves in the shoes of those who don’t "make it."  The ones hanged, whipped, or burned.  We would be the "ones" more than willing to talk back and even strike out physically against slave owners.  We would be the ones probably lacking the stealthy, subtly, and dove-like attitudes of those such as Vyry.  
Time stamps and centuries behind us, if there ever was an example of a parallel to our thirst for fighting back oppression with force, it’s definitely articulated in Jubilee’s Vyry.  Which, in turn, made a gripping but occasionally peevish read for me.  But in every best way… well… possible.  Mixed feelings in and out of certain areas, I went ahead and stamped Jubilee with five stars for the level of engagement it pulled out of me as a reader.  At the end of the day, it had the ability to draw my emotions into the story. 
Apparently the author, Margaret Walker, is a decedent of the real Vyry’s.  According to Walker, her novel is the story she heard from her grandmother–Vyry's actual daughter.  Having spent thirty years placing oral history with researched facts, Jubilee is the result.
Favorite Lines, Quotes & Passages
"As a free man in Georgia, Randall Ware had his troubles.  The law was strict in the surveillance of all blacks, and the free black man was only slightly better off than the slaves.  His movements were proscribed and all his actions defined.  His legal status was flimsy because he must always have a white guardian.  This white guardian must be a property owner of some means, and technically, the free man was attached to the land of his white guardian in much the same manner of a serf or slave."
"God does everything well and for a purpose.  Since the beginning of civilized man there have been slaves and masters and there always will be.  Slavery is a natural and righteous state.  It is the civilizing principle of all great societies.  Yours is the God-given right to admonish your slave in the fear of the Lord; to punish him when he does wrong and to teach him of the heavenly rewards after death that God has in store for him when he is your faithful, humble, and obedient servant.  The Christianizing of the black heathen is your sacred duty."
"'I reckon if you keeps on grinning in her face you'll find out soon enough.  Don't ever grin in that white woman's face.  She don't know what you mean.  I was borned here, and I been here all my life, and you don't see me grinning bout nothing, now does you?  Well they ain't nothing here to grin about, that's how come I ain't grinning.'"
"Now that the slaves, themselves, had sensed this fact, the year 1863 saw a wholesale disappearance of the black people from the southern plantations.  Thousands of them were fleeing to the protection of the Union armies.  They left the hoe in the field.  They left the making of the guns and gunpowder in the factories.  They fled from the Confederate fortifications and breastworks for the southern army.  The whole work force of the southern slaves went on a general strike.  And what the black slaves had done for the Confederacy under bondage they now did for the Union free of charge, for there was little pay or compensation they could gain from anything they did.  It was enough to be free.  Freedom from bondage filled the Negro people with exultation, with praise to God, and thanks to Mr. Lincoln, the Moses who had come.  For Mr. Lincoln had certainly changed his mind about the black man."
"'Yes, I do understand.  I understand how you colored people don't want to work the way you useta.  What's more you won't work the way you useta.  You expect everything to come dropping in your laps, houses and land and schools and churches and money, and you wnat to leave the white people holding the bag.  We've done everything we can for you, my husband and I...'"
"To begin with, there was a widespread reaction against any education for the Negro people newly freed from slavery.  Poor whites who had never been to school themselves had mixed reactions.  The question of sending white and black to school together was always answered by a storm of protest, and violence erupted every time there was an attempt to put such schools into operation.  The Negroes themselves were crying for education, and by 1870 the Freedman's Bureau had established a few schools in the southern state.  These schools, of course, were not free."

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