Nat Turner, Week II

Background: I always read the responses that are posted on the blog, but this week I found myself more eager to do so than usual. Our inability to discuss the content of Nat Turner in any depth last week made me especially curious to see which areas of the book we were each individually wrapped up in.

Reading through the posts of those of you who posted before me, I found that a lot of the mental threads I had been playing with had already been picked up. I wanted to add my thoughts in a way that would connect and respond to these other posts but I had to admit that I didn’t have any solutions, either. And, man, the post in which I tried to unite all of these ideas started getting long. Obscenely long. So I’m going to take a cue from one of Jacque’s earlier posts and throw out some of my unconnected ideas in bulletpoints. Let’s pretend this is a literary homage to the pulsing instability of the Nat Turner graphic novel.

• Mimi has referred to the “gap” that the graphic novel leaves between “a gifted child’s ethereal piety and its transmutation into unsparing violence.” I was similarly struck by the ‘choppiness’ of the text. I feel that this issue is not limited to the content of the book, however, and that, in large part, Baker’s artistic decisions are responsible for the effect. The style of the illustration used seems to further fictionalize the tale and I wonder about the (literally) black-and-white presentation of a conflict that exists almost entirely in the grey area that lies between stock notions of right and wrong.

• Robb mentions the rage that characterizes the violence on pages 174-178. Because these pages were brought to my attention in light of my own consideration of the graphic novel as a medium, I began to think about the fact that each episode of the story – every frame, every stroke of charcoal – resulted from a deliberate choice on the part of the author. If there is rage in these pages, it cannot be reduced to the rage of the characters; it is Kyle Baker’s rage every bit as much as it is Nat Turner’s.

• Several students have touched on the uncertainty that familiarity with this week’s historical documents caused them. This issue brings me back to the idea that I attempted to articulate last week about the appropriateness of a medium for a story and the way that the choice of medium influences the reader’s understanding of the text. Is Nat Turner a historical record? Is it an example of historical fiction? Do the answers to these questions change the way in which teachers and other readers approach the work? Should they?

• Finally, one issue kept bothering me when going through Gray’s base text: Why do we have this tendency to think of historical writings as factual simply because they were written during or soon after the event they describe? Why do we, informed readers who routinely question the media reports we encounter in this day and age, suddenly lose our ability to consider the myriad of biases, estimations, and outright lies that can (and do!) make their way into historical documents?