Category Archives: Week 11 – Nat Turner

Why is it that no one is touching the actual events of this story with a 10’ pole?

What do we make of the mass murder that we’ve nominalized ‘slave rebellion’?  If the perpetrators of the crimes were indeed taking a stand against slavery, aren’t these choices counter-productive to their fight?  We can talk about who has the right to speak on behalf of these individuals all day long, but we can’t forget the actual acts that occurred resulting in 53 deaths.  I think what I’ve seen from my colleagues here as well as in the Text and Context is an arduous attempt to get into the actual mind of Nat Turner.  The graphic novel, the confession, and the historical details cannot get to the granular level details we are all hoping to see.  As we’ve seen argued here the voices have even been manipulated by author in all senses.  Are we to cast the stories aside as untrue?

Or are we willing to bask in the ruin porn, graphic renderings, and melodramatic language that fictionalizes the truth?  In the Text, we hear that “Gray …thought of himself as performing a public service.”  I’d be interested as to what Kyle Baker has to say about it (more than the introduction). If authorial intention is illusive, than the interpretation vastly falls on the reader.  We have only the sources and ourselves to draw upon.

mirror, mirror

Amidst all the new developments gleaned from this contextual research, the concept below pierced through the most preconceived notions:

“Gray intentionally or inadvertently organized Turner’s confession so that it confirmed his own interpretation of the rebellion.  Whether or not Gray actually wrote this letter, it seems likely that he intended the Confessions to bolster a position already articulated by other white Southerners – the belief that Nat Turner was insane.  The Confessions would never have been circulated had it overtly suggested that the rebellion had roots in the nature of slavery rather than in the madness of a single slave.”

So despite all his greed, mischief, and possible bribing—none of it really mattered.  A hardened, socially accepted well-established belief was the foundation to Gray’s pamphlet.  He was writing within the narrow scope of racist cultural attitudes. Echoing a previous class, the author had set out a goal—and now we know—biasedly achieved it.  Still, whether that was just making money or further the South’s mission…I think it was both, as made evident by getting the copyright the day before Turner’s hanging.

I’ve head before the majority of folks only like listening to people they agree with.  This is an interesting sociological concept, which, if credible, apparently has deep roots. In that vein of thought, hypothetically, if Gray went ahead contextualizing a different set of circumstances, would it have sold in the North?  Would be it uncovered and shed light on a different Southern reputation?   On the other side of the story, would Nat Turner have gained such a following if others believed he had overtly made clear his religious motives as compared to the raw, physical retribution?

Sequential Art and Literature

I’ve been thinking about our discussion last week in regards to whether Baker’s graphic novel (and, more broadly, the medium in general) should be considered literature or not. And I think that’s the wrong question to ask. As teachers, our job is to teach, not to teach an appreciation and ability to read in a meaningful way, not to teach only what is considered “literature”. The graphic medium is not a collection of words, beautifully arranged to created meaning; there’s no arguing with that. But it is (ideally, at least) a collection of images arranged in such a way that the whole has greater meaning than any of its parts.
The root of the problem, as I see it, is that we can’t help but compare a graphic novel to a text novel. By the standards of pure prose, the graphic novel falls short, and always will. But this is holding it to the standards of a completely different medium. The same thing occurs any time a book gets adapted into a film: those of us (myself included) who loved the book, complain that the movie doesn’t do it justice, that such and such scene got left on the cutting room floor, that such and such actor was not the right choice for the role. Film cannot do the same things that text on the page can, and it’s unrealistic to expect it to.
The same goes for the graphic novel. It cannot do the same things that text alone can, and holding it to the same standards is unfair. But, just as film is capable of any number of things that are nearly impossible in a novel, the form of the graphic novel is capable of things that neither text alone nor film can accomplish. Inner monologue often gets lost in the move from page to screen, but the graphic novel is capable of conveying a character’s thoughts in a straightforward manner. Within a novel, keeping track of a massive cast can be difficult (thanks, Charles Dickens!), but in a more visual medium those distinctions can be made far more clearly.
Sequential art has its own intrinsic language; one that requires a different approach than the prose novel. On it’s own merits, Nat Turner presents a number of questions and issues that could also be raised by a prose narrative (but are not necessarily present in the Confessions), or by a film concerning the same events. But the way in which the story is told, the technique and convention of each of these forms brings with it a set of benefits and limitations. Was this the best form for the story of Nat Turner? I’m not sure it was, but Kyle Baker seems to have thought so, and has done a wonderful job of crafting the narrative in his chosen form.

Black or White

Since I missed last week’s class, I decided to do a Tracing Project of Nat Turner. I happened to choose the top image on page 54 where the slave overthrows the infant overboard and the white man has a grip on the baby’s wrist. I contrasted this page with the image on the bottom of page 121 where the slave, Will, is holding an ax over the infant in the cradle. In both of these images, as the silent accomplice I gained my own closure by interpreting the actions taken place in those images. Based on my own prior knowledge, I interpreted the first image as the white man, holding the infant’s wrist on the slave ship as trying to hold on to power. I noticed, as I drew, the chains on the slave, which I had not noticed before. Even though the slave had chains around him he was still in power, because he had what the white men needed. What I found interested was the fact that when I was first tracing the face of the slave on the ship, it looked completely different than the face in the book. The face I drew looked at peace and somewhat relieved. Perhaps I viewed the scene as the slave being relieved by letting go of the baby and in doing so releasing the baby from a horrid future.  The second image, again as a silent accomplice, I saw the ax being drawn, but it was up to me as a reader to decide what happened next. I noticed the innocent fingers of both infants (from both of the images). Those tiny hands and tiny fingers moved me emotionally more after tracing them than just looking at the picture initially.  Here, the ax represented power and control to me. McCloud states that in learning to read comics we all learned to perceive time spatially, for in the world of comics time and space are one and the same (page 100). Since in comics, according to McCloud, there is no conversion chart, the sequence of these two images move us through many decades in time. The two panels I chose appear to be what McCloud calls the aspect-to-aspect transition, which “bypasses time for the most part and sets a wandering eye on different aspects of a place, idea or mood”. (Page 72) I found the Tracing Project very interesting, because I began to notice little details that became significant in my understanding and I began to have a deeper appreciation of Nat Turner.

I read Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner again after reading Thomas R. Gray’s The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831). I had to reread it, because I had more questions to be answered. There are many differences in the two texts: the authors’ point of views, tones, purpose, and their presentation of the text.  Baker approached Nat turner completely differently than Gray. Baker’s purpose was to portray Nat Turner from a slave’s perspective – Nat Turner’s own perspective. He gave much more detailed information about the history of slavery to set the stage for the day of the resurrection. His tone was neutral, but more biased towards Nat Turner. Baker’s notes on page 204 about the image on page 196 paints a completely different picture than Gray’s, “Onlookers were reportedly unsettled by the fact that Turner did not die kicking and suffering as hanged men usually do. He simply rose into the air, breathing his last, peacefully without twitching a muscle.” He portrayed Nat Turner as a man with conviction and strength of mind. This is more evident when Baker states, “How does a weaker minority dominate a physically superior majority? In my research I learned that this is accomplished by destroying the slaves mind. More effective than whips and guns was the simple act of outlawing the teaching of slaves to read or to write.” (Page 7) Baker’s audience is today’s readers that view slavery as inhumane and completely immoral.

Gray painted a different picture of Nat Turner – as a coward and a fanatic – on page 19, “As to his being a coward, his reason as given for not resisting Mr. Phipps, shews the decision of his character. When he saw Mr. Phipps present his gun, he said he knew it was impossible for him to escape as the woods were full of men; he therefore thought it was better to surrender, and trust to fortune for his escape. He is a complete fanatic, or plays his part most admirably.” Gray’s audience was the people in 1831. Gray never went into what happened to Nat Turner after he was hung, but Baker states that “Turner’s body was skinned and beheaded.” (Page 204) This goes to show that Baker was trying to portray the white men as savages as Gray tries to portray the slaves as savages. Never once did Gray made any remarks about the atrocities slaves, like Nat Turner, faced that could force them to such violence. Why? They did not view slavery as immoral or inhumane.

I found The Confessions of Nat Turner to be more informative of the event due to the detailed account of the events in words.  Even though the images of Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner provoked many different emotions and conjured up my own interpretation of the events based on my own background knowledge and biases, the words of Thomas R. Gray took me back to the time November of 1831. I felt like I was present with them in the dungeon as Nat Turner confessed.  What confused me were the images in Nat Turner and the text split up within those images throughout the book. Another confusing part was the beginning of Nat Turner about slavery itself.  I had too many questions that could not be answered in Nat Turner due to lack of specifics and my own confusion.  I found those answers in Gray’s account, because there were no pictures. I could create and visualize my own pictures in my head as I read.  Gray gave more feedback on the aftermath of the insurrection. Gray listed the names of the slaves brought before the court of Southampton and their sentences. That was not listed in Baker’s. Gray also went into detail about the victims that survived with the help of other slaves and the little girl (Miss. Whitehead’s daughter) who was saved by her teacher. I was moved by Gray’s account of Miss. Whitehead’s little girl that survived, “She remained on her hiding place till just before the arrival of a party, who were in pursuit of the murderers, when she came down and fled to a swamp, where, a mere child as she was, with the horrors of the late scene before her, she lay concealed until the next day, when seeing a party go up to the house, she came up, and on being asked how she escaped, replied with the utmost simplicity, ‘ The Lord helped her’.” (Page 20) Here is a great contrast between what Nat Turner views as the Lord and what the little girl views as the Lord.  At the end, I still don’t think it’s all black and white – there has to be some shades of gray!

Was Turner Foiled By His Own Rebellion?

(Sorry this is late; I wrote it up yesterday and then completely forgot to actually post it!)

Two things struck me on my second reading of Nat Turner, both of which end up being somewhat problematic in light of the “in context” reading we had about the historical understanding of Nat Turner’s rebellion.  Firstly, there is the issue of Nat Turner’s success (or lack thereof) and the extent to which it rests on his shoulders, on the shoulders of the group as a whole, or on the shoulders of only those who followed him.  This is something I noticed in the first read-through, and which I highlighted in my tracing exercise; Kyle Baker spends a significant amount of time and effort and devotes a significant amount of space to portraying the less than stellar behavior of many of the men who were part of the rebellion, even going so far as to differentiate them from Nat Turner in terms of how they are drawn.  Secondly is the extent to which Baker seems to ignore the confused and unclear voices of the Confessions on which he based his graphic novel.  We know that the Confessions are as much a product of Thomas Gray’s writing and perspective as they are of Nat Turner’s actual spoken retelling as he awaited execution, but Baker seems not to address that whatsoever and takes the Confession more-or-less at face value.

The former observation came about initially when I noticed that Baker was making a deliberate choice to portray some of the black men as complicit with the white men in stopping the rebellion, and that those black men were literally stereotypes, drawn with round, wide eyes, huge lips, big noses, exaggerated proportions, and an overdramatic and confused demeanor.  This is in contrast with Turner who is drawn with sharp angles and straight lines, always seeming to be aware of his surroundings, his goals, etc.  While he is busy planning and carrying out his rebellion with the help of a very small core of dedicated men, everyone else is shown as content to tag along for the looting and drinking.  Beyond the obvious issue with using the stereotypes of the time to seriously portray characters, Baker raises an issue of historical accuracy: the way he has written his book, he shows Turner’s rebellion undone by his own people, by forces outside his own control.  If only all of the men under his command had stayed sober and been truly serious about his vision, they might have succeeded in taking Jerusalem by surprise, but instead, someone went and betrayed them, and then everyone got drunk and failed to keep up their end of the bargain, resulting in the failure of the rebellion and the execution of Turner.  We know that this isn’t exactly accurate.  It only amplifies the question I had before about Baker’s view of the story and his motivation for telling it this way: Does he really think that the slave uprising was entirely undone by “snitching” and laziness?

The latter point is something that I had not thought about until I read the contextual article, but is quite present now in my thoughts about the novel.  Did Baker realize the conflicted and biased nature of the Confession?  And if so, how much?  He only shows Gray writing it down across a couple of pages toward the very end; nowhere else is there any acknowledgement that the story being told is heavily filtered through the perspective of a white man with a vested interest in obtaining a gripping story, whose acquaintances and friends were killed in the uprising.  From my reading, Baker takes the Confession at face value insofar as it portrays Turner as especially conscious, calculating, and motivated about his actions, and then moves beyond it to give a vision of Turner as a sympathetic character surrounded by, as I said above, temerity, overindulgence, and subversion.  There is very little in the novel to show Turner as anything but a great man with a great plan; the vast majority of the brutal murder is carried out by others (in words and in pictures), and the failure of the rebellion is placed squarely at the feet of traitors and layabouts within his group.  Baker seems to just be taking the basic facts of the rebellion as they are presented in the Confession and then arranging them as he has seen them, with Turner as a tragic hero undone by circumstances outside his control.  Is this accurate?  Not really; not as far as we know.  And I think it cheapens the story a bit.

Nat Turner Revisited

In the introduction to his text Baker writes about what motivated him to retell Nat Turner’s story through the medium of a graphic novel. He states that he often wondered why Turner’s rebellion was cited in all the history books but never covered in detail. As I studied Baker’s text last week, and as I read the additional text about Turner’s rebellion for class this week I find myself wondering the same thing. It is clear why the elite during Turner’s time would want to suppress his story, and portray him as someone purely motivated by visions of grandeur, and religious fanaticism. The intelligence that Turner displayed in organizing and carrying out the rebellion was an obvious threat to the power structure of his day, seeing that subsequent to the rebellion stricter laws against educating slaves and restricting their right to assemble were passed.  It is clear that certain facts and realties that provoked the rebellion were omitted from Thomas Gray’s text and from earlier accounts of the rebellion, so I am left wondering whether or not we can fully know the story in all its truth and complexity. How we record and chose to remember events in history, control our ability to accurately tell those stories in the future. Baker’s portrayal of Nat Turner’s rebellion moved me emotionally, but it also left me wanting more information. I am left wondering now if my lingering questions about Turner’s story can ever be answered.

When you compare Baker’s text to Thomas Gray’s retelling of Turner’s story, it is clear that both authors work to create different images of Nat Turner. Greenberg correctly points out that Gray’s book most certainly was written from a biased point of view, given he was a slave owner, and would have been familiar with many of the families that were killed during the rebellion. He also accurately points out that we can never know how much of what Nat Turner revealed to Gray was accurately portrayed in the retelling of the rebellion. In spite of the above concessions, I have to admit that I could not get through Greenberg’s piece without feeling a mixture of anger and skepticism. Greenberg describes the Southampton community that was the setting of the rebellion to be “relatively isolated, and economically stagnant” (6). He also points out that blacks out numbered whites in the community, and it was likely that “masters and slaves lived and worked together in small numbers and in close proximity” (7). In addition to this description of the community in which Nat Turner lived we are also expected to believe that Turner himself did not face any “unusually brutality” from a master, besides being relocated and sold to different owner numerous times in his lifetime. Greenberg’s examination of Turner’s rebellion and its aftermath provided numerous details, but I still found myself with lingering questions. Greenberg mentioned that slaves and masters worked together in close proximity, but the apparent distrust that would have existed between the two groups even prior to Nat Turner’s rebellion is not addressed. Given the obvious tensions that existed between slaves and slave owners, and knowing that slaves out numbered the white population in the Southampton community, it is safe to surmise that fierce actions were continually taken by the white power structure to control the black population. I am sure that these actions did result in brutality that would be considered both usual and unusual.

In his text, Greenberg also offers details about the aftermath of the rebellion and writes, “It is important when studying the Nat Turner rebellion to recognize white Virginian’s efforts at restraint” (22).  This recognition of “restraint” he explains is not meant to praise slave owners for their decency, but he later states that slave owners liked to “think of themselves as caring and humane in dealing with slaves” (22). This is emblematic of what gives me pause in Greenberg’s text. His argument is based on the assumption that because the slave owners wished to display themselves as benevolent that the salves interpreted their actions as such. I resist such a reading of slave history. It seems to me more likely that slaves did not respond to the “justice” of the trials as benevolent but saw the trials as another representation of the total and severe authority that was over every aspect of their lives.  It is clear that all the actions that were leveled upon those who were a part of Turner’s rebellion or suspected of participating in the rebellion were done so to deter future slave rebellions, and keep the institution of slavery alive. I reject any retelling of Turner’s rebellion or any retelling of slavery in America that would assume that most slaves viewed their master’s concern for justice as benevolent. Slavery in American was profoundly unjust and shameful. What I appreciated most about Baker’s text is that he manages to retell Turner’s rebellion in a unique way; and also manages to visually capture the horrors of slavery that would eventually provoke an outcry and crusade for freedom.

Pathos and logos

While I am an advocate for reading without the clutter of background, I also am an advocate for filling in the blanks after a first reading.   And no matter the number of times I read the book, the graphic novel just cannot answer all my questions.  While the pictures portray the pathos of the situation, they cannot portray the logos – and without that, a reader doesn’t get a complete picture.  After reading Thomas Gray’s “Confession”, many of my initial questions were answered, and the Baker version became much more accessible.

I was impressed by Gray’s honesty about his prejudice against Nat Turner, and his reasons for writing the Confessions.  I was especially interested in how the bias of Gray would come through.  From the very beginning he marked Turner as a fanatic.   It is clear from his note “To The Public” that Gray is entirely prejudiced against Nat Turner, calling him “a gloomy fanatic … revolving in the recesses of his own dark, bewildered, and overwrought mind, schemes of indiscriminate massacre to the whites.”   Yet, as he records the confession, Gray seems rather objective – almost like a court reporter, simply gathering facts.  We don’t see the editorializing that might have been expected from such a prejudiced reporter, rather we mostly get the facts of the story.  At the very end, again we get some analysis, some editorializing, but for the most part, we seem to be hearing Nat Turner’s point of view.  Gray seems able to distance himself, at least for a short time.

On the other hand, the Baker version is clearly biased in the side of Nat Turner, and we get no sense of distance from the author.  From the Baker version we get the emotional side of the story, the sadness and despair, the horror and the acceptance.  The point of this version is purely to elicit disgust and revulsion, and to base the motivation of Nat Turner in this emotional place.  From the Baker version we get a fuller picture of the awfulness of slavery, and a wider context for the rebellion.  I think it’s a more personal story – there is no attempt to be objective and no attempt to hide the emotional attachment the author has to this story.

 If we had another version, perhaps the photographs might be that other version, we might get yet another perspective, another point of view, and another bias.  It all adds up to a more complete picture.  Neither Baker nor Gray are quite adequate enough on their own, but together they make a more complete, and therefore more compelling, story.

Can Nat Turner Speak?

As a fiction writer, I was intrigued by Greenberg’s summary of Styron’s Nat Turner novel and the controversy it elicited upon its release.  The concern about Styron’s skin color relative to Nat Turner’s reminded me of the controversy, albeit slighter in scale and vehemence, that Dave Eggers faced when he released What is the What.  In that novel, Eggers (a white man) tells the true story of a Sudanese refugee in a fictionalized version of the refugee’s voice.  Some readers and critics expressed concern that perhaps Eggers had usurped this refugee’s voice, that perhaps Eggers should have just ghost-written/helped the refugee write his own story, that perhaps there is something that just “feels funny” about the idea of a white man presuming to tell a black man’s story from a black man’s perspective.

The controversies around these novels by Styron and Eggers bring to mind Spivak’s essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”  In this essay, Spivak suggests that any time a westerner attempts to tell a story of another culture, or of an individual from another culture, his telling is held hostage by his own western-influenced motivations, assumptions, and economic interests.  Spivak charges that research is a fundamentally colonial enterprise that, intentionally or not, denies the subject’s voice because the western researcher is incapable of speaking in anything other than his own paradigm.

So, Spivak would likely say that Styron and Eggers are not, in fact, giving their subjects a voice.  Spivak would likely be more critical of Styron than Eggers, because Eggers at least had the consent and invitation of his subject to write What is the What (in Styron’s case, Turner hadn’t been available for consultation in more than a hundred years, and seemed to take that as a different sort of invitation to speculate and invent).  I must also conclude, then, that Spivak wouldn’t give Greenberg’s piece a pass, either.  Personally, I found Greenberg to be a writer who was consciously and dedicatedly attempting to be objective in his postulations, always considering multiple angles, multiple contexts, and offering multiple musings on any given aspect of his research on Nat Turner’s rebellion.  Greenburg especially does an excellent job of reminding the reader to read the Confessions critically, seeking out moments that are likely in Gray’s voice and moments that are more likely in Turner’s voice, as well as encouraging the reader to consider silences and omissions in the text as voices in their own right.  But who is really speaking in Confessions – and who is really speaking in Greenberg?  Whoever it is, in either case, it’s not Nat Turner.

To consider, now, Kyle Baker’s graphic novel, and its near wordlessness (save for the Confessions source material), is another opportunity to muse on the question of who is really speaking, and to listen for what is really going on in the silence that dominates this “reading” experience.  An author photo reveals that Baker is an African-American; so, can he give Nat Turner speech?  Maybe, though maybe not.  Baker’s choice to incorporate Turner’s Confessions, while really interesting and artfully suggestive, does seem to preserve the presence of Thomas Gray over the narrative events.  For example, Baker illustrates the scene where Nat attempts to kill his master but is unsuccessful (114-115).  While Baker does depict Turner’s rage, he is loyal to the narrative, in which Nat fails to “speak” through the violence of his rebellion, requiring often the aid of others to finish off his victims.

So, is it simply the case that Nat Turner could not, cannot, and will never speak?  I suppose so, if you buy into Spivak’s argument.  I’m not entirely sure if I do, though.  I’m not a scholar of Spivak or even of theory in general, so I’ve been working from my hazy recollections of undergrad coursework in this post (and hopefully not embarrassing myself in doing so).  But it seems to me that theorists like Spivak don’t do much to encourage westerners to study or even talk about racism (a relevant point, since I seem to recall someone mentioning in class last week a piece he/she’d seen about how uncomfortable white people are in talking about African-American history/texts/etc.).  Which is why Greenberg’s active call for a new retelling of Nat Turner’s story was so intriguing—and now that Baker has answered it, what do we make of it?  I wonder if Greenberg’s challenge is still on the table, for as artful and thought-provoking as Kyle Baker’s graphic narrative is, to what extent does a collection of wordless illustrations appended to Turner’s/Gray’s Confessions amount to a re-telling?  Perhaps, in a way, this question is related to our discussion about whether Baker’s narrative can be considered literature; to that, I say yes, but I do wonder about this question of re-telling, and what that might or should entail.  Or maybe the call has been answered, for, perhaps, as Greenberg suggests, the re-telling is in the not-telling; maybe the silence in Baker’s novel is the real narrative.


The Big Picture

Greenberg’s “Nat Turner: The Man and the Rebellion” greatly complicates and challenges  the story set forth in Kyle Baker’s graphic novel – as well it should. It would be hard to defend the use of a graphic novel with such minimal use of text as an authoritative history of any person, place or set of circumstances. Baker is telling a story with an emphasis on the visual. We as readers/interpreters get a sense of the story through that which art tells best: vivid representations of scenes that make good viewing, the visceral emotions and actions of the people involved in the 1831 events. What words there are are selectively chosen to accompany the graphics but as such, tell only part of the story.

Likewise the actual text of Nat Turner’s “confession” tells us only part of the story, because, as Greenberg points out, it was taken down by someone whose motives were particularly suspect and who certainly wasn’t sympathetic to Nat. Furthermore, we don’t know how much he or Nat left out in the telling. Greenberg’s piece offers a lot of fascinating background and historical context to enhance our understanding, but it is no more the whole picture than the other two texts. Finally, the series of wonderful old photos from the University of Virginia archives offer us more visual fodder and perhaps engage us in a way that Baker’s novel does not in that these are the real locations. I can’t help but look at those photos and marvel: how small most of the houses and outbuildings really were, what the dust on the roads must have felt like when you walked them. I wonder if such and such a tree is still standing, especially the one from which Nat Turner was hanged.

So, what we really need are all these bits and pieces. When we approach a given story (I like that word so much better than “literature”), we do best when we broaden our understanding to include a number of different sources – being exceedingly careful with that word “authoritative.” This aspect of variety is not only a grand thing for the different kinds of information it affords, but for the opportunities it gives us to engage students. Graphic novels may be incomplete, even superficial in some cases, but they give certain students important entry points into literature, science, history, etc. And for the rest of the students, they can enrich understanding, and yes, even inspire argument. I also like the cross-discipline idea of art plus literature (or science, or history, etc.): discussing choices the artist made in rendering and presenting his art, why an item placed in such a way on the page has a certain meaning for the reader, etc.

A Masterful Assignment, A Haunting Portrayal

I think the way the readings were organized was masterful, really. Since reading Sheridan Blau’s book, I HATE having any contextual information given to me before reading *literature*. I like being able to piece together the story on my own and later learn about the author’s life and the historical context because I feel like I can get a clean, raw reading and not have it tainted by any other knowledge. I wish I would have read Thomas Gray’s Confessions  and looked at all the pictures before I read Greenberg’s essay. Having read all the essays before re-reading Nat Turner caused me to question how Kyle Barker portrayed Turner. Just because he didn’t use words to narrate the story, doesn’t mean he didn’t use some artistic liberties. I would argue that he used more because he narrates a story, but also paints the picture visually as well. Is Barker guilty of being what Greenberg described as a “grave robber” for his interpretation of Nat Turner (26)?

One of the hardest aspects of reading Nat Turner is seeing the visual depiction of men killing innocent children and knowing that it all happened to 31 infants and children. Having a two year old son and a six month old son, I am really sensitive to the slaughter that Barker displays in the book. So much so that I cried after the baby was thrown to the shark and again when the baby was killed in his cradle. After re-reading Nat Turner, I noticed how the killing of the babies was based on presumptions that they were both doomed. The black mother on the ship assumed her baby was doomed to mistreatment. The rebels assumed the white baby would grow up to be a slave master. In either case, the innocent children were not given the benefit of the doubt and those images will haunt me. 

Even though I’m scarred for life from this assignment, I think it’s hammered home to me of the impact that graphic novels can have in the classroom, especially when used in conjunction with other texts. I will definitely jump at the chance of using graphic novels… just maybe not Nat Turner.