Jubilee Summary

Margaret Walker

Jubilee

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Jubilee Summary

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 Jubilee is a historical novel written in 1966 by Margaret Walker. It primarily focuses on a story of a biracial slave during the American Civil War, which began in spring 1861 and finally ended in 1865. The American Civil War was fought between the Confederacy, which seceded from the rest of the United States in order to maintain the institution of slavery, and the Union, who fought to preserve the unity of all the states. It was an incredibly expensive war and 2.4 million soldiers were killed or injured. The time span of the novel varies to include the years before, during, and after the war. The novel takes place mostly in Georgia, although some later parts are set in various areas of Alabama in the middle of the 19thcentury.

The novel is divided into three separate parts. The first section of the book is called The Antebellum years, which covers the time period before the war began. Vyry, the protagonist, is the young child child of a white plantation owner and a black slave. First, we are introduced to her early life. When Vyry is only a young toddler, her mother, Hetta, is giving birth to a baby in the slave quarters at the Shady Oaks plantation. Vyry knows her mother is dying. John Dutton, the white plantation owner, is Vyry’s father, but because American chattel slavery was hereditary and slave owners did not typically acknowledge their children by slave women, Vyry grows up as a slave. Still, Vyry is noted as being able to “pass” for white, given her light skin. She tends to be a solemn, serious little girl. Her mother’s death is a traumatic experience, but to make matters even worse, the general caretaker of all the slave children, named Aunt Sukey, also dies soon after this. Vyry is eventually taken into the Big House, where the Dutton family lives with their white servants. John’s wife, the mistress of the house, is well aware of Vyry’s parentage, and for this reason takes a sick pleasure in being cruel towards the little girl. John sends Vyry to the kitchen to help the cook, Aunt Sally. But this does not seem to console the mistress, who insists that Aunt Sally be sold to another plantation. This leads to Vyry being chosen as Sally’s successor as cook.

Gossip begins to circulate throughout the slave community  about an impending war. There are many discussions about the Underground Railroad, and those who are particularly equipped to shelter escaped slaves. One of these people is named Randall Ware. Randall is a free black man who owns a blacksmith shop not very far from Shady Oaks. Randall, while visiting the plantation one day, becomes completely smitten by Vyry. He swears to buy her freedom if she will only consent to marrying him. But John refuses this request bluntly. Even later, when Randall tries to send a white agent to the slave auction to buy her from John, he cannot buy Vyry. Nonetheless, the two form a relationship, marry each other in secret, and over time, they have three children together, two of which live past infancy.

The second section is the years during the Civil War, called “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” Throughout the war, Vyry stays as Shady Oaks. She is there the day that a Union commander arrives at the plantation,and announces to the slaves that they are free by the decree of President Lincoln. When this happens, Vyry thinks about the last time she saw Randall, many years ago. Then, she considers life with another man, Innis Brown, who has stayed at the plantation with her and helped her to gather food. Innis asks Vyry to marry him, and Vyry agrees.

The third section is called “Forty Years in the Wilderness: Reconstruction and Reaction.” Randall returns to the plantation and sees that Vyry has left. Randall tries to take up his old life as a blacksmith but is attacked by the Ku Klux Klan when he refuses to give up his land. His assistant is murdered, Randall is savagely beaten, and he eventually must give in to the KKK’s demands.

Vyry and Innis, meanwhile, make a life for themselves. Their first piece of land is prone to flooding, the next is a sharecropper’s farm with a crooked landowner, but the third place is a good fit—until the KKK burns down their home. They resettle again, but Vyry constantly terrified of the hatred she sees in her neighbours’ eyes. She wins some favor by helping with the birth of a child and is praised as the community’s midwife. Jim, Vyry and Randall’s teenaged son, begins to clash with Innis. Jim wants to leave home, but Randall finally locates Vyry and returns for his son. He tries to take Jim to a school that trains teachers to educate children  in black communities.

In the end, Jim does go, despite Vyry’s feelings of foreboding. Innis is concerned about Vyry’s faithfulness now that Randal has returned, but she stays, now pregnant with another child.