The Known World by Edward P. Jones is based in Manchester County, Virginia, and tells the story of a pre-Civil War slave owner, his family, and his slaves. What makes this story so different from many others is that the slave-owner, Henry Townsend, is a black man who was a slave himself before his father purchased his freedom.
Edward P. Jones gives the readers of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel a glimpse of life for all types of people, both black and white, who live in Virginia in the mid-1800s. There is Fern Elston--a free black woman who educates black children; there is Sheriff John Skiffington, who tries to be an upstanding Christian citizen while upholding the laws and keeping the peace, all the while struggling with his own internal demons; there is William Robbins, one of the wealthiest white men in the county, who not only has a wife and daughter, but who falls in love with a black woman and has 2 children with her; and there is Moses, the slave who is the overseer of all other slaves. Jones's characters are so unique in their personalities and situations.
Though I have been on a bit of a Civil War kick the last year, I have never read anything about a former slave slave-owner. I must admit that I never even knew that such circumstances ever existed. I did just a little bit of research on the topic and it looks as though a good percentage of black "slave owners" were former slaves who purchased their own freedom, then purchased their family members, and the purchased family members were then considered their property. However, there are also records of free black slave owners who owned large numbers of slaves to work their land.
I found The Known World to be an engrossing read. Jones brings many circumstances of slavery and the pre-war South out in the open that are not examined in most regular U.S. History classes. This would be a great book to discuss with others, and I will remember it for a long time. Highly recommended!
Date completed: January 9, 2008
# of Pages: 388