The Known World by Edward Jones Essay

The Known World by Edward Jones Essay

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A new outlook on pre-Civil War slavery is portrayed in Edward Jones' novel "The Known World". Unlike many well-known novels that cover slavery, Jones chose to focus on the thoughts and emotions of both the slaves and slave-owners and how they interact with each other. Set in a wealthy Virginia county, the practice of owning slaves is common to the white man and the black man as well. The main focus of the story is Henry Townsend, a black former slave that was bought out of slavery by his father, who was also a former slave. As time passes Henry never loses the admiration he has for his former master and looks to him as an idol. Much to his parent's disappointment Henry not only enjoys his life as a free black man after being bought by his parents, but also takes advantage of his right to own slaves. He does not feel guilty for owning slaves, but instead feels that he is adding to his legacy and worth. Henry feels that if someone didn't want to be a slave that they should pay for their freedom, just as his father had done. If they want freedom bad enough they will be able to obtain it in his eyes. But, when Henry dies it is his widow, Caldonia, a black woman that was born free, is torn between her loyalty to her race and loyalty to her deceased husband. Ultimately Caldonia stays true to the legacy that her husband had built, but it is understood that she does this due to pressure from society. Jones chooses to show the thoughts of his characters rather than tell them which undeniably gives greater depth to all of the characters. Through the actions of both slave and slave-owner alike "The Known World" shows that the world surrounding the institution of slavery has more to do with social status than it does with race and the color o...


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...e reader into the story. It is this detail, however, that made the story get off track during several scenes. In his story-writing Jones has a tendency to be talking about thing and then suddenly tangent off into another direction for a few pages. All of these different directions that the story is going can make it difficult to differentiate between past and present time as well as it may confuse the reader about which character is being described at a given time. The vocabulary of the novel was not difficult to comprehend and even jargon of the slaves, which can be difficult to translate, was easy to understand. Overall, as long as "The Known World" is read carefully enough and differentiation can be made between tales of the past and present, the novel successfully sheds light of aspects of pre-Civil War slavery that novels of the past have failed to do.

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