The role of religion in “Jubilee” by Margaret Walker

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The role of religion in “Jubilee” by Margaret Walker

Religion played various roles in the lives of the characters in Jubilee. Discuss the role of religion in the novel.  How did different characters or groups of characters shape or reshape religion to meet their needs? What parts of the bible did each group emphasize?

Religion takes two major contrasting roles in this novel. To one group, the white people, it is a justification of superiority over the black people, while for the black people; it is a source of hope and a place of refuge.

The novel jubilee written by Margaret Walker depicts the African American history in three periods. These periods are during slavery, the American civil war and during the reconstruction process that followed the war period. The novel is based on the life of the author’s great-grand mother, Margaret Duggans Ware Brown. Her great-grandmother was born a slave and was married to a free black man, Randall Ware. Margaret great-grandfather was a blacksmith. Key to note also is that her great-grand father was born a free man. The setting of this novel is the Dutton plantation. This is where her great-grandmother was born as the daughter of the plantation owner.

The main character in this novel is vyry, a young woman who is half white and half black. Her father Master John is the owner of the plantation in which vyry and her mother Sis Hetta dwell in. Sis Hetta dies when vyry is still a very small girl and thus Aunty Sally takes up the motherly role and brings up vyry. Vyry is not legally recognized as Master John’s daughter and is despised by Miss Salina who is the legal wife of Master John. Miss Salina as many other white mistresses were is very cruel and harsh to the colored and black slaves.

The novel brings out various themes inherent in this society. Among the deeply entrenched theme was that of religion. The African Americans were and still are very religious people. At that time, they ascribed almost everything that happened in their lives to their spiritual believes. The novel begins with a vivid description of Sis Hetta’s death. She had apparently bore 15 children and was just approximately 29 years old. Speculation had it that most of these children were fathered by Master John. Her kind gathers to console her as she labors with pain giving birth to yet another baby during her last times on earth. Master John or rather John Morris Dutton had almost married Sis Hetta, but was compelled to look for a white wife. That is when she goes in search of a wife and comes back with Salina from Savannah.

The theme of religion is evident from the beginning of this novel. During the time of Sis Hetta’s death, Brother Ezekiel or rather Brother Zeke as they fondly referred to him asks Sis Hetta what she would like him do for her before she dies. “Sis Hetta, I’m here, Brother Zeke, it’s me. Can I do something for you?” (Walker, 1999). In response to this, Sis Hetta says “pray,” … “Pray” (Walker, 1999). In Brother Ezekiel’s prayer it is evident that they sought refuge in religion. Brother Ezekiel addresses God as their father and kind of pleads with God to come take Sis Hetta as she suffers on her death bed like He did to Lishy. They seem to have a strong belief of life after death.  Brother Ezekiel especially lays emphasis on the story of father Abraham and the crossing of the river Jordan by the Israelites as they headed to Canaan. He uses these parts of the bible figuratively to denote that where Sis Hetta is about to go is a place of joy and comfort and not of pain and suffering as the .............


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