Tuesday, April 18, 2006

47

This book uses the character of folklore, High John the Conqueror, in the form of the novel’s character Tall John. In researching this folk hero, I found that a similar character is present in Virginia Hamilton’s collection of American Black Folktales titled The People Could Fly. The story is titled “John and the Devil’s Daughter.”


This folk hero was an African prince who was enslaved and sent to America. Despite the enslavement, his spirit was never broken and he has survived in folklore as a “trickster”. One story is that when slavery was abolished, he returned to Africa and left his powers behind in a root. This folk hero’s name has been given to a number of roots to which magical powers have been attributed in American folklore. The plant most commonly referred to by this name is Ipomoea Jalapa. Apparently, High John the Conqueror Root embodies the spirit of a heroic, fearless survivor of slavery. High John the Conqueror represents courage, strength, bravery, and the spirit of hope.



With this background, this novel by Walter Mosley is about 47, a young slave who is hated by his brutal slave master. The author has woven historical fiction, allegory, and fantasy to create a book about the nature of freedom. Because of the type of story it is, the book must be read and reflected upon, not just taken at face value. This book isn’t just about the slavery of American history, it is about choices that people make both then and now. The novel is a first person narrative set on Corinthian Plantation in 1832. 47 has just been sent to work in the fields and live with the other men; he meets a runaway slave who calls himself Tall John. 47 must rise above his struggles.



You can read and excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.

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