The Confessions of Nat Turner | Study Guide

William Styron

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The Confessions of Nat Turner | Character Analysis


Nat Turner

Like the real Nat Turner, the fictional character in the novel is literate and has a good knowledge of the Bible, having been taught to read. Raised as a favored house slave, Nat looks down on the field hands, whose food, clothes, and manners seem filthy and vulgar to him. Nonetheless, Nat becomes convinced he has a divine mission to free his fellow slaves by rising up against the white masters. He recruits followers and leads a doomed, outgunned rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, for which he is tried and hanged.


Hark and Nat become friends. Nat sees potential in Hark as an insurrectionist, but first he must rid Hark of his obsequiousness toward white people. Therefore, Nat harps on the sale of Hark's wife and son. Hark joins Nat's rebellion and is among the last conspirators to be executed before Nat.

Thomas Gray

Gray has an ambiguous role in Nat's trial. When he visits Nat in prison, he represents himself as Nat's defense attorney. However, he seems far more loyal to the court than to Nat's defense. Indeed, he believes Nat guilty and deserving of the punishment he will receive for his crime. He has nothing but contempt, at best, for black people and considers them an inferior race. In 1831, decades before the end of slavery in the United States, he tells Nat that slavery will last another 1,000 years.

Samuel Turner

Samuel Turner prides himself on his liberal views about the education of black people and, against Virginia law, sees that Nat is taught to read. Although he believes slavery is unjust, he doesn't hesitate to participate in the slave trade and sells one of Nat's boyhood friends for money. Believing Nat has talents, he sets up a long-term plan for Nat's education and eventual freedom. But Samuel, falling on hard times, sells his farm before he can see his plan carried out.

Jeremiah Cobb

Jeremiah Cobb is a man struck by tragedy. He sent his wife and children away to escape an epidemic, only to have them fall victim to the fever and die anyway. He then loses his barn and livestock in a fire. When Nat meets him, he is a drunken, sorrowful man. Nat decides Cobb will be spared in the uprising.

Margaret Whitehead

Privileged and naive, Margaret happily prattles to Nat Turner, seemingly unaware of the difference in their power and status. She repeats to Nat a conversation in which she boldly told a white woman that black people should be freed. However, she does nothing to make that happen. Entranced by her beauty, the sexually inexperienced and repressed Nat is physically attracted to her. She is the only white person Nat kills during the uprising. At the end of his life, his sorrow and remorse over her death reconcile him to God.

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