The Known World
Essay title: The Known World
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 of one’s skin.

The bond between parent and child is undoubtedly a very strong one. Henry’s father works very hard and persistently to pay for his son’s freedom from slavery. Henry’s owner, a white man named Robbins, doesn’t seem to consider the bond between parent and child in this situation and merely sees Henry as his property to be bought and sold. It is not until Henry becomes a free man and ultimately decides to gain power and status by owning slaves of his own that Robbins sees him as a fellow man. All the while Henry remains true to himself and his color certainly does not change, it is only his status in society that gives him a sense of equality among men. The little importance of skin color is also blatantly obvious upon viewing the relationship between father and child as portrayed in the novel. Robbins, even though he does not announce it, has two mixed children of his own that were the result of an affair with a former slave as well as a white daughter that he has with his wife. The mixed children receive no less love from Robbins due to their color and perhaps are even treated better in response to Robbins undeniable love for their mother. No matter how loving and tender he shows to be with his former-slave turned lover and their children, Robbins is still shown to be a cruel and uncaring master to his slaves. Color, therefore, is not the deciding factor when it comes to how you are treated; all is determined by your status.

It is displayed that status in society ultimately rules over race in the novel but the struggle lies in applying this theory to the way that things really were. Jones

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Henry Townsend And Parent’S Disappointment Henry. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from