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Cover of 1966 Houghton Mifflin version of Jubilee. Cover art by William Hofmann.
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Jubilee (1966) is a historical novel written by Margaret Walker, which focuses on the story of a biracial slave during the American Civil War. It is set in Georgia and later in various parts of Alabama in the mid-1800s before, during, and after the Civil War.
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- Sis Hetta -Vyry's mother who dies in the beginning of the novel. She was given to John Dutton as a present from his father.
- Caline, May Liza, and Lucy - servants in the big house who work with Aunt Sally and Vyry.
- John Morris Dutton - the owner of the Dutton Plantation and owns Vyry and the other slaves. He is also the father of Vyry, but does not acknowledge her as his child. He gets into a carriage accident and dies of an infected leg.
- Miss Salina - the wife of Marster John. She is mean to Vyry and the other slaves and strongly believed the South would win in the Civil War,she dies of a stroke or heart attack; she is also known as Big Missy.
- Vyry - the of the novel. She is a dynamic/main character. Vyry is the youngest daughter of Heather(Hetta) and Marster John. She is a black slave, but her skin is so fair she can pass as white and she looks like her sister Lilian. She is a solemn woman who knows many skills, although she cannot read or write.
- Aunt Sally - a slave in the house on the Dutton Plantation. She is the cook and teaches Vyry everything she knows. She acts as a mother to Vyry until she is sold.
- Randall Ware - a black man who was born free. He promises to marry Vyry and buy her freedom, but cannot buy her freedom.
- Jim, Minna, and Harry -Vyry’s children. Randall Ware is the father of Jim and Minna and Innis Brown is the father of Harry. Jim is like his father and doesn’t want to ever do work. Minna is more like her mother and helps her around the house.
- Miss Lillian - the daughter of Marse John and Big Missy. She is about the same age as Vyry. She and Vyry play when they are little, but as they get older, Lillian treats her like all the other slaves. She goes crazy after being attacked and most of her family has died.
- Grimes - the overseer on the Dutton Plantation. He was strict and cruel toward the slaves.
- Innis Brown - a part of the Union army who ran away from a plantation. He marries Vyry and they move to Alabama to raise their own farm.
Yearning for freedom and acceptance is a theme of Jubilee. Vyry, along with the other slaves, hope and dream to someday be free. Though they attain freedom from slavery in the story, they did not achieve equality. The neighors still looked down on her family after they were freed. They had little political power: to keep them quiet, the Ku Klux Klan attacks many, including Vyry’s family.
Coming of age is a major theme of Jubilee. The novel begins when Vyry is a young child and begins working in the Big House and documents her experiences working for Master John and Miss Salina with Aunt Sally and Lucy, meeting Randall Ware, and having children. Vyry goes from a useless slave to the woman in charge. She cares for Miss Lillian in her time of need. The reader follows Vyry in her journey from the one place in the world she knew to new places with new hardships. She moves with her family and new husband, Innis Brown, from place to place and problem to problem. The book shows Vyry growing through these predicaments.
A third theme of the novel is the battle for righteousness. Many of the slaves, free blacks, and even some white people fought for freedom for slaves.
When Randall Ware would visit Vyry, he would signal her with a whippoorwill call. She spent many nights hoping to hear that call and see him. The whippoorwill call is used as a symbol of Randall Ware, or of his memory.
Vyry has a dream about a door to freedom and a man who will not give her the key. This is an obvious representation of Randall Ware who has a way of setting her free. The man in the dream does not give her the key because it would be a complicated process and is not that simple. Another way to interpret the dream is that her dream foreshadows the civil war and Abraham Lincoln holds the key to freedom. In this way, the key represents the emancipation proclamation.
The mud pies that Vyry and Miss Lillian make when they are young symbolizes a simpler time. When she was new to the big house and was being overworked and harshly punished, Vyry yearns to go back to that simple time. After Miss Lillian is attacked, her mind reverts back to that timeframe.