Saturday, January 24, 2009

An Excellent Picture of the Antebellum South--Where Are All Women are Some Type of Property--Valerie Martin's "Property"

Valerie Martin's Property takes the reader into the head of Manon, a wealthy white woman living near New Orleans in the late 1820s. Manon is married to a slave holding planter that she despises because of his open relationship with a household slave, Sarah, and his especially brutal treatment of his field slaves. As a series of tragedies befall Manon, the reader accompanies Manon as she assesses her place in the world and the value of her life. By the end, the reader and Manon are left contemplating the "property" of the title--is it simply slaves like Sarah, or in a way is at all women, who are defined as property in this regimented and cruel society. 

Property is a captivating read, but it is also a depressing look at a dark time in American history. There are no heroes in this story--everyone is guilty in this society built on using other human beings--but the narrative gives you an honest look at the emotional strain on a woman during this period. Martin does an excellent job of not imposing 21st century sentiments on Manon, who I believe is portrayed with stunning realism. Rarely do you find historical fiction from a woman's perspective that is this rich and well written. This book will make you think, and like Manon, you may not come to a happy conclusion.

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