Introduction & Overview of The Known World

Edward P. Jones
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The Known World Summary & Study Guide Description

The Known World Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography and a Free Quiz on The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

The Known World: A Novel (2003) is the Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel by Edward P. Jones. The book was praised by critics for its provocative depiction of the complexities of slavery in the United States and helped establish Jones's reputation as an author of note. Jones was inspired while attending College of the Holy Cross when he learned that a few free blacks owned slaves in pre-Civil War America. The author spent about ten years developing the story idea and reading books about slavery before writing the novel in late 2001 and early 2002.

While The Known World includes the truth about black slave owners and captures the essence of the era, its people, and its tensions, Jones did not rely on any of his research in writing the novel. He created the whole fictional world of Manchester County, Virginia, including specific historical facts, academic studies mentioned in passing, and other "evidence." The novel weaves stories about interconnected whites, both rich and poor, free blacks, free black slave-owners, and enslaved blacks. The plot revolves around the life and death of Henry Townsend, a free black man who was once a slave and became a slave owner in adulthood.

While Jones emphasizes how destructive slavery is for both slave and owner, he also highlights the importance of inner strength and familial relationships. Many critics note the effectiveness of his straightforward language and detached tone in describing these ideas in the novel. Jones told Robert Fleming of Publishers Weekly, "It was my goal to be objective, to not put a lot of emotion into this, to show all in a matter-of-fact manner…. In a case like this, you don't raise your voice, you just state your case and that is more than enough."

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This section contains 290 words
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