The Revisioners Summary & Study Guide

Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
This Study Guide consists of approximately 51 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Revisioners.
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The Revisioners Summary & Study Guide Description

The Revisioners 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 Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton.

The following version of this book was used to create this study guide: Sexton, Margaret Wilkerson. The Revisioners. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2019.

The novel opens in New Orleans in 2017, as 34-year-old single mother Ava Jackson and her 12-year-old son King move in with her grandmother, Martha. Ava is mixed race and Martha is her white father's mother. Martha is extraordinarily wealthy but experiencing health problems. Ava moves in as a caregiver, hoping to save enough money to buy her own home. Martha welcomes Ava and King into her palatial home, and gives Ava a diamond necklace. She tells Ava that she and her sisters, “the Dufrene girls” (12), were desired by every boy in the neighborhood of their farm when she was growing up. She also tells King that the students at his new school will be “good influences” (18) on him, which both Ava and King find vaguely offensive, because it implies the students at his former (majority-black) school were not good influences.

The novel flashes back to 1924, where Ava's great-great-great grandmother Josephine is preparing for her son Major's wedding to a woman named Eliza. Josephine was born into slavery, later became a sharecropper, and then managed to buy a farm with her husband Isaiah, which is now managed by Major. Josephine has raised Major's 12-year-old son Jericho since his mother left her family when he was a baby, but she tells Eliza it is time for Jericho to move in with her and Major. On the way home from the wedding, Josephine runs into her new neighbors, a white couple named Vern and Charlotte. That night, she tells Jericho a story. Shortly after she was born, Josephine stopped breathing and was assumed dead. That night, a voice told her mother to go beyond the plantation to a swamp and bring back berries to make a tea. She gave the tea to Josephine and she returned to life. Ever since, Josephine has seen visions of a mysterious woman.

Back in 2017, Ava visits her mother, Gladys, who works as a doula, and tells her about moving in with Martha. Gladys is skeptical because she thinks Martha was unkind to her in the past. Later, Ava finds Martha crying, complaining of pain in her neck. She yells at Ava for not being home when she needed her. Ava worries about Martha's mental state. Back in 1924, Major has a quarrel with a neighboring farmer, Aristide Taylor, about their property line. Josephine is visited by Charlotte, who asks if Josephine does conjure magic, as she heard this in town, in hopes that Josephine will help her conceive a child. Josephine declines to help. Later, she runs into Aristide Taylor's son, recently returned from a chain gang. She offers him a job on her farm. The novel flashes back to 1855 where Josephine and her parents attended meetings of the Revisioners, a group of slaves from nearby plantations who gathered together to conduct conjure magic and, once a year, plan one family's escape.

Major tells Josephine that Aristide Taylor dropped his dispute about the land, and Josephine realizes this happened because she hired Taylor's son. She does not want to tell Major this, but he finds out anyway, and he is angry at her for not consulting him first. In 1855, a new slave, called Jupiter, arrives at the plantation, and he seems to have a mystical connection to Josephine's mother. Josephine is friends with the daughter of the plantation owners, Sally, and she asks Josephine to help her mother get pregnant, as she has difficulty conceiving. Josephine does this, having inherited conjure magic from her mother. In 2017, Ava visits Gladys in the hospital, where she is staying due to complications from cancer. Gladys asks her to help with the group of young mothers-to-be in her doula group, and also tells Ava she is having visions of Josephine. Martha hosts a book club meeting at her home and berates Ava for spilling a pitcher of water.

In 1924, Eliza tells Josephine she is pregnant, and the two women grow closer. Charlotte visits Josephine and tells her she joined a women's group. In 1855, Josephine's parents are chosen in the Revisioners meeting to be the next to escape. They agree to take Jupiter with them. In 2017, Martha disappears one day, and King finds her hiding in a neighbor's bushes. She is mentally unstable and calls King “that handsome colored boy” (197). Ava decides it is time to move out of Martha's home. Later, Martha accuses Ava of stealing the necklace she had given her. In 1924, there is another land dispute, this time with Charlotte's husband Vern. The situation escalates, and eventually Major is visited by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Josephine recognizes Vern among them. They break a window, and as they flee, Major fires his shotgun at them. In 2017, as Ava prepares to leave, Martha enters her room and begins talking about “the Dufrene girls” again, but this time she says that she once invited a black boy home with her, and that when her brothers found out the next day, they murdered him. She reveals that this took place at Wildwood, the same plantation from which Josephine escaped. She then begins tearing up the money she had paid Ava for being her caregiver. Ava calls 911 and reports Martha's “mental break” (237). In 1924, Josephine visits Charlotte and asks her to intervene with Vern, but Charlotte pretends not to know her because the women from the KKK are inside. Eliza has her baby and Josephine has a vivid vision of Gladys; this time they actually speak to one another. Josephine sends Major out to pick fennel from the farm and he does not return. A farmhand finds him lynched near Josephine's home.

In 1855, Josephine, her parents, and Jupiter run away, but mere feet from the steamboat that would take them north, Josephine's parents are caught by slave catchers. Jupiter picks up Josephine and runs to safety with her. In 2017, Ava and King move in with Gladys and Ava helps Gladys with the birth of one of the young mothers-to-be. She feels a new sense of purpose acting as a doula, and also as if someone is guiding her through the process, telling her exactly what to do. She has a vision of Josephine, looking “pleased with herself” (276).

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