An important theme in Jubilee by Margaret Walker (Walker 1-490) is freedom. The three important characters in the story, Vyry, Randall Ware and Innis Brown, are constantly engaged in the quest for freedom. This entails not just their political liberties, but also the freedom to choose one’s marriage partner and the freedom to configure interpersonal relations in ways they see fit. Walker wrote Jubilee a century after the end of the Civil War and at the outbreak of the Civil Rights movement. To this extent, the range and scope of freedoms that Vyry and the two men in her life are seeking is representative of the aspirations of blacks in America. What Walker also suggests is that the feminist strivings are not exclusive of a broader political search of equality. Indeed, the two causes are intricately connected and partly explain why Vyry and her two lovers are showcased in the same scenes in the novel (Graham 96). Apart from this symbolic display of solidarity, another reason why these characters appear together is to contrast their different mindsets and attitudes. In other words, there seems to be some diversity of personality and character within the larger common objective of freedom. To illustrate, in one passage Innis Brown responding to his wife Vyry states, “Just like you can make candles and soap and feather beds, rag rugs, and quilts, and spin and weave and sew, and cooking was your main job, I learned to do a lot, of things ‘sides working in the fields.” (Walker quoted in Cash 78). The message here is one of establishing the dichotomy between the masculine and the feminine. The other dichotomies that these pairings bring out are those of “black versus white, rich versus poor, empowered versus disempowered, enslaved versus free” (Beaulieu 15). Walker, writing in the middle of the twentieth century, adds another pair into the list, namely, legally enslaved versus legally free.
One crucial way in which the genre of slave narrative is revised in Jubilee is the attention paid to the personal (especially the romantic) facets of Vyry’s difficult life. This is accomplished by showcasing the relationship between Vyry and her two lovers at several points in the work. Vyry’s loyalties are thoroughly tested as she is made to choose between “her loyalty to her first husband and her white family and loyalty to her second husband and her children. She is guided by her Christian ethics in arriving at a practical rather than radical resolution of the conflict” (Bell 289). Her great virtues are best illustrated when she bravely sets about resolving these conflicts. As she successfully resolves these conflicts, the reader understands the personality gestalt of Vyry, that she is a
pillar of Christian faith and human dignity, she commands our respect first as an individual and then as a symbol of nineteenth-century black womanhood. Shaped by plantation culture, she realistically embodies its strengths and weaknesses and she is neither bitter nor political in her philosophy of life. Her major strengths are integrity, resourcefulness, pragmatism, and songs. Her weaknesses are caste prejudice, fidelity to former white owners, and political naïveté. (Bell 289)
There is an interesting symbolism in the fact that Vyry marries Innis Brown and not Randall Ware. Though she was passionately in love with Ware, circumstances do not permit their marriage. But the author’s choice of Innis Brown as her destined match has connotations beyond the practical. Randall Ware, for all his righteous thoughts and actions is a man born into freedom. He belonged to that rare species of freed blacks, and he is also literate. He has established himself professionally as a blacksmith and has carved out a respectable life for himself. But his condition is atypical of the status of the larger black community. People of his ilk are an exception rather than the rule. He is legally on par with white folks and his demeanour reflects a sense of superiority. Vyry, on the other hand, is a mulato and, hence, legally a slave, although her fair skin can potentially pass her off as white (Dieng 118). Analysing their romance from political, social and legal backgrounds, it is fair to conclude that Randall Ware and Vyry have fundamental dissimilarities. Apart from the nominal distinctions between them, their core principles and objectives in life are also divergent. In this scenario, it makes no literary sense for the author to take their relationship to fulfilment in the marriage. For the same reasons, there is a common ground between Vyry and Innis Brown’s life causes, despite the contrasting backgrounds that they originate from. So, Walker employs the sentiment of predestination in bringing Vyry and Innis Brown together (Lowery 21). Still there is social and political congruence in this outwardly unexpected event in the story. It is for implicitly presenting these facts, concepts and events surrounding Vyry’s life that Walker describes the relationships between Vyry and her two lovers in connection. For example, Randall Ware and Innis Brown are antithetical types. Born into a family of free black artisans who served in the Union Army, as well as being a Reconstruction politician, Randall