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The Known World
The Known World
THE KNOWN WORLD, by Edward P. Jones
THE KNOWN WORLD (2003), by Edward P. Jones, is one of the most celebrated debut novels by an American writer in recent years, honored with both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Set in Virginia during the era before the Civil War, it addresses the issue of slavery in a provocative manner, placing the lives of various African-American slaveholders at its heart. Further complicating the connections between skin color and relative virtue that the reader might expect, given the milieu, is the sympathetic portrayal of the local sheriff, a white man who has pledged never to own a slave, yet enforces the many laws that maintain most of the black population in bondage. Jones explores how the racial classifications and social codes of America's slave-owning society are both the wellspring of our contemporary racial attitudes and qualitatively distinct, relevant to a particular time and place and only fully intelligible in that context. Jones pursues another, parallel ambition, with even broader intellectual implications: throughout the book, the veracity and fundamental reliability of standard historical sources and the stories we derive from them are cast into doubt. Just as it makes the constant demand upon readers to question their own presumptions, Jones's novel invites similar questions upon itself: Is this the truth of our world? And how do we know?

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The American Novel