Protagonist’s Relationship With Nature In The Known World

In “The Known World” Edward P. Jones illustrates the polarisation the protagonist has with nature during the first and second half of the passage using imagery and symbolism. The story is about a slaves grueling day of work in the scorching heat and when the day has ended and it begins to rain, a transformation occurs — the bondage of slavery is released and through a connection between nature, the protagonist is reborn.

The author indicates, through using imagery, that the protagonist doesn’t just appreciate nature but is at one with nature. This is revealed when he “took a pinch of soil and ate it with no more thought than if it was cornbread.” When Moses “smelled the rain coming” and “breathed deeply, feeling it surge through him… believing he was alone, he smiled.” This showed the sense of contentment Moses got from nature that he was unable to receive from “his woman and his boy”. The imagery used in the first half is significantly different than the second and thus Jones reveals the two contrasting relationships Moses has with nature. At first, it’s a painful reminder of how he’s a slave — working tirelessly in the grueling “sun” for “fifteen hours…chained” and abused but later through the night and in the woods, there is an intimate connection only he and Mother Earth share: “he undressed down to his nakedness and lay down… and held out his hands and collected water that he washed over his face.” This conveys that the rain is now cleansing his soul and washing away his wounds.

Jones use of symbolism reveals a deeper complexity to the story and the character development of Moses. The symbolism portrayed in the first half occurred when Moses ate the soil: “he ate it not only to discover the strengths and weaknesses of the field, but because the eating of it tied him to the only thing in his small world that meant almost as much as his own life.” This insinuates a connection to nature and that he is the “only man in the realm” who diligently understands the process and cycle of the land and his dependency to the land for his existence. In the second half when “the rain came in torrents” and Moses lies down naked on the ground, he lets the rain purify his body physically and spiritually. This conveys that the rain is now cleansing his soul and washing away his wounds. This symbolizes rebirth. When Moses is naked, it is as if he has returned to the womb and when he awakens “covered with dew” he is reborn a free man.

To summarize, the author demonstrates duality between the character's relationship with nature in the first and second half of the passage by utilizing imagery and symbolism. Moses is revealed as having a much deeper bond with nature that even his wife and son couldn’t replace. At the end when Moses is showered by the rain it is then that the reader learns that even though he is still a slave, he is free and even though nature is what has freed him, it is also what’s keeping him prisoner.  

16 August 2021
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