The author uses lyrical prose to underscore the characters' actions and thoughts, especially Manon. For example, she writes, "I sat late in the cold room tending it, feeding it, until sparks ignited the dry tinder of my resentment, and it was as if I were sitting in a furnace" (Martin 89). The passage is extremely lyrical and symbolic, and it shows the burning anger that is flaming inside Manon, and gives the impression she will not be able to easily put this fire out. The author uses lyrical language like this throughout the novel, often using it in the way Manon speaks and thinks to indicate that she is a strong-willed and passionate woman, who does not deserve to be the property of anyone.
The author uses diction to portray the difference in the characters and their social stations. Manon speaks (and narrates) in perfect English, while Sarah and the other slaves speak in a black dialect that represents the lack of education slaves experienced. This distances the whites and blacks in the novel, and adds to the symbolism of the title. The blacks have no advantages and the whites do, but in the end, there is really little difference between them. Many of the whites can be cruel and violent, and the blacks are just as cruel and violent when they revolt. Their speech differentiates them, but that is about all that makes them different in this novel. Diction is often symbolic of "breeding" and quality, but in this novel, it is a symbol of the master and the slave, and how little distance there really is between them.
This text captured my attention from the very beginning, because the writer uses words so effectively, and the characters are so interesting. Manon is a fascinating woman and not your typical heroine at all. She is cold, unfeeling, and largely unsympathetic to anyone but herself, but her life is fascinating because she is so unique. For example, she thinks about her husband after his death, "He had not so much destroyed my life as emptied it, and now that he was gone, I had to pretend there was something alive in me" (Martin 153). Martin uses words to paint pictures, but she also paints the character's pain and bitterness with these words, which makes them much more effective and enticing. The reader can feel the character's pain, and so, she becomes sympathetic, even if she is so very unlikable. This is the measure of a good writer, and Martin is a good writer. She uses text and language extremely effectively, and in doing so, adds another layer of meaning and symbolism to the novel. Manon symbolizes women everywhere who are unhappy and distressed, from a black slave to a white mistress who hates her husband, and Martin creates this effect with her text, imagery, and understanding of how to create memorable characters.
The author is active, but it is difficult to maintain an active voice in a historical novel, as all the action has passed. Often, passive writing bogs down the narrative, but in this case, it does not. The author writes well, and makes the characters compelling, and so, the passivity does not ruin the novel's pace or effectiveness.
In conclusion, this is certainly a literary book - it is well written, compelling, and gives a good sense of history. It does not romanticize history; instead, it attempts to show how the time and place can affect a person's outlook and moral character. Manon can be cruel and heartless, and she shows no sympathy for her slaves, and yet, there is something about her that keeps the reader turning the pages of this book. She is strong and willful, and sure of herself, things that ensure her success and survival. I would recommend this book to just about anyone. It is historical, but the story is very illuminating, and it shows a little bit of the background of race relations in this country, and how people allowed themselves to keep slaves. They did it because their contemporaries did it, it was the way things worked at the time, and they had no moral questions about it. That is hard to understand now, but this book makes it seem plausible, if not palatable.