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Dehumanization In Twelve Years A Slave: Narrative Of Solomon Northup

1564 words - 6 pages

Solomon Northup was born free, in Minerva, New York in 1808. Northup became known in his community as an exceptional fiddle player. When two men approached Northup and offered him good wages to go to Washington DC, to play in a travelling music show, he quickly accepted. Solomon Northup was drugged, kidnapped, captured, and sold into slavery. He served for many masters; some were violent and cruel while others treated him humanely. Solomon Northup experienced shear torture, cruelty, and the loss of his dignity, throughout his many years as a slave. After many years, he came in contact with an abolitionist, who sent letters to Northup’s family to notify them of his life and status. He was soon rescued from Louisiana and freed as a slave. The narrative of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave reveals the lived experience of dehumanization of the male slave, female slave, and the masters during the slavery period in the American South.
. Slaves were dehumanized and treated more like animals than a fellow human being. Male slaves, and slaves in general were beaten and sold, auctioned and owned like objects. They were put to extremely hard labour, and daily suffering through physical and emotional abuse and violence. Solomon Northup describes the experience of being dehumanized in his narrative. When being sold and auctioned to perspective buyers, slaves had to be undressed and show off their physicality by jumping and dancing. Northup Explains,
“[They] would make us hold up our heads, walk briskly back and forth while customers would feel our hands and arms and bodies, turn us about, ask us what we could do, make us open our mouths and show our teeth, precisely as a jokey examines a horse which he is about to barter for or purchase”
Northup’s description of being sold, reveals to the reader that the slaves were not only treated cruelly in the selling process but they were treated like animals. Having to stand in front of a large crowd completely naked, having to run around, and having to have potential buyers touch and inspect you makes one loose their dignity as if they are no longer human. In the above quote, the reader sees what Northup describes the act as “ precisely as a jockey examines a horse”. The slaves recognized this, and were aware that they were being dehumanized. This is part of the “breaking down” process that they went through. In every stage of the slave’s slavery experience, they were “broken down” more and more to a point where they did not even see themselves as human. To be sold in an auction like one is an object takes away all human dignity the slaves possessed before.

The act of violence also contributes to the dehumanization and the “breaking down” of the slaves. Slaves were beaten, and whipped daily, subjected to cruel torture. Northup describes these acts of violence in his narrative very vividly.
“ As soon as these formidable whips appeared, I was seized by both of them, and roughly divested of my clothing. My...

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