Separation And Survival In Essay

2867 words - 11 pages

By: Audra Rourk In the spring of 1841, Solomon Northup accepted an offer of short-term employment as a musician, accompanying a pair of white men, circus performers working their way back to their troupe. A free African-American and resident of New York state, Northup expected the job to take him from Saratoga Springs to New York City, entailing only a brief absence from home - so brief, in fact, that he did not leave word for his wife, also employed away from home for a number of weeks, since he expected to return before her. When they reached New York City, however, his employers urged him to continue with them to Washington, D.C., where they were to meet the circus, promising employment at high wages for the season about to start. Northup accepted their offer, but the very night before the circus was due to start, he fell mysteriously ill soon after taking a drink given him by one of his employers. Nauseated and in pain, assailed by a burning thirst and hallucinations, he finally lost consciousness. When he awoke, hours or days later, he was manacled on a bench in a slave pen; a dozen years would pass before he was freed and returned to his family. In the same year as his return, 1853, Northup's story was published under the title Twelve Years A Slave. Much of his narrative echoes themes from the course: the use of Christian and Revolutionary ideology and rhetoric in critiques of slavery and inequality; accommodation, resistance, and negotiation; Black Codes; the power of literacy; the solidarity of African-Americans; and the precarious position of free blacks in a culture and economy predicated on the forced labor of blacks and reinforced by an ideology of inferiority. Twelve Years A Slave was actually written by David Wilson, a lawyer and sometime author in upstate New York, and the attribution of the tone and style of the narrative is therefore rather a murky question. Throughout the narrative, however, are ringing denunciations of slavery as brutal, unjust and inhuman, and these are most likely Northup's opinions alone, as there is no evidence that Wilson was ever an abolitionist. The book is dedicated to Harriet Beecher Stowe and begins with a quotation from an anti-slavery poem by Cowper. Though Northup's stated objective at the beginning of the narrative is somewhat muted ("to give a candid and truthful statement of facts... leaving it to others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage") as his story unfolds, the language becomes clearer and more decisive, as the facts of what Northup endured and witnessed are set out as incontrovertible evidence of the immorality of slavery. Separation is a paramount theme, entwined for Northup - who had a free family awaiting his return, rather than a slave family he might have had to leave behind - with strategies of survival and plans for escape. Not only Northup's own story, but those of the slaves he met and lived with are included...

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