Twelve Years A Slave By Solomon Northup

2097 words - 9 pages

The topic of slavery in the United States has always been controversial, as many people living in the South were supportive of it and many people living in the North were against it. Even though it was abolished by the Civil War before the start of the 20th century, there are still different views on the subject today. Written in 1853, the book Twelve Years a Slave is a first person account of what it was like for Solomon Northup to be taken captive from his free life in the North and sold to a plantation as a slave in the South, and his struggle to regain his freedom. Through writing about themes of namelessness, inhumanity, suffering, distrust, defiance, and the desire for freedom, Northup ...view middle of the document...

The main points of his bad experiences stemmed from the time in his life that he was a slave. One of the first bad experiences he wrote about was him going on a trip for a job turned into him having his freedom papers taken and becoming a slave again. The next few negative experiences that Solomon encountered started when he was in the cell in Washington, D.C. and do not end until he is set free; these experiences included being mistreated and whipped, over worked and under fed. Many slave owners did not treat their slaves like people; instead, they treated them like property. This being said, the slave owners did not care how they treated their slaves, and would whip them many times for doing even the slightest thing wrong. Slave owners also had high expectations for their slaves, for example the amount of cotton each was supposed to be picked per day. Everyone who did not reach the required amount would be punished, and expected to reach the number the next day. Slaves were also underfed. For example, after being taken to become a slave, Northup said, “Punctually, twice a day, Radburn came in, with his pork, and bread, and water” (47). The amount of food that they were given is almost nothing compared to some of the portions that many people today are used to. These experiences, both good and bad, exposed the truth and overlooked parts of the United States.

Many of the themes that Northup wrote about in his book contributed to the life of a slave, and the slavery business in general, being exposed. One of these themes was namelessness of the slaves. The slave owners did not seem to care what slaves’ names were from the previous places they had been; they simply gave them new names, even if the slaves did not know. For example, once the boat that Solomon and the rest of the slaves were on arrived in New Orleans, the slave traders came on with a list to call and claim the slaves that were to go with them. Theophilus Freeman was calling names off his list and called Platt, and no one answered. Little did Solomon know, he was supposed to respond to the name Platt. He found this out after all other names were called and Freeman angrily looked at him and said “Your name is Platt” and “I will learn you your name” (76). This namelessness seemed like a way to depersonalize the slaves, showing that the slave business was a place where inhumanity was possible.
Slave dealers, slave owners, and plantation owners all showed signs of inhumanity, another theme that occurred in Northup’s story. An example of this theme occurred in the beginning of the book, when Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton tricked him into a job accompanying them to New-York and distracting him so that they could kidnap him. The inhumanity is shown when they evidently drugged Northup to get him in the cell, as he said “How long I remained in that condition…I do not know; but when consciousness returned, I found myself alone…in chains” (38). He also said, “There must have been some...

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