This text is a journal response to Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. It gives you a full and complete comprehension of Twelve Years a Slave in detail with each chapter. The text is critically analyzed as an active reader.
“Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup is a masterpiece of slave narrative which deals with how the blacks are enslaved by whites in South America in an early 19th century. The narrative is an exact replica of the mournful lives of African American. It excavates the historical context of the slavery system and its uttermost brutality. Solomon tries his best to depict humane whites’ oppression upon black through his personal experience in the narrative. In addition to it, the narrative serves as a tool for delving into the study of how the agrarian land of South America is irrigated with immeasurable sweat, blood, and flesh of African America. Though the writer claims his story to be away from exaggeration, a mere representation of positive things which seem to be deliberately incorporated to show a high degree of his innocence and insincerity to the readers.
The first chapter shocked me to know about the narrator, Solomon Northup who is brutally enslaved for twelve years in South, Louisiana America. The persona of the victim of slavery strongly claims that he can speak of the brutal slavery because he has experienced it and known the cruel practice before the American Civil war in 1861. This sounds quite convincing to me as a reader. It proves that Northup is aware of his ancestor’s history who were slaves in Rhodo Island. When he explains the history of migration, the death of his father leaving two sons orphan and, his mother widow died when he was in a captive. He asserts that he worked with father in a farm and used to read books in leisure impressed me that he is a good guy. Similarly, his inclination to music, especially in the violin, further interested me to know his slave narrative.
However, how he was sold into slavery is a very ponderous matter to investigate. I do not totally agree with the way he presents himself as innocent as a child. He seems to be concealing some of his faults behind his slavery. A man who has good knowledge about his ancestors, and experiences on farming, music, working in construction, transportation, carpenter and so forth reinforce the idea that he has better exposure to the outdoors. Certainly, he must have understood his society the best and has a general knowledge of own nation, America as a whole. Similarly, I do not see any reasonable logic behind his leaving Saragota where his wife is a famous cook and he was notoriously invariably called to play the violin in his village. This shows he has a normal family with three daughters and good lifestyle in Saragota. But what made him leave his family and hometown?
Northup had much information on slavery in the south when he was hired at United States hotel to play the violin. This is where he sees some slaves with their masters. They came to him to counsel about the escape from slavery. He knows their sorrowful lives being slaves. Instead of advising them, he says he is ignorant and independent, he does not understand the justice of law and the religion that upholds the principle of slavery. This suggests that it is his dishonesty that he is unaware of the brutal practice of slavery in the south.
This chapter reveals how he was conspiratorially kidnapped and sold into slavery in South Louisiana. He does not make out he is being tempted by Merrill Brown and Abraham Hamilton. They are so cunning that they took advantage of his unemployment by offering some amount of money for short playing violin in a circus. In this way, he was further trapped in flattering and accepted tempting money. But it is his desire to visit metropolis- Washington and greed for money are what I think a cause of his misfortune. Similarly, these two white make him drink poisoned alcohol in a hotel. So, he goes savagely mad and finally unconscious.
But what I am surprised to see Northup is though he is new to Washington Dc, he could have asked hotel colored slaves about his drink and a new place- Washington DC. Rather he presents himself in a so innocent and ignorant way that his mind never generates a bit doubtful about them. Does not he have a common sense to suspect what they are doing upon him in a new place? I think, to some extent, he is also responsible for his own disastrous life but he, in this chapter argues to hide his fault simply saying he is new to Washington and believing those men blindly. On the other hands, Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton are exactly inhuman and monster in the shape of the human as Northup labels them. They are really mean people and stigma in the name of mankind. To sell a man for sake of money proves them that they are corrupted, morally degraded hollow men and it poses them in a lower status than the wild beasts.
Finding Northup himself in an utter dark corner of the prison with a chain around his hands and legs startles him and doubts of his kidnapped. He is inhumanly punished for no wrong and violation of laws.
The pathetic condition Northup describes truly excavates the real brutal history of slavery. He cannot see even ray of sun for so long. He cries aloud when he finds himself a slave of James II Burch- a famous slave dealer. He is severely beaten to tell a lie that he is not a free man and from Georgia, not Saragota. His body was covered with the blisters and is sold to New-Orlens. This makes me feel like detesting toward those southern whites and the south is the land of monsters, not a human being. Northup narrates a very heartbreaking woe of a slave named Eliza who has to be forcefully separated from her family because of the slavery system. Northup reveals out the saddest thing to us that Red River in Louisiana is the grave place for poor slaves.
Northup, in this chapter, knits hundreds of plan to escape from the hands of vicious so-called masters but fails to do so. On other hands, Eliza mourns morning to dusk though she is assured to escape by Mr. Brook’s youngest mistress’s husband. She is only given hope but that never comes true. It shows how slaves are mockingly deceived. Like an animal, they are sold to Pennsylvania Avenue cuffing their hands.
It is so ironical when a slave dealer, Burch asks him to hold the head high and look smart, instead, this makes him feel hatred toward Burch. How can a man raise his head high when he is already inhumanely enslaved? Northup is threatened with death if he again says he is from New-York and Freeman. He tells a list of slave including Mary whose husband was sold into slavery, Clem Ray, Robert, Eliza her children and Northup. They know each other’s’ painful history of how they are made slaves. It seems they are psychologically consoling themselves through the narrative of their sorrow.
In this chapter, Northup let us know about their pitiable situation in New- Orleans where they are sold by Burch. It so hurts any human by the conversation of Northup, Arthur, and Robert where they say that death is far less terrible than living as a slave. Similarly, they talk about the probability of escape and their families. It is so tragic event when Robert dies of chicken-pox while they are secretly escaping to get out of the hell. But I feel a bit bad when they do not tell others salves about their escape. Do not other slaves want to get rid of hell? Are not they are suffering from the same fate? So, in my view, they would have succeeded to escape if they had done it together. Unfortunately, they are again trapped on a board where he says he is asked to play the violin and gives a good impression to his master and other slaves. He narrates that Bob a colored boy, called Freeman wants to sell Northup with 1500 $. To an old man who has needed a coach.
Northup argues they are forcefully asked to dance, sing and wear neat and clean clothes for a period of time when customers of slavery come to buy them. Costumer watches their body, nature, behavior. They are asked to walk back and forth so that customers could check out whether there are scares and wound. Northup’s comparison of slaves with a horse which is about to barter or purchase when they are asked to show their teeth indicates slavery is the quite inhumane practice in the history of human civilization. A human selling another human is so brutal attack upon humanity. It rages and makes me feel so exhausted by such brutal practices.
He again claims that he plays the violin better than his competitor, Bob. He even mentions that his master, Freeman comments his talent saying Northup excels Bob. When Freeman comments this way about him, Northup response is “a remark that seemed to grieve my musical companion very much”. This statement argues that he has a very high level of sensitivity for others as well. He felt sad that when is praised for the same music. It creates a doubt inside me whether Northup is trying to present himself better, superior to other slaves because he does not talk about good things about other slaves at all.
Northup narrates a heartbreaking scene of separation when the son of Eliza is sold to the old man. Her pleadings to the masters, her cry, Emily’s lovely repeated words “don’t leave me, come back mama” and a curse, whip on her body so heartlessly, the scornful cruelty of maters upon Eliza proves that these white masters are not made of flesh and blood, but of the stone. This shows they are savagely intoxicated with power and money. It makes me think that wild beasts have a far better sense of love than these monstrous masters.
Eliza is parted not only from her son and but also form her daughter. Northup feels like earth felling with dull sound upon their coffin and unmeasurable grief when Eliza separates from her son and daughter. He further describes the scene “all the while her tears falling on the boy’s face like rain”. This mournful experience shows that slavery and white domination has exceeded its limits. It absolutely seeds a sense of extreme hatred inside me toward its barbarity.
In this chapter, Northup makes, in my point of view an excessive appreciation of William Ford- master of the slave. He even says “… it is but simple justice to him when, I say in my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man, than William Ford.” To appreciate William Ford somehow is not so bad, but Northup seems to be exceeding the limit of admiration when Ford is regarded as a minister of God. He praises Ford because he helps me, feeds him, and treats well him including other slaves as well. But Northup, because of momentous affection of Ford toward him, disremembers a genuine fact that Ford is a Master of slaves after all. Though he is kind, noble, helpful, honorable in his position, he never advocates for the emancipation of blacks from slavery, he never talks to anybody about the rights of blacks and never raises voice to abolish brutal slavery system from the south.
He’s one of the remarks about Ford reinforces the proverb-something is better than nothing is “were all men such as he slavery would be deprived of more than half its bitterness”. This statement implies the meaning that is better to take unhealthy and inedible food that go hungry. In my perspective, slavery is not an issue of well treatment and feeding slaves well. Neither is it a matter of reducing the bitterness of slavery to half of it because it is not the right solution to the devastating disaster. Slavery is a deeply rooted system which cannot be abolished by people like Ford. Rather, they preserve it for long for the sake of their vested advantage. It can only be abolished by the person like Bass who boldly advocates for the human right of blacks and an absolute abolishment of slavery and he is the one who rescues Northup from twelve years long excruciating slavery.
It is also a form of eradicating the identities of the slaves by replacing their original by so-called slave’s masters. For instances, Northup and Eliza are changed into Platt and Dradey respectively. He again champions himself as loom maker for weaving sweater for slaves.
Northup happily claims that Ford’s Platt is widely known as “Smartest nigger in the pinewood” when he makes the raft despite Adam Taydem’s challenge. I surprise and doubt that why he does not talk about the things that cannot do. It is a very interesting fact that he claims “he is jack at all trades”. Does he really know all the things to do?
Northup presents how slaves are transformed into commodities which can be easily exchanged. Ford pays his debt by giving seventeen slaves to John Mr. Tebeats. This shows that one can pay his/her debt by offering the slaves instead of money or property. If ford is a really kind man then, why does he feel so greedy to pay his debt with money or property instead of seventeen slaves? He should have saved them. And why Ford sends them knowingly that Tibeats is so cruel and mean to the slaves? This proves that Northup is a just sugar-coating weakness of Ford implicitly. He might be repaying Ford’s debt through the positive representation in his narrative. Eliza reveals Northup she is sent to plantation farm by breaking Mr. Ford’s promise not to send her out of the house. It mocks the sanity of ford indeed.
Northup describes the atrocious nature of Mr. Tibeats who curses the slaves, allows no time for rest during plantation. He makes them work early morning to late at night. Northup argues, though he earns Tibeats a large sum of wages, he never speaks a kind word to Northup. He claims he is faithful and works sincerely for him.
The tyranny of Tibeats culminates into the battle between them. Northup beats Tibeats so hard that he asks for mercy with God. He presents himself in a brave way that he is ready to die instead of enduring the tyrant master. This expression of Northup comes out of extreme domination he bears for years. But he is rescued from the imminent death from the hand of Tibeats companions by the overseer, Chapin. His rescue is so dramatic like a hero Chapin comes with a pistol and threatens to free Northup. It is the rebirth of Northup.
He expresses, in this chapter his disturbed mentality, his hunger, frustration, thirst and his inner feelings caused by conflicts. Mr. Ford comes and cuts his rope to free him. This shows the kindness of Ford towards the slaves. Northup depicts his master Tibeats as more savage, grave than anything. He also mentions about his popularity that he gains from rafting experimenting as Platt Ford and latter with Platt Tibeats by surname of his master. He expresses his dissatisfaction about it. Perhaps he is looking for his own real name. But the slavery swallows his real name and finally identity.
After the fight with savage Tibeats, Ford consoles him to work with the same monster. Though, being a generous man, Ford does not want to take him to his estate. Seeing upon this conflict, why does not Ford emancipate Northup from Monstrous Tibeats? He is compelled to work with again Tibeats with so careful to master’s attack. It is so sad thing for him that he remembers words of Chapin, his advice and precautions. He is so much frightened with his Tibeats that he keeps one eye on his work and next on his master. This concludes that Northup was extremely tortured for no wrong.
It is so unfortunate that the dread attack with hatchet upon a slave is made once more by same monstrous Tibeats. This time he saves luckily himself from death. He escapes from there and reaches his former master, Ford’s house. He proves himself brave in a sense that he crosses big stream, swamps, and jungle so carefully confronting with beasts, poisonous snakes, tigers, alligators and so forth. This is the river which nobody has pass through. So, this incident demonstrates that he is a fearless and courageous man among slaves and even whites.
In this chapter, Northup tells that he is sold to Edwin Epps when Ford advises Tibeats. I think this gives Northup a great deal of relief. He may not suffer from this kind of humiliation and trouble in the days to come. But it is not sure that he will have a comfortable slave life because kind slave masters are very rare to find. However, Ford is one of them indeed to whom Northup has deep faith. He is a great man that he shows his greatness by letting Northup stay at his house when he is in trouble. He is so generous that he neither complains nor scolds his slaves.
In this chapter Northup gives a detail description of cotton plantation and mode of cultivating it. Here, he confesses that he is very awkward to pick up cotton. He cannot improve cotton-picking skills as other slaves. This is how he breaks his own slogan- I am jackal at all trades.
He praises Patsey, a slave for her dexterous fingers at picking up the cotton. He also tells that if she fails to pick more than other slaves, she will be whipped. So, I think though it is her skill to pick up faster, a sense of fear of master and whip is working more inside her than her skill. He repeats the punishment system in this chapter too because it is the common agrarian tasks in Louisiana. If they are an ideal even for a moment, they will be whipped. This is the extremity of violation and exploitation of blacks committed by whites of Louisiana. How hard it is for him to stay for almost ten years with Epps.
He firstly again presents his wonderful skills that he makes an exe-helves at Epps house. Northup claims that Epps is so astonished to see unique kind of exe-helves for the first in life. So, Epps kept it at home and shows it to his friends, relatives and other people who visit his house. What I think of writer is establishing his credibility to his masters and audience through his own experience at the same time.
He highly praises dexterous hands of Patsy for picking up cotton. He also informs us that Patsey is from Cuba. He further admires her as a light-hearted, beautiful, laughing, rejoicing girl. This shows that he might have a feeling for her. If not, why does not he frequently talk about her beauty and manner?
Epps kicks, whips mercilessly, hits all slaves with what he gets when is drunk. This shows Epps is a brutal white master who gets pleasure by torturing poor slaves. Perhaps, he is demonstrating his brevity by beating them. Is not it shameful for the entire white race who practice slavery of South America? Today’s generation is mocking and condemning at sinful deeds of those self-proclaimed superior masters. Northup complains that he toils hard for that savage master Epps without any reward.
Northup argues that he is a watchman with the right to whip those who are idle for a sugar plantation. If he does not whip, he will be whipped by masters. This is what the slaves are forcefully beaten by the hands of another slave. The bloody description of the slaughter of a slave by his master, Marshall at his home is one of a representative example of the brutal murder in the history of slavery. How many are such slaves murdered and buried in the land of Red River in South America? He becomes so sentimental by listening, seeing and experiencing the agonizing screeches of slaves, bitten and torn by a dog, dying without attention so mercilessly, buried without shroud or coffin. This is the more real and original response to all slave. The existence of slavery is in its cruelest form ever in history. I think it is the injustice to ignore such true reaction of victims of slavery. Moreover, the writer being emotional he says men may write fictions portraying lowly life as it is or as it is not. He further asserts that the stories of the slaves should be heard by men. They should let know how they could not talk to whites with self-respect, a heart of the poor slaves, life liberty and pursuit of happiness. Let them know that 99% is intelligent enough out of hundred about their situation, to understand cherish of their freedom. This argument contains real historical facts. But it is a very painful thing to know about why slaves’ contribution is not recognized and stereotyped as uncivilized. Is slavery a part of civilization for the whites? He, again in this chapter too, makes an appreciation of Patsey. He argues she is an extremely beautiful and simple mined slave, in whose heart God has implanted the seeds of virtue. My suspicion over writer’ inclination to her is strengthened by these remarks.
Here, the writer discusses a little bit of happiness the slave gets one a year is Christmas Occasion. They danced at Christmas night in Louisiana. He says they all sing songs together. Some lyric of songs mentioned in this chapter functions as proof to makes his writing believable. He again particularly talks about Patsey. He claims that she would forget many of her sorrow for the hilarity of holiday. How can he be able to know the inner feeling of Patsey? This shows that either he has a feeling for her or he is just pretending to be a psychologist.
Similarly, claims that his violin playing on this occasion gives pleasure to all of them. He is highly praised for his art. In addition to this, he also argues that he learns quickly for cultivating the sugar cane. It is his good ability to learning a thing but why does he talk merely talk about his good aspects of life? Is he as perfect as he is described in this narrative?
Slavery system makes anyone cruel and barbaric. This is proved by the trend that demands the qualification to be an overseer for sugar cane plantation and cutting down are utter cruelty, heartlessness, and brutality. The writer further describes dogs, pistols, and whips are ready for those who do idle in work. This shows the slavery system is the storehouse of fear, murder, threats and vices to the slaves. Except for overseers, blacks drivers are allowed to whip gangs of slaves, if they do not do it thoroughly, they are whipped instead. But they have more privileges than labors slaves. It is the deliberate division created those monsters among slaves so that they could get a chance to be united.
He claims during his eight years’ experience as a driver, he learns to handle the whip with marvelous dexterity and precision. The writer amazes me what did not he learn during his slave life and why does not he bother to mention those things? Mentioning good things does not bring a necessarily credibility overall of his writing?
This chapter also digs out how slaves are tortured and brutally beaten. A slave named Wiley is caught and torn his body by the dogs of whites patroller. He was severely whipped. He escapes again because of extreme immeasurable agony. After a long time, he comes back to his master and is savagely whipped that leaves a mark on his back to his grave. His return to the same master shows that slaves are so bound to slavery that they never can escape. Another slave, Augustus is so cruelly whipped by the brute overseer. He runs away but is caught and tied to a mole to drag all day and night that leads him to death. This is proof how slaves are murdered. This also proves the Whites of Louisiana are the murderers.
Northup mentions he is attacked by two blacks on the way to the mills, he fought so bravely that he tells it as an adventure to Adam, he also claims that they have no evil design for him but just to frighten him out of his pig. An attack upon black by the black seems too distorted. He treats it adventurous, but also claim attackers have no bad intentions. This is not the convincing logic of the writer. It bears suspicion to readers.
The writer says that he is compelled to whip his beautiful Patsey when Epps orders him. He tells he whips her more than forty times and again master also whips her so cruelly. She is washed with salt and water. This shows that Northup also becomes a perpetrator for her case. He is in a sense coward because he cannot take risk rejecting Epps unjust order. She is long suffered from whipping, she loses her conscience and sense of humor, she cannot realize her dream of the north as slavery-free. Similarly, Uncle Abram is also mistreated by Epps. Northup praises of Abram as the kindest and most faithful creature on earth. But being drunk Epps stabs an old man at his back. This is so savage act done by Epps.
Northup explains that he is indebted to Bass because of whom he is able to get rid of slavery. He owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude because he is his deliverer of a letter to the postal office. Northup highly praised for his heart flowed with noble and generous emotions.
He seems to be over-explaining his history, his personal detail, behaviors, nature, age, background, his knowledge of religion and politics.
To show Bass as a great man, Northup presents a debate on slavery system between Bass and Epps. Epps just laughs and rejects his argument with stubborn logic. Bass reveals it is whites’ fault to make slave illiterate, they just whip if blacks are found to be with a book. He further reveals out that they are not given any privileges. So, Bass’s arguments are really realistic and knowledgeable. Unlike Epps, Bass has a great sense of humanity and equality.
He praises the beauty of Miss McCoy. She is magnificently arrayed. Face animated with pleasure that he had ever seen human being half so beautiful. He links his admiration to her so skillfully that he says “…not only she inspires me with the emotion of gratitude and admiration but because I would have the reader understand that all slavers owners on Bayou Boeuf are not like Epps, Tibeats and Jim Burns. Occasionally can be found, rarely it may be, indeed a good man like William ford or angel of kindness like young Mistress McCoy.”
By this statement, Northup is giving credit to those kind-hearted whites who has sympathy and empathy on the sorrow of poor black slaves. He seems so honest to those great people. This is an admirable thing of the writer. Finally, Northup says when they are working, they saw two men approaching the cotton field. He is rescued by them.
In this chapter, the writer Northup explicitly expresses his gratitude to his saviors. He further says he is especially indebted to Mr. Henry B. Northup because of whom he is planned to bring back to New-York. His saviors established two facts to satisfy the governor for his rescue: he is a free citizen of New-York and wrongfully held in bondage. He successfully passes trial on the court. Epps acknowledges Northup’s right to freedom at last. They depart to New-York. On the other hand, the sad thing he tells is his mother is no longer now. He loses his mother and has to chance to meet his mother last
The last chapter displays his arrival at the New Orleans where he decides not to meet Theophilus who is low, miserably rowdy, a broken down and disrespectable man. The letters which are written by Bass makes Northup’s emancipation from the cruel slavery. Finally slave brokers: Burch and Radburn are captured and proceed with a legal charge for kidnapping and selling him into slavery. Imprisonment of these slave brokers, to some extent, should have given him some solace and peace for his wounded spirit.
Northup’s emotion of happiness and willingness to meet his wife and his children subtly exposes the humane attribute which is completely absent in White of the South. This is a very important element in human’s life for it is the matter of humanity. He eventually claims that there is no any fiction and exaggeration. As a critical reader, I have got some slight politics in his narratives.
The epilogues let us know that the narrative has a close ending. As soon as he arrives at the New Orleans, he expresses his inner happiness as a free man again after a long period of his struggle. He characterized himself as a loyal, respectful person born as a free man. The criminals: Burch and Radburn are finally arrested for illegal selling of people. Solomon eventually gets emancipated from twelve years long slavery. He meets his long-waited wife and the children. There is the joyful moment that can be visualized when the readers go through the narrative. He makes a resolution for himself to have a humble life with his family thereafter.