12 Years A Slave Book – Summary and Review

12 Years A Slave Summary

12 years a slave is a moving slave narrative of Solomon Northup, told and edited by David Wilson. Solomon, was a free negro, skilled carpenter and violinist in 1941 when he was approached by two circus promoters offering him a lucrative position in their traveling circus. Thrilled by the chance at an amazing opportunity, Solomon agreed to the proposition and traveled with the strangers to New York and later to Washington DC. It was at Washington that Solomon woke up to find himself drugged, robbed, bound and in a slave pen. He was beaten and forbidden to never again mention that he was a free man, a fact he concealed for twelve years.

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What follows is an account of his  travel by sea to New Orleans with other slaves where he contracted smallpox and the death of his fellow slave from this disease. Despite a sailor being kind enough to send a letter to his family, they were unable to rescue him since they had no idea where he was headed. Solomon was bought and owned initially by William Prince Ford, who is seen as the kinder more humane owner compared to Solomon’s subsequent owners. While in slavery, Solomon suffered extreme cruelty from his owners, was leased and bought like property, beaten and any attempt he made to defend himself made his situation worse. After two years, he was sold to Edwin Epps, a cotton planter. Epps was a cruel owner who gave Solomon various roles as cotton planter and subsequent roles as a hauler and driver. Solomon had no possessions to his name except a blanket and a plank on which he slept. Moreover, Epps required him to supervise and punish his fellow slaves for undesirable behavior.

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After twelve years of remaining silent about his status as a freed slave, Solomon finally confided this to a carpenter working on Epps’ plantation named Samuel Bass who risked himself and sent letters to Solomon’s family. A shopkeeper named Parker received one of the letters and sought assistance from Henry B. Northup. Henry was an attorney and long time friend of Solomon. He contacted New York state officials and was appointed by the governor as an agent to travel to Louisiana and secure the release of Solomon. While in Louisiana, Henry hired a local Attorney named John P. Waddill to assist him in taking a variety of bureaucratic measures to locate and free Solomon. Solomon was finally released and reunited with his family in 1953. He filed a an unsuccessful suit against his captors.

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12 Years A Slave Review

An attempt was made in this paper to summarize story of Solomon Northup, but no prior attempts or even subsequent ones can truly illustrate the pictures drawn and emotions invoked as one reads about the torturous inhumanity that was suffered by Northup. As Northup himself says “Men may write fictions portraying lowly life as it is, or as it is not – may expatiate with owlish gravity upon the bliss of ignorance.” It is not until you read twelve years a slave and get acquainted with “the heart of a poor slave”, that you realize your own ignorance on the subject of slavery and that any fantastic and sensationalized ideas that had been portrayed by authors without any experience being denied their freedom, were an attempt to misguide and as Northup says, a portrayal of ignorance.

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The stylistic devices that were used in the portrayal of situations are applied effortlessly and almost go unnoticed as one is engulfed by the rich flow of meaningful information and the interaction of the characters with their sorrounding that in many ways comes alive in Northup’s account. The rich vocabulary and the provision of numerous opportunities to enter Solomon’s mind as he undergoes his ordeal is  exemplary and beyond compare. Northup, takes you on an emotional heart wrenching journey that culminates in his freedom. As you start reading the book, you may have been indifferent to the subject of your own freedom or that of others, but as you take Solomon’s journey with him, you begin to appreciate it more, want it for him and are finally relieved when he is finally free and downcast that all other slaves working with Solomon were not as lucky and may have died in captivity.

Despite this being a account of Solomon’s life, it is at some points difficult to imagine a human being enduring this sort of suffering and even more difficult, to be certain that it is finally over. Northup in his own words does not seek to exaggerate situations or present false information and even tries to bring out the brighter side of issues and uderstand the situation of his owners. In his own words, “It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives.” Despite his attempts to think about his situation rationally, it is difficult to see the bright side in this story since in the end as his captors were not held accountable for their actions while Solomon was denied twelve years of happiness with his family.

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This book clearly offers great insight in to the lives and suffering by slaves in the Red River. The deplorable conditions under which they lived and has completely changed my perspective on the subject. This book truly leaves one not only speechless but with a deeper understanding of the times that have been and an appreciation for the age we live now where freedom is a right and not a privilege.

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