Twelve Years a Slave Study Guide

Twelve Years a Slave Study Guide

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Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup is a memoir he tried to write as precisely as possible. This book contains no morals like in “Uncle Toms Cabin” and no epiphany. The goal of Northup was to describe the institute of slavery in all its ugliness.

Born a free black person and being a skilled carpenter and musician, Solomon was once offered a short-term job in the travelling circus. He agreed, not telling his wife, who was absent at work. But the circus workers never intended to hire Solomon: they drugged him and kidnapped, selling him into slavery for the long twelve years.

Northup describes his attempts to prove himself as a free man and him being beaten and broken. He doesn’t hide anything about the personalities of his new owners and the atrocities they committed, feeling entitled to do with their slaves whatever they please.

His skills usually got him the better position than the rest of the slaves, but this position was often connected with the need to compromise with his conscience. He was forced to look after the rest of the slaves and punish them for misbehaving, or to be punished himself for refusing to do it.

The ending of the book is dedicated to Northup’s process of escaping the slavery. He was incredibly lucky to find a compassionate person who believed him and sent a message to his wife. Finally, the process of rescue was initiated and Northup, as a citizen of his state, was returned home.

He concludes his memoir with the statement, reminding us that this is no exaggeration and he doesn’t condemn anyone in his book, letting the readers form their own opinion about the slavery and the life of enslaved people. Solomon was lucky to be rescued but countless people unnamed, kidnapped like him or born into slavery, stayed in the unbearable conditions he lived in for twelve years.

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