Slavery and racial discrimination are the two ugliest forms of human interaction. Unfortunately, for a long period in history, they had been an integral part of society and determined relations between different groups of people. However, the evolution of human thought and the rise of humanistic values created the basis for the change in people’s mentalities, and the attitude to these two social stigmas started to change. For instance, in the USA, with its unique history, slavery had been a disputable concern for decades. The importance of the given issue is evidenced by the fact that there are multiple works devoted to this question and trying to emphasize the unacceptable character of discrimination and show the existence of other and humanistic values. The book Twelve Years s Slave by Solomon Northup belongs to this cohort as its primary goal is to initiate discussions about slavery and its impossibility for civilized society.
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The book can be described as a memoir of an African-American writer who was born as a free man in the state of New York. However, after a fraud, he had to move to Washington, where he was captured and sold into slavery in Southern states. The man managed to become free again, but it took 12 years. These unique and unusual events provided Northup with an opportunity to understand the problem of slavery, see its all aspects, and realize its scope. For this reason, by creating this book, the author wanted to attract readers’ attention to this problem. He demonstrated the real experience of slaves, the hardships they have to overcome, and the unfair attitude they face to make people think about a society that boasts its values and, at the same time, prefers to close eyes on this social stigma. The book was published before the Civil War, which means that the division between the South and the North was significant, and the author wanted to underline how the attitude to black people and slaves vary across the USA.
Reviewing the book, it should be said that the whole text revolves around the theme of slavery, but there are different perspectives that are used by Northup to reveal the problem. For instance, there is a direct correlation between racism, discrimination, and ruthless exploitation of people by other people. The author asks, “What difference is there in the color of the soul?” in an attempt to show that the people are all equal, and their ethnicity should not play an important role or determine the social status (Northup, 2014, p. 45). The book offers a clear message that discrimination that rests on the color of the skin is unfair and leads to the establishment of a corrupted state. The memoir demonstrates how racism is often used by slave owners to justify their cruelty, inhumanness, and wickedness (Northup, 2014). Considering someone inferior to them, people acquire an opportunity to treat them differently and exploit them, and it becomes a problem for communities.
The book also helps readers to see slavery through the prism of Christianity. On the one hand, religion serves as the main source of comfort for slaves as they believe in loving God, who cares for all people, regardless of the color of their skin (Northup, 2014). The author says that his father used to teach them “to place our trust and confidence in Him” (Northup, 2014, p. 24) as it can help to survive the hardest times and preserve the faith. For this reason, Christianity remains one of the aspects that help slaves to live, save hope, and struggle for their freedom and better conditions. However, the power of the book is that it also offers another side of the given aspect. Northup shows how religion can be manipulated to create an environment that justifies slavery, discrimination, and even sexual abuse. Tanner reads the Bible to black slaves, but he wants to emphasize the need for obedience to their owners. In such a way, the author states, “I could not comprehend the justice of that law, or that religion, which upholds or recognizes the principle of slavery” (Northup, 2014, p. 111). These lines demonstrate that there are factors that can explain why people should discriminate against each other.
Finally, outlining his own experience, the author touches upon the question of slavery experience and its dependence on gender and race. The book shows that female slaves were doomed to suffer from sexual abuse and succumb to their owners with no other choice or chance for protection. It made slavery extremely humiliating for women and introduced multiple gender issues. The author is sure that a black person has an extremely high risk of being discriminated against or abused, which means that racism and exploitation become closely connected.
However, the book also shows that freedom and hope are two basic aspects that inspire all slaves and make them struggle. Northup states, “I will not fall into despair. I will keep myself hardy, till freedom is opportune!” (Northup, 2014, p. 87). It demonstrates one of the main ideas of the book. Slaves are ready to struggle for their rights, and one day they will become free.
Northup, S. (2014). 12 Years a Slave. Graymalkin Media.
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