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12 Years A Slave Essay, Research Paper

Twelve Years a Slave Even today historians disagree on the hardships that slaves had or didn t have during the 1800 s. Some historians describe a typical slave has an uneducated male that worked his hands to the bone in cotton fields, and was treated fairly by his master. But some historians disagree, they think that slavery existed in an endless variety of combinations. They say that some were treated poorly and some were treated well, and that they all did not work only in cotton fields but a number of different occupations. The book Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup is a heroic tale of one mans journey about a family man and hack driver in upstate New York, who was kidnapped away from his home, and sold into slavery. His remarkable telling of the epic journey from free man of color to slave to free man again is even more astonishing because it was written entirely from memory. As a slave, Northup was permitted neither pen nor paper, yet he was able to recall his ordeal in exacting detail. The most common task for a slave was picking cotton; Northup backs this up with his description. “The hands are required to be in the cotton fields as soon as it is light and they often times labor till the middle of the night.” Northup tells us that even after such long hours, the slaves are still extremely afraid, because the master demands a certain amount of cotton from each slave. Merely meeting that goal is not be enough; if a slave exceeds it, then the expectations for that slave’s ability would be raised. However, if the goal is not met, then the slave is whipped. This paragraph disagrees with one historians beliefs that most masters treated there slaves fairly, but it does agree with him when he says that the typical slave worked in the cotton fields from dusk till dawn. Northup also enlightens other pragmatic practices of his masters. Although Edwin Epps is not an excessively kind or intelligent man, he recognizes that to maximize profit, he has to work his slaves slightly differently from his other property. Whereas he might whip an ox into performing a specific task, he recognizes that Northup is simply unable to pick cotton well. So when the whip fails, he attempts to find a better-suited task to Northup. Sugar cane is the answer, and both Northup and Epps profit from this solution: Northup is excellent at cutting the cane, and so that gives him a sense of pride and lets him set the pace of the work, and Epps receives more money. Edwin Epps also does his best to use every one of Northup’s talents for his own benefit – socially as well as financially. This is the general idea of his take of the master-slave relationship. He hires out Northup’s violin playing for money and entertains his wife and friends with his slaves. Northup describes the horrifying custom of forcing the slaves to dance: “Usually his whip was in his hand, ready to fall about the ears of the presumptuous thrall, who dared to rest a moment, or even stop to catch his breath.” The concept of whipping slaves to entertain oneself seems much more evil than forcing them to work for food for the household and themselves. Epps is so unfeeling that he sees his property as not only a way to make money and to have personal servants, but also as a form of personal entertainment. Historians argue that it is hard to generalize a typical slave experience because all slaves are different, and all slaves didn t work in cotton fields, if they were not good at picking cotton and they had some other talent some slave owners would recognize that and put them to work at a number of different things. It just so happened that Northup was not good at picking cotton but he was he did have a knack for picking sugar cane and playing the violin and Epps saw that and made more money using Northup s talents.

I do not agree with the historians who say that the typical slave was an uneducated male, who worked in cotton fields, and worked from till dusk till dawn. Sure there were some slaves that did that, but not all of them did. There were just way too many slaves and to many owners to generalize a typical slave experience. Its like trying to generalize a kids first year of high school, there’s no way to do that because there are so many factors that would make each person different from the other.


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