Posted: March 24th, 2023

AMERICAN HISTORY

Synopsis of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave

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Drugged, beaten, and uprooted from anything and anyone he had ever known, Solomon Northup was illegitimately abducted from New York and taken to the south in the year 1841. He found himself in a slave pen where he was transformed from a free African America into a slave in the south, a metamorphosis that would describe him for the next 12 years.[1] In fact, being bound with chains and stripped of any document that would identify him, he was transported to Virginia. His declarations and protests of freedom and liberty were responded with violent beatings. He had no option but to exercise submission and compliance, a factor that saw him shipped onwards through the ocean. Eventually, he was sold as a slave in Louisiana, a geographical environment that saw his darkest servitude for 12 years.

Synopsis of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The fictional story, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, starts on the Shelby farm based in Kentucky when two individuals are sold as slaves to clear an old debt. The story focuses on a man by the name Tom, who lives in slavery with his three children and a woman by the name Eliza who is Harry’s mother. Having not contemplated on the danger he poses to his son Harry, Eliza’s husband has already run away with the intentions of later purchasing his family’s freedom. To protect her son Harry, Eliza also runs away, and the family eventually reunites and heads to Canada. On the other hand, Tom opts to remain in slavery to protect his family and to ensure that they stay together. The story ends when Tom and his family run away from slavery. Although Eliza’s family reaches their destination safely, Tom’s escape comes with death.[2]

Similarities in Northup and Stowe’s Critiques of Slavery

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Religion

In these two books on slavery, various concepts relate to each other. One of the most outstanding aspects of their abolitionist texts is the religious feature of the main characters. In fact, the topic of religion is of great significance in both books. Stowe attempted to bring into the light to the members of the public that the system of slavery and the Christianity doctrines and values were incompatible. In fact, she demonstrates how the two concepts opposed each other. In the entire book, Stowe attempts to show that the more an individual practiced Christianity, the more he or she argue against the systems of slavery. An excellent example is the morally perfect white woman by the name Eva, who fails to realize why any person would note a difference amid the Whites and African Americans. In addition, Uncle Tom has a character that shows that he is a stout believer in Christianity. He reads the Bible frequently and leads the other slaves in prayers during the meetings. Although blacks were seen as lesser beings who were not supposed to lead in any Christianity meetings, Tom conducted prayers to make other people learn about God and live according to his teachings. In fact, even in death, Tom refused to denounce his faith in God. Similar to the character of Tom, Northup was also a follower of Christianity. Although he did not teach people around him to follow his religion, he passed his morals and Christianity values through his behavior.

 

Violence

The other similarity in the two books is the concept of violence. In this case, both books demonstrate a similar kind of aggression and violence that the children of Israel received during their time in Egypt. In addition, Solomon and Tom go through severe beatings; the worst beating they had ever known since their childhood phase. Due to his Christianity belief, Tom was a good slave, and he rarely got ill-treatment such as beatings from his masters. However, with time, he was sold to another master who was unkind. One day he was commanded to beat other slaves, but upon refusal, his master beat him badly such that the bruises he got on that day would later cause his death. Solomon also got similar treatment from both his abductors and his masters. His firsthand experience on how slaves were beaten was on the cotton farm when he got blows from Edwin Epps.

Unplanned Turn of Life Events

The unanticipated change in life is a thing that is inevitable as people will always experience unplanned experiences in life. Both Northup and Tom went through various life events and occurrences that were unexpected and were all based on similar reason. Primarily, Northup was tricked into servitude due to one reason: he needed money to support his family, and since he had a talent in playing the circuit, his abductors used it to entice him to go to the south. Similarly, Tom and his family were sold to Shelby to clear a debt. Therefore, it means that money was the reason that these two men found themselves into slavery. Another similar unexpected turn of events in life was being sold to cruel masters who not only beat them but also mistreated them. Unlike his previous master who was kind and caring, Solomon was sold to a very cruel master who owned a cotton field. Similarly, Tom was also sold from a previous master who was kind to a heartless one who beat him to the extent that the wounds he got from the beatings resulted in his death.

Differences in Northup and Stowe’s Narratives as Abolitionists Texts

Despite the fact that the two books have a similar goal, which is to abolish slavery in the United States, they have some differences that can be explained through the analysis of various elements. The first difference is based on the concept that one book is fictional, while the other one is non-fictional. On the one hand, in the book Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup bases the narrative of a true story that is grounded in his experiences as a slave in the south for twelve years. On the other hand, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book is fictional. Her narrative is based on her research on slavery and firsthand information gathered from people who had been enslaved.

The second difference can be explained by the fact that in Stowe’s book, the texts of slavery are explored in a mild milieu as compared to that of Northup who experienced the evils of slavery. In most cases, Stowe portrays scenes where the masters and their slaves were seemingly in positive relationships. For instance, at Shelby’s plantation, slaves are shown to have good correlations with their master. There are no elements of mistreatment or slave abuse owing to the reason that the masters are kind. It is imperative to note that Stowe’s intention is not to show that the masters did not mistreat and abuse their slaves. Her main intention is to demonstrate that even in the best scenarios where slaves are not physically abused or mistreated, owning a slave is still a vice. Therefore, the masters who appear to be intelligent and relatively kind are equally in the wrong; furthermore, they are morally weak and hypocritical. Indeed, even in the hands of the most benevolent master, slaves do suffer. On the other hand, Northup demonstrates slave mistreatment and abuse in a more vigorous and intense manner. Slaves are beaten, abused, and are kept in inhumane conditions. In fact, the difference in slave treatment in the two books brought about the controversy to the public. In essence, huge numbers of liberal abolitionists felt that unlike Northup’s book, Stowe’s was less likely to call for an immediate termination of slavery due to its rather moderate milieu.

Conclusion

The books Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe have both similarities and differences as abolitionist texts. One of the differences is based on the fact that one of the books is fictional, while the other one is factual. The second difference can be explained by the description of their relationships with their masters. While one book shows a mild correlation amid the masters and their slaves, the other book portrays masters as cruel characters. Some of the similarities in the books as abolitionist texts include religion, impromptu turn of events and violence. By and large, these books are recommended for any person with the interest in understanding the issue of slavery in America.

[1] Solomon Northup, and Wilson, David. Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of (New-York. Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855). Print.

 

[2] Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Brett Thomas. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (København: Aschehoug,

1996).

 

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