Themes In 12 Years A Slave

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Slavery is defined as “the ownership of some people by others” (Henslin et al, p 112). The movie 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, begins with Solomon Northup as a free African-American man in 1841, in Saratoga, New York. He works as a musician to make money to support his two kids and wife. One day, he was given the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC, to play his violin for work. While he was there, he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into the slave trade by the two men, Brown and Hamilton, whom had hired him. The movie focuses on the life that Solomon now lives, as a slave under the name of Platt. Solomon spends 12 years as a slave, first working on a plantation, harvesting wood under the command of Tibeats, and owned by Master…show more content…
Prejudice is an “attitude”, or a “prejudgment, usually in a negative sense” (Henslin et al, p 175). This was exemplified by Edwin Epps, a slave owner in the movie 12 Years a Slave, when he was asked by Samuel Bass, a white man, what the difference was between white men and African-Americans, “in the eyes of god” (2014); Epps replied, “you might as well ask the difference between a white man and a baboon” (12 Years a Slave, 2014). By comparing African-American men to an animal, Epps insinuated that African-Americans were subordinates to whites, and therefore had the same mental capacity as a baboon. When these negative prejudgments become “actions” of “unfair treatment” (Henslin et al, p 175), it is said to be discrimination, and when the actions are based on differences in race, it is called racism (Henslin et al, p 175). Racism and discrimination were demonstrated many times in the movie 12 Years a Slave. To illustrate, after each day of working in the cotton fields, each slave had their cotton weighed, and that number, in pounds, was recorded. The average worker was to have picked at least two hundred pounds. When Armsby, a white man who was working in the cotton fields for pay, produced only sixty-four pounds, Epps told him he needed to try harder. However, when Solomon picked one hundred and sixty pounds, Epps instructed to have him whipped (12 Years a Slave, 2014). This unjust and unequal…show more content…
First, the majority of slave owners used physical abuse in order to maintain control over their slaves. For example, when Solomon was first sold into the slave trade, a slave trafficker attempted to beat him with a paddle into admitting he was a slave from Georgia instead of a free man from New York (12 Years a Slave, 2014). If Solomon was allowed to use his own name and identity, someone could recognize who he was and the slave owners would lose the ability to make a profit from him. Therefore, they needed control Solomon in order for him to admit that he was a slave, and they achieved this through physical violence. Furthermore, when Solomon arrived at the Ford plantation, Mistress Ford told Solomon, “Master brought you here to work, any more will earn you a hundred lashes” (12 Years a Slave, 2014). Mistress Ford wanted to impress upon Solomon that he was a slave and nothing more, and the threat of physical violence acted as a reinforcer to legitimize her statement. Second, women slaves had a dual role in the world of slavery. They were to work all day, and often times raped at night by their owners. To illustrate, Mistress Shaw, an African-American woman who was the object of affection of her Master, told Patsy, the girl that Edwin Epps sexually abused, “I know what it’s like to be the object of Master’s predilections and peculiarities. A lusty visit in the night, or a
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