Twelve Years a Slave and Slave Narratives

Using examples from the book and the the website you used to access the Slave Narratives, please respond to the following questions in your essay. How you respond and where in your essay is, of course, completely up to you..

A distinguishing mark of Twelve Years a Slave is the author’s free status. Most of the slave narratives, like that of Frederick Douglass, for example, were written by an author who had been born into slavery. How does Northup’s free status shape his narrative? Compare Northup’s narrative to at least one other the slave narrative. Are they markedly different in outlook? How and why?

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Describe the position of women within the slave holding world with information from both Twelve Years a Slave and the Narratives. How would you characterize someone like Eliza or Patsy in the Northup book? What are the differences between the experiences of enslaved women and slave holding mistresses like Mrs. Epps? Are women more or less vulnerable than men to the brutality of a slave society, or is it a different kind of vulnerability altogether?

Autobiographies and personal remembrances benefit from being firsthand accounts of an event or era, but there is always the problem about their veracity. Twelve Years a Slave was published less than three years from the time Solomon Northup regained his freedom, and his memories were fresh. Is there a case to be made that some of the events were modified for his audience? Why, if he did do so, might he have been motivated to alter the story?

In the case of the slave narratives, more than seventy years elapsed between Emancipation and the time of the slave narrative interviews, and most informants had experienced slavery only as children or adolescents. Those interviewed were extremely old and most were living in conditions of abject poverty during the Depression years of the 1930s. These factors often combined to make them look upon the past through a bit of a haze. Two major questions surround the use of the slave narratives: first, whether the interviewers were able to elicit candid responses from their informants and; second, whether what the informants said was accurately recorded.

Even knowing these limitations, are the slave narratives useful for understanding life as a slave? Why?
What or who did you find most interesting and/or disturbing in Twelve Years a Slave? Why?

Due: 14 March 2021

Please conform to the requirements established by the style sheet (see Modules). Use Chicago footnotes!

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