It is astonishing to this reader that Solomon Northrop’s narrative TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE lay silent in literary archives for over 100 years. Each compelling paragraph cries out to be voiced and has not lost one syllable over the decades, as indicted in the book’s dedication to Harriet Beecher Stowe whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin is throughout the world, identified with the reform of slavery.
I have seen the Oscar-winning motion picture but if you have not I urge you to read the book first. No film could begin to capture the depth and emotion evoked in the 336 pages of this personal narrative. By reading the book, the movie will become enormously more meaningful because it fills in all of the subtleties that could not possibly be accomplished by directors and editors.
“The institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel,unjust and barbarous one. Men may write fictions portraying lowly life but let them toil with him in the field, sleep with him in the cabin, feed with him on husks; let them behold him scourged, hunted, trampled on, and they will come back with another story in their mouths. ” Northrup’s narrative describes how the ” institution ” passed from father to son. ” Mounted on his pony the 12-year-old child rides into the field with his whip playing the overseer , greatly to the father’s delight. Without discrimination he applies the rawhide, urging the slaves forward with shouts, while the old man laughs and commends him as a thorough-going boy.’
Solomon Northrup , in his own words: ” This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed in anything, it has been in presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture.Those who read this book may form their own opinions of this peculiar institution.”
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE, the book and the movie combine to make a powerful testament to one of the darkest periods in American history.