//
you are reading...
Reviews

12 Years A Slave

12 years a slaveAfter the Oscar wins for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong’o, it feels a bit redundant to now add to the buzz surrounding 12 Years A Slave but it is such a powerful story that it would be wrong not to review the memoir from which the film was adapted.

I came to the book after seeing the film, intrigued by the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living with his wife and children in New York until his kidnapping into slavery. The first thing that stood out for me in this novel, and indeed the film, is identity.  Upon his kidnapping, Solomon repeatedly states his name and asserts his rights as a free man. But without ‘free papers’ to prove his identity and his free status, Solomon becomes who the slave masters say he is: a slave called Platt. In scenes reminiscent of that infamous scene in Roots, where Kunta Kente is mercilessly whipped until he submits to the name of Toby, Solomon too is beaten until he acknowledges his newly given identity. Despite this, Solomon never forgets who he is, never forgets his name, and ironically this is what rescues him in the end.

Solomon’s determination to not forget his true identity is reflected in the way he deals with life on a plantation. He is hard-working, honest, and well-respected by the other slaves and to an extent his owners, though there are notable exceptions who would rather see him dead than acknowledge him as a fellow human being.  In other slavery narratives, a man like Solomon could be written off as the ‘Uncle Tom’ character, most likely to betray the other slaves around him for his own gain. But not so with Solomon, while he identify himself as a slave’, having not been born in servitude, he recognises that by virtue of being a black man in a slave state, he is considered no different to his fellows.

Solomon’s position as an outsider to the system of slavery also affords him the opportunity to comment upon it objectively. Like a journalist, he reports on all he observes from the painfully unfortunate experiences of Patsey the beautiful girl caught between her master’s lust and his wife’s jealous hatred for her, to life on the plantation, the systemic humiliations, the brutality, cruelty and psychological torture. Through this he makes it implicitly clear that slavery is a system that dehumanises both the slave and the master; the sadness being that even the most kind of slave owners such as Master Ford cannot see the inhuman nature of slavery because they have been raised within the system and cannot see a life without it.

Though a bleak and dismal story, Solomon keeps alive his hope that he might escape or be rescued from slavery, that his real identity will be discovered. This lends a certain tension to the novel as you really hope this would be the case. But then the question is, how do you leave the others behind to continue suffering? The scene both in the book and the film when Solomon leaves the plantation was heartbreaking not only because his nightmare was coming to an end, but for others, like Patsey, theirs was to continue on.

Not much is known about Solomon Northup after his emancipation. We know that he took his kidnappers to court but due to the laws of the time was unable to testify against them. They got off. He later became involved in the abolitionist movement, giving lectures about his experiences and publishing his memoir in 1853. Then, after a few years, knowledge of his whereabouts and his eventual death go unreported and undocumented. His memoir adapted as a made for TV film in 1984, after that knowledge of Solomon’s story was little known perhaps forgotten until the feature film was released last year and his memoir re-printed.

Some people have said that there have been enough slavery narratives, we seen it all and we’ve heard it all and we know all there is to know. I personally think that’s a weak argument, considering there is something like 20 million people in slavery today, a figure that is likely growing. Memoirs, and films like 12 Years A Slave, are hugely important and should never be written off as ‘just another slave story’ because such stories remind us of our past, and give us an opportunity to change our present to better shape our future.

 

 

 

Discussion

3 thoughts on “12 Years A Slave

  1. Reblogged this on Sophie's blog….

    Posted by Sophie | 4 April 2014, 11:32 pm
  2. I didn’t know about the 1984 adaptation. Have you seen it? People who say there are too many slave narratives are (for the reason you mention and many others) just wrong. Ask them why there was such a response to this film.

    Posted by cellenbogen | 5 April 2014, 1:09 am
    • No I haven’t seen it. PBS first aired it, though I don’t know if they have, or plan to show it again in view of its recent popularity. There are clips available on YouTube. It’s called Solomon Northup’s Odyssey.

      Posted by queenpea77 | 5 April 2014, 6:34 am

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

Archives

Instagram

My review of the fantastic joyride through UK Grime history that is Hold Tight by @unseenflirtations is now up on the @thebritishblacklist website! Read and share 😊
#holdtight #reviews #recommended #blackbritishliterature #blackbritishauthors #bookstagram #books #grime #music Always a pleasure and a thrill when a author responds to a review you've written about their books! 😃😃😃
#fangirling #courttianewland #thescholar #bookreview #bookstagram #justreadit So someone (or someones) keeps viewing the review post I uploaded about this novel Lynch's Road by D.D. Armstrong. This is awesome but it was 6 YEARS ago that I wrote the post, so why the sudden interest?? I mean 25 views in one day! I'm not complaining, just curious 👀👀. Anyway if you haven't already, read the book. It's pretty good! #bookreview #bookstagram #blackbritishliterature #blackbritishauthors #random #blogs #justreadit #lynchsroad So I had some thoughts, about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's response to the French journalist Caroline Broué. First that it was an epic clap back! Second her explanation that she attributes the question to a poor attempt by Broué, to be ironic, shows how gracious she can be in the face of blatant ignorance. Third, there is an issue surrounding access to books/bookshops which would have been a better conversation. To read more, visit the blog. Link in bio. Or comment below. 
#chimamandangoziadichie #frenchjournalist #reading #bookshops #libraries #racism #ignorance #clapbacks Celebrating 21 years since the release of The Scholar: A West Side Story by Courttia Newland! 21 YEARS!! Boy, brings back some sweet memories! An all time classic 😊💜
#classics #bookstagram #books #courttianewland #thescholar #blackbritishauthors #blackbritish #anniversary Looking forward to reading these v soon! Has anyone else read them? What did you think?#newbooks #bookstagram #recommended #bornacrime #trevornoah #welcometolagos #chibunduonuzo #dearijeawele #chimamandangoziadichie So went to the bookstore in Berlin and I was super excited because it's the kind of place you can just chill and read to your heart's content. A bit like Borders (remember that London store before it went bust?). There's also a music department and dvds etc. Literally my idea of heaven!! Defo coming back here😀💜💜
#books #berlin #dussmannkulturkaufhaus #bookstore #bookstagram #chillspot Happy New Year everybody!! May 2018 bring you much joy and blessings. And of course some excellent books to read and share! Whatever you're doing tonight be happy and be safe 🙂
#happynewyear #2018 #blessings #joy #bookstagram Just some of the books read in 2017. Even more on the TBR list, 2018 is set. Got recommendations or review requests, hit me up in the comments 😊📚📚
#bookstagram #bookreview #books2017 #tbr #thehateugive #minaret #holdtight #emilyknight #whyimnolongertalkingtowhitepeopleaboutrace #scotlandyardie #homegoing #adancetorember #thehiddentreasureswithin #anuntamedstate
%d bloggers like this: