"I can speak of slavery only so far as it came under my own observation - only so far as I have known and experienced it in my own person."
Twelve Years A Slave is one of those autobiographical works that make you question how such a strange and harsh reality can exist. The events within the book are a unique telling of one powerful tragedy regarding slavery, told by one man born free and sold into slavery. It is a story that I believe we as readers and human beings need to continue to read and understand, because the greatest weakness and horror of humanity is our ability to belittle and trample upon others.
Solomon Northup was a remarkably educated man and therefore his telling of events is clear and concise in how it provides an accounting of events that reads as remarkably honest and rational. Northup spares no detail, writing according to the era in which he existed, in highlighting the anguish he felt at being drawn into slavery and the ignorance of others regarding his true freedom. It is a book as much about ignorance as it is about anything else: the ignorance of the law regarding the fairness of Northup's illegal kidnapping, the ignorance of others regarding Northup as a free man and the ignorance of a society that kept African American citizens as inferior slaves.
Yet, in saying the above, ignorance does not feel like the right word. To claim something as 'ignorance' is to claim that there was or is a lack of knowledge or information. In some cases in this book, yes, information was absent. Not everyone knew that Northup was truly a free man - though they knew he was a cut above the other slaves they had seen. But many, many people knew to an extent that they ways in which they were treating slaves was wrong.
"...the court decided my evidence inadmissible. It was rejected on the ground that I was a colored man - the fact of my being a free citizen of New-York not being disputed."
Perhaps the harshest idea in this book as it relates to slavery is how Northup explains that he worked hard, laboured for his masters for years and brought prosperity for his masters and yet was treated lower than a dog. His hard efforts brought harder whippings and curses that no one should ever be fit to bear. And all in the name of an idea that some people are fit to be slaves and desire slavery.
"Let them know the heart of a poor slave - learn his secret thoughts - thoughts he dare not utter in the hearing of the white man; let them sit by him in the silent watches of the night - converse with him in trustful confidence, of 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,' and they will find that ninety-nine out of every hundred are intelligent enough to understand their situation, and to cherish in their bosoms the love of freedom, as passionately as themselves."
I do not feel that anything I say can compare to allowing the book to speak for itself. So I encourage you, if you appreciate moral historical lessons to read this work. I believe it to be an important work and not merely another light entertainment by rich, white educated men who sit around at desks all day...
"A human trial has permitted him to escape; but there is another and a higher tribunal where false testimony will not prevail, and where I am willing, so far at least as these statements are concerned, to be judged."