Dehumanization in Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup

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Solomon Northup was born free, in Minerva, New York in 1808. Northup became known in his community as an exceptional fiddle player. When two men approached Northup and offered him good wages to go to Washington DC, to play in a travelling music show, he quickly accepted. Solomon Northup was drugged, kidnapped, captured, and sold into slavery. He served for many masters; some were violent and cruel while others treated him humanely. Solomon Northup experienced shear torture, cruelty, and the loss of his dignity, throughout his many years as a slave. After many years, he came in contact with an abolitionist, who sent letters to Northup’s family to notify them of his life and status. He was soon rescued from Louisiana and freed as a slave. …show more content…

In the above quote, the reader sees what Northup describes the act as “ precisely as a jockey examines a horse”. The slaves recognized this, and were aware that they were being dehumanized. This is part of the “breaking down” process that they went through. In every stage of the slave’s slavery experience, they were “broken down” more and more to a point where they did not even see themselves as human. To be sold in an auction like one is an object takes away all human dignity the slaves possessed before.

The act of violence also contributes to the dehumanization and the “breaking down” of the slaves. Slaves were beaten, and whipped daily, subjected to cruel torture. Northup describes these acts of violence in his narrative very vividly.
“ As soon as these formidable whips appeared, I was seized by both of them, and roughly divested of my clothing. My feet as has been states, were fastened to the floor. With the paddle, Burch commenced beating me. Blow after blow was inflicted on my
Naked body…”
The naked body seems to be used as a symbol of indignity in the narrative. When Solomon Northup’s clothes are “roughly divested” from his body, it seems that he is loosing his humanity and he becomes submissive to the master. Northup explains, “ A man with a particle of soul would not have beaten even a dog so cruelly”. This reveals that not only were the slaves treated like animals but they were seen as even lower than a dog. Northup sees the

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