12 Years a Slave
The concepts of freedom and democracy in America have developed significantly since the colonial periods. The foundation of these concepts lay in the enlightenment period when the colonists sought independence from the Crown. However, soon after the enlightenment period and independence only white people benefited in terms of freedom and independence. African American citizens continued to live with limited freedom and did not enjoy the benefits of democracy such as voting. Although America was independent, the thought of freedom and majority rule did not mean much to African Americans who were subjected to serve their white masters in cotton farms and other plantations.
Frederick Douglass presents a detailed narrative, which highlights the experiences he had during his earlier life as a slave prior to his escape. The narrative presents a tough situation for the writer at birth where his father and mother come from different worlds. Having a slave master for a father and a slave for a mother proves to be a challenging combination. At the period, white Americans enjoyed freedom and could own property. While at the same period, Americans of African origin could not own property to a similar extent. To the slaves liberty was a mere wish because their liberty lay on the care of their slave masters. Although, from the enlightenment period, individuals began worshiping God differently and practicing Christianity in a new way, the slave masters did this hypocritically. The slave women went through demeaning experiences such as rape from their slave masters. The masters defended their actions through religious teachings.
Democracy today protects the rights of all individuals. During the period Douglass lived, the concepts of majority rule only protected the white Americans and left out the Black Americans. Douglass and other slaves had to survive under meager rations of food and other commodities. In addition, the slaves witnessed brutal beatings and murder committed by their masters to other slaves. The punitive actions taken by their owners did not incorporate fair trials and hearing. The slaves did not have consented over the decisions made by their owners. The concept of democracy ensures that every individual should receive a fair hearing before punishing him or her. Slaves did not enjoy their basic rights to receive a fair trial. Free men have a choice in picking their employers and the terms of the engagement. As for Douglass, at birth he had to work for his mother`s slave owner. After his master’s death, the widow lent Douglass to another slave owner who constantly tortures him until he fights back.
Enjoying the primary human rights for the slaves depended on the nature and generously of their masters. For some time, Douglass lives a better life than earlier due to his master’s kindness. Slaves make it their ultimate goal to escape from the masters and experience unconditioned life. Douglas constantly tries to escape but always fails to succeed.
Although numerous films about slavery exist in America, 12 years a Slave presents the reality of the events that occurred for an entire century. The film delivers the experiences of Solomon Northup, who was snatched in the streets and sold to a slave master. The mere act of how his master came to own him shows that freedom and democracy existed as a wish for many black Americans. Northup transforms from a lifer where he knew liberty to that of slavery. Prior to his capturing, he coexisted among white Americans in New York and run his business peacefully. However, his seizure by the slave traders exhibits that the black Americans did not have a guarantee for their freedom and basic rights.
The law failed to protect black Americans while it protected white Americans. Abduction and such an act committed to Northup made up the different techniques that the slave traders searched for slaves. Although democracy strongly holds that individuals should enjoy movement in different places, black people had restrictions in terms of movements. Masters performed different actions with their slaves because they deemed them as property.
For example, an owner would use a slave to pay his debt to another white man. In other situations, the masters would transfer ownership of their slaves to a family member and other masters.
Women slaves in the film also go through challenging situations and lower their dignity to love their masters as they seek better treatment. Patsey in this case a cotton collector engages in an affair with the master in order to receive favors and sympathetic treatment as compared to the other slaves.
Although Americans began to enjoy and benefit from the concepts of liberty, democracy, and freedom, black Americans did not enjoy the same. In addition, white Americans had additional privileges and could own individuals who had to work for them as masters. African Americans had to escape from the masters in order to delight in the benefits of living an unbound life. Even after working for low wages, the slaves received degrading treatment from their owners, which included brutal punishment and murder.
12 years a slave. DVD. Directed by Steve McQueen. New York: 20th Century Fox, 2013.
Douglass, Frederick, and Deborah E. McDowell. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.