Solomon Northup Criticism - Essay

Harriet Beecher Stowe (essay date 1853)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Kidnapping,” in A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin; Presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon which the Story is Founded. Together with Corroborative Statements Verifying the Truth of the Work, Kennikat Press, Inc., 1968, pp. 173-74.

[In the following excerpt from the companion book, originally published in 1853, to Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe presents an abridged account of Northup's kidnapping, slavery, and liberation as was reported by the New York Times in order to support her fictionalized account of slavery.]


The principle which declares that one human being may lawfully hold another as property leads...

(The entire section is 1788 words.)

Charles H. Nichols (essay date 1963)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Driver's Lash,” in Many Thousands Gone: The Ex-Slaves' Account of Their Bondage and Freedom, E. J. Brill, 1963, pp. 62-70.

[In the following excerpt, Nichols analyzes several first-hand accounts of the physical systems of control of slaves, particularly that of punishment.]

“No more driver's lash for me,
No more, no more,
No more driver's lash for me,
Many thousand gone.”

Holidays, gifts, opportunities to work for wages, religious training, the hope of freedom all served to make slaves more contented and controllable. But to a considerable extent the master depended on physical controls: the driver's or overseer's whip, the patrols...

(The entire section is 3991 words.)

Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon (essay date 1968)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Introduction to Twelve Years a Slave: By Solomon Northup, Louisiana State University Press, 1968, pp. ix-xxiv.

[In the following essay, Eakin and Logsdon consider the significance of Northup's narrative and provide an overview of the primary and secondary sources which preceded their edition.]

The story of Solomon Northup approaches the incredible. “It is a strange history,” wrote Frederick Douglass when the book was first published in 1853; “its truth is stranger than fiction.” The nineteenth-century title itself evokes disbelief: Twelve Years a Slave, Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and...

(The entire section is 4940 words.)

Robert B. Stepto (essay date 1979)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “I Rose and Found My Voice: Narration, Authentication, and Authorial Control in Four Slave Narratives,” in From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative, University of Illinois Press, 1991, pp. 3-16.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1979, Stepto discusses Northup's work as an example of an integrated slave narrative that places documents authenticating the slave experience into the tale.]

The strident, moral voice of the former slave recounting, exposing, appealing, apostrophizing, and above all remembering his ordeal in bondage is the single most impressive feature of a slave narrative. This voice is striking because of...

(The entire section is 5294 words.)

James Olney (essay date 1984)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘I Was Born’: Slave Narratives, Their Status as Autobiography and as Literature,” in Callaloo, No. 20, Winter, 1984, pp. 46-60.

[In the following excerpt, Olney provides a list of slave-narrative conventions and considers the impact of white amanuenses on the construction of slave narratives. Olney also compares the narratives of Frederick Douglass, Henry Box Brown, and Solomon Northup.]

Anyone who sets about reading a single slave narrative, or even two or three slave narratives, might be forgiven the natural assumption that every such narrative will be, or ought to be, a unique production; for—so would go the unconscious argument—are not slave...

(The entire section is 9366 words.)

Sam Worley (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Solomon Northup and the Sly Philosophy of the Slave Pen,” in Callaloo, Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter, 1997, pp. 243-59.

[In the following essay, Worley argues that Northup's work presents a critical position on slavery, one that favorably compares with the writings of Frederick Douglass. Worley also asserts that Northup's narrative does not depend upon either a rational or providential construction.]

Several rather sweeping assumptions about 19th-century slave narratives have made it difficult to fully understand or appreciate the significance of Solomon Northup's 1853 autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave. One assumption is that slave narratives must, as...

(The entire section is 8899 words.)