Rhetorical Analysis Essay on '12 Years a Slave'

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Maya Angelo once said “You can’t really know where you are going unit you know where you have been” That quote is powerful because it shows the connection between the past, present, and future. Every person that walks this earth is a reflection of their past. However, sometimes there’s a contradiction when someone’s past is not always important to the next person as it may be to them. In the story “12 Years A Slave” by Solomon Northup one can see that one’s past and identity are not always the same. Solomon was born a free black man in Minerva, New York, he was a farmer, and violinist and had a loving family, yet his identity was not one of a free man in his society whether just a black man. Because of racial profiling, Solomon was stripped away from everything he knew, and his past no longer matters his identity was changed into a slave one who was answered by the name “Platt”. Solomon's autobiography is powerful because of the impact that it holds one it shows the connection between the past and the present of African Americans, two it contributes to the body of African American literature, and lastly, the feature of orality found throughout the book made Solomon's message more effective.

African American literature is defined as the body of literature produced in the United States by writers of African descent. There are many ways in which “12 Years A Salve” contributed to African American literature for starters it is the autobiography of an African American man. The relevance of Solomon's story is the lasting impact that he had. His story interested people to want to learn more about African American literature and want to hear more stories of what people like Northup had experienced while living as a slave. Northup's story is not just telling his life it is also telling African American history through the writing of his story and sharing his own experience to have a bigger impact on the readers. Northup choosing to share his story with the world and make it a book is contributing to African American literature all by itself. Even to this day, his story lives on through his book and a movie for generations to come so all people with a desire to learn will know his story.

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One of the main reasons that Northup's story was so successful was that it was because of how relatable it was and its ability to link the past and present. Slavery did not end with emancipation there are still people outside of the United States who are slaves. There are even slaves in the United States such as sex slaves who have lost their freedom just like Solomon did. African American today walk around looking over their shoulders and hoping that they won’t lose their lives to police brutality and justice and that they, not their families would ever get justice which is not too far from what happened to Solomon who lost the life he once had through injustice and discrimination and was forced to be a slave. This goes to show that yes years have passed but that conflict that some have faced in the past is one that people in this generation still have to deal with.

Orality in literature is commonly defined as an oral tradition. In the book, one can see many traditions such as blacks being slaves and whites kidnapping blacks and forcing them to work for them. The diction throughout the book also shows orality for example 'Master Bass, I want to ask you what part of the country you came from?' (Northup 270) Northup addressing Bass as “master” was a tradition back in their time and shows how Northup was beneath Bass. Also, it was normalized for whites to be superior to blacks and mistreatment was not frowned upon in their generation. In fact, through literary devices, Northup was able to show just how cruel they could be for example “Still he plied the lash without stint upon my poor body until it seemed that the lacerated flesh was stripped from my bones at every stroke. A man with a particle of mercy in his soul would not have beaten even a dog so cruelly” (Northup 45) Using imagery and metaphor in this quote Solomon compared himself to a dog. He used descriptive words that created imagery of just how painful he would get beaten and compared himself to an animal by saying not even a dog would be treated so cruelly. Despite the harsh treatment he is subjected to, Solomon does not criticize excessively his masters, no matter how cruel they are to him and the other slaves. Instead, he argues that society made the slave owners cruel and that it is society’s fault that they behaved in such a way. This is an example of a paradox because of how Solomon suffered at the hands of slave owners

What is interesting about the book is its use of pathos and how it can appeal to the readers' emotions in various ways. It was quite amazing how when something good happened to Northup something bad happens also, his hope is constantly being lifted and breaking into pieces. What was most disturbing is when Solomon said, 'If justice had been done, I never would have been here.' (Northup270) to Bass as he asks for help in contacting someone that could provide the document to provide that he is indeed a free man. That is the most heartbreaking line in the story to think that all of what Solomon had encountered could’ve been avoided and his children didn’t have to go twelve years without a father if people had listened when he first said that he was a free man and investigated to see that he was telling the truth is truly heartbreaking. The main theme of this book is the journey of Solomon Northup. In the end, justice was served and Solomon receive his freedom and was reunited with his family, which is not always the case with others, but this book represents how far African Americans have come. Freedom is no longer something that African Americans have to fight for anymore, and although African Americans have come a long way there is still a long way to go when it comes to getting the proper justice and social equality.

This story has a lasting impact because many people can read and understand how Solomon feels to be free yet not have freedom. And it's stories like his that make learning about African American literature so important. The readers can learn from Solomon and his desire for freedom and never giving up on it. His determination is wanted so powerful because everyone faces some form of adversity in their life and Solomon sharing his story to the world is him showing his readers that if they want something out of life no matter how much hope they have lost they should never give up on that desire.

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Rhetorical Analysis Essay on ’12 Years a Slave’. (2023, October 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/rhetorical-analysis-essay-on-12-years-a-slave/
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