Home > Free Essays > Literature > Historical Literature > Lessons to Learn: “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup

Lessons to Learn: “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup Research Paper

Exclusively available on IvyPanda Available only on IvyPanda
Updated: Mar 15th, 2022


Writing about books is one of the most interesting and difficult tasks for many people. On the one hand, it is easy to read a story and share a personal opinion. On the other hand, it is important to understand that a number of people are aware of the plot and the worth of the story, and it is a real challenge to prove the chosen position and understanding of the author’s message. Twelve Years a Slave is a bestseller in the world of the American literature. It is a story not about slavery and its impact on different people but about a human life and the values that are not always treated the way they should be. Twelve Years a Slave is an autobiographical story of Solomon Northup that helps to see how unpredictable and mysterious a human life could be because not all people are able to define and understand how crucial such issues as freedom, choice, and an opportunity have to be for an ordinary person.

Facts that Help to Learn the Story of Solomon Northup

The analysis of Twelve Years a Slave can have a number of sides. It is possible to discuss how crucial the impact of Northup’s narration to the American history and the development of the relations between people of different colors of skin. It is also interesting to investigate the story as a neo-slave narrative because it helps to comprehend how to escape from the bondages established by people (Li 1). The analysis of the Great Migration that followed about 60 years after the story introduced by Northup could also become a significant contribution to the history of the American society and the American literature (Thaggert 332). The story was written before the American Civil War when the black people decided to protect their freedoms and define their rights in the American society (Fradin and Fradin 5). Of course, Twelve Years a Slave was not the reason for that war. Still, it could help to understand why slaves could not stand that long and accept the rules dictated by people, whose skin was white but whose souls could hardly be defined as white.

In his story, Solomon Northup did not call for action or criticized the people and their decisions. He tried to describe the conditions under which ordinary people lived and the rules according to which people develop their attitudes and prejudices. The main point that Northup wanted to underline was that “life is dear to every living thing; the worm that crawls upon the ground will struggle for it” (134). The story shows that people could have different destinies and opportunities. Still, all of them are related to one simple thing, a life that cannot be changed or chosen again. A human life is a gift that is offered to every person, and this gift cannot be taken by another person without any reason and explanation.

Northup’s Discussion of Slavery and Freedom

Twelve Years a Slave is the story told by Northup about the period of his life when he was kidnapped and bought as a slave in the Deep South. He had to live with no rights and follow the orders given by his masters. He observed the lives of a number of black slaves who did not even know about the possibility to become free. Northup understood that he had to do something in order to come back to his wife and children. Still, he was bound hand and foot to make some decisions during the next twelve years till a friend of his helped him to return home.

One of the main ideas developed by Northup in his Twelve Years a Slave is the idea that all people are free in their minds and souls. For a certain period of time, Northup was confident that his right to breathe “the free air of the North” and his opportunity to possess “the same feelings and affections that find a place in the white man’s breast” could be explained and justified (26). Twelve years as a slave opened his eyes to the fact that his ignorance, independence, and confidence had nothing in common with the facts people faced day by day. The justice of the law, the religion of slavery, and numerous strikes for freedom could not be neglected or misunderstood (Northup 26). Not all people had the same freedoms and opportunities. Sometimes, people did not have any choices and the possibility to follow their own demands and ideas. The idea of freedom that was frequently underlined by Northup before the day he was kidnapped was crossed out by the idea of slavery millions of people lived with. In one moment, Northup’s intentions to earn money, provide his family with appropriate living conditions, and develop his musical skills changed. When he became a slave, he had not to think about his life. What he had to be was to survive. He did it because of his burning will to survive and not to “let the system overwhelm him” (Fiske, Brown and Seligman 82).

Lessons Offered by Northup about the Worth of a Human Life

Though many authors believe that Twelve Years a Slave is the story that helps to understand the reasons for the Civil War and evils of slavery (Kellner 5), it is also important to accept this story as a chance to investigate personal sins and mistakes. People could blame each other for the conditions under which they had to live in the middle of the 1800s. Still, Northup showed that the lives of people with the same colors of skin could be different in case the decisions were made, the steps were taken, and the conclusions were developed. A human life is a singular noun for every person. It is wrong and unfair to take other people’s lives and try to control them. Northup taught the reader to respect a human life and promote the idea of freedom so that freedom was not gained at the expense of another’s life. A person should be free in body and soul and appreciate a chance to live. Money, respect, and even dignity could be gained and lost in one moment. If a person does not understand what it means to be free and how to appreciate a chance of living, other values and treasures lose their essence and importance.


In general, Twelve Years a Slave is the story with a number of lessons. Each person can interpret the messages of Solomon Northup in different ways. Twelve Years a Slave is the story not only about freedom that should inspire people to live and understand the worth of a single moment but also about the moments that underline the worth of choices and opportunities for people whose souls should not have colors.

Works Cited

Fradin, Judith Bloom and Dennis Brindell Fradin. Stolen into Slavery: The True Story of Solomon Northup, Free Black Man. Washington, District of Columbia: National Geographic Books, 2012. Print.

Friske, David, Clifford W. Brown and Rachel Seligman. Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years A Slave. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2013. Print.

Kellner, Douglas. “The Horrors of Slavery and Crisis of Humanity in Amistad and 12 Years a Slave.” Inicio 8 (2014): 5-38. Print.

Li, Stephanie. “12 Years a Slave as a Neo-Slave Narrative.” American Literary History 28.3 (2014): 1-6. Print.

Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave. New York: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854. Print.

Thaggert, Miriam. “12 Years a Slave: Jasper’s Look.” American Literary History 28.3 (2014): 332-338. Print.

This research paper on Lessons to Learn: “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Research Paper sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

801 certified writers online

Cite This paper
Select a referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2022, March 15). Lessons to Learn: "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup. https://ivypanda.com/essays/twelve-years-a-slave-by-solomon-northup/


IvyPanda. (2022, March 15). Lessons to Learn: "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/twelve-years-a-slave-by-solomon-northup/

Work Cited

"Lessons to Learn: "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup." IvyPanda, 15 Mar. 2022, ivypanda.com/essays/twelve-years-a-slave-by-solomon-northup/.

1. IvyPanda. "Lessons to Learn: "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup." March 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/twelve-years-a-slave-by-solomon-northup/.


IvyPanda. "Lessons to Learn: "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup." March 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/twelve-years-a-slave-by-solomon-northup/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "Lessons to Learn: "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup." March 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/twelve-years-a-slave-by-solomon-northup/.


IvyPanda. (2022) 'Lessons to Learn: "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup'. 15 March.

Powered by CiteTotal, best essay bibliography generator
More related papers