Twelve Years a Slave (2013 film)

Twelve Years a Slave (2013 film) Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why does Clemens advise Solomon not to reveal his level of education while enslaved?

    When Solomon is first sold into slavery, he believes that he can prove his status as a free man by telling people about his education. As he soon learns, however, this is never to his benefit. When his white superiors find out that he is educated, they become threatened and insecure rather than impressed and motivated to help him. On Ford's plantation, the white worker Tibeats develops a deep hatred for Solomon after Solomon outshines him on the job. Then, on the Epps' plantation, Solomon chooses to keep his education a secret in order to remain discreet and unthreatening to his master.

  2. 2

    Why does Solomon destroy his violin towards the end of the film?

    Throughout the film, Solomon's violin has been something of a saving grace, a reminder of his abilities, his talents, his home, and his family. Towards the end of the film, he experiences a crisis of faith, and for a moment believes he will never leave Epps' plantation. In this moment, he destroys the violin, a gesture that symbolizes his dashed hopes.

  3. 3

    What is especially horrible about the scene in which Epps whips Patsey?

    The scene when Epps whips Patsey is horrific and unjust for many reasons. Firstly, it is a wrongful act of violence, in that Patsey has simply gone to the Shaw plantation to pick up some soap to clean herself, while Epps jealously maintains that she is having an affair with Shaw. Furthermore, Epps has Solomon do the whipping for him at first, an act that Solomon resists, but to which he cannot say no, especially when Epps is pointing a gun at his head. In this moment, we see the extent to which Epps not only commits acts of violence, but creates an ethic of violence on the plantation, projecting his own violent demons onto his slaves, and forcing them to do his dirty work.

  4. 4

    How does Solomon end up returning to Saratoga at the end?

    After hearing a white hired hand, Bass, discuss his critique of slavery to Epps, Solomon suspects that he may have an ally in the Northerner. One day, while they are working, Bass tells Solomon he is from Canada, and Solomon tells him he has traveled to Canada several times as a free man. After hearing Solomon's story, Bass agrees to send a letter from Solomon to his friends in Saratoga. They promptly arrive at Epps' plantation and return Solomon to freedom in the North.

  5. 5

    Why does Patsey want Solomon to kill her?

    While all of the slaves' lives on Epps' plantation are miserable, Patsey suffers more than anyone. Because she is so beautiful and such a productive worker, she has attracted the unwanted attention of Epps, who regularly comes to her bed in the night and rapes her. This "affair" has only angered Mistress Epps, who takes all of her resentment of her husband out on Patsey. Both Epps and his wife abuse Patsey horribly, to the extent that she asks Solomon to kill her to put her out of her misery. In her mind, God is showing her no mercy on Earth, so she must die in order to experience the mercy and love she deserves.