Twelve Years a Slave (2013 film)

Twelve Years a Slave (2013 film) Summary and Analysis of Part 4


Solomon picks up some items at the store for Mrs. Epps, glancing down at a roll of paper that the clerk gives him. In the middle of the forest, he separates the paper from the other items and keeps some for himself. The scene shifts to Solomon playing the fiddle while slaves dance for the Epps' amusement.

Mrs. Epps interrupts the dancing to bring some baked goods in for the slaves. As the servants pass them out, Mrs. Epps tells Patsey she cannot have any, then blames Patsey for giving her an insolent look. She urges Mr. Epps not to be too lenient with the slaves, or they will rise up and kill them. "If you won't stand for me," she says, "I pray you'd at least be a credit to your own kind and beat every foul thought from them." Suddenly, she slashes Patsey's face with a razor, and Mr. Epps takes Patsey outside.

That night, Patsey asks Solomon to strangle her and drown her in a nearby swamp. He protests, but she insists that she cannot find any mercy. "God is merciful, and He forgive merciful acts. Won't be no hell for you," says Patsey, and Solomon lies down, refusing.

Time passes and we see cotton worms desecrating the crops, which Epps is sure is a plague sent to punish him. It does not take him long to blame the problem on his slaves, thinking that his slaves have brought him "God's scorn."

Epps lends a group of his slaves to a judge who can pay their mortgages. When Solomon arrives at the judge's plantation, the viewer finds themselves back at the time period we saw at the beginning of the film, with Solomon chopping sugar cane. The judge notes that Solomon is a good worker and can play the fiddle, and tells him to play a musical gig at a neighbor's party. He adds that Solomon can keep whatever he earns playing at the party, and says, "Mind yourself, Platt."

Solomon etches the names of his wife and two children into the side of his violin before the party. At the party, the guests wear masks and dance while a group of slaves plays upbeat string music.

Later, we see Solomon and the other slaves returning to Epps' plantation. The crops are back, and Epps believes that prayer and clean living has brought God's bounty back to him. Epps has heard about the fact that the judge gave Solomon a job and promises that Solomon will not "stand idle" on his plantation.

We see the slaves singing in the fields while they pick cotton, and there are now white indentured servants as well. After the day's work is done, Epps pulls Solomon out for a beating, but does not punish a white worker, who picked less than Solomon. Later, the white servant, Armsby, tends to Solomon's wounds, and proves to be a sympathetic listener.

Armsby tells Solomon that he lost his job after getting too dependent on whiskey, which is how he ended up on the plantation. Later that evening, Solomon goes and gets the money he earned fiddling and brings it to Armsby, asking him to send a letter for him and keep the secret between them. Armsby agrees, but asks for some compensation, since he will be putting his life at risk. They agree to meet again in two days to hand off the letter.

Later, we see Solomon cooking ink over a fire and then writing with a pen he whittled. In the middle of the night, Epps visits him and reveals that Armsby revealed everything to him. In order to save himself, Solomon tells Epps that Armsby is lying to win favor with him to get a job as an overseer. Solomon insists that he has no one to write to, and manages to convince Epps. Solomon burns his letter.

In the field, an older slave dies, and Solomon and some other men are tasked with burying him. The slaves have a funeral for him, and sing a spiritual in his memory, "Roll Jordan, Roll."


Mrs. Epps proves to be just as evil and heartless as Mr. Epps, as demonstrated one night when she slashes Patsey in the face. Before doing so, she accuses Mr. Epps of not being harsh enough with them, suggesting that if he is not mean enough to the slaves, they will rise up and kill them. Throughout this atrocious monologue, Mrs. Epps compares the slaves to animals and savages who will surely hurt them. This moment shows the viewer how white society, and particularly the institution of marriage, functions to perpetuate slavery; we see a white mistress encouraging her husband to protect her from the people they have enslaved, emasculating him in front of them, partially motivated by her own sexual jealousy.

Patsey is so unhappy that she begs Solomon to kill her as an act of mercy. He insists that she is simply in the pits of despair, but she assures him that she wants to be killed gracefully so that she can be relieved from the horrors of living. In her mind, killing her would be a merciful act in that it would relieve her from the nightmare of existence, but Solomon can only see it as a sinful act. In this exchange, we see the characters pushed to the limits, forced to consider the fact that death might be better than the hell on earth they are experiencing under slavery.

In this section of the film, Solomon finds himself in a similar position as he once was in his life as a freeman, but he is a completely changed man. After being relocated to the judge's plantation, the judge recommends Solomon for playing violin at a party, and even allows him to keep his wages. Solomon finds himself at a predominately white party, playing his instrument for money—much like he used to do in Saratoga. Now, however, his face has fallen and the tragedy and trauma of slavery have spread across his face. He plays the violin just as well as before, only now, he bears the weight of his experience in chains.

The abuse and violence towards the slaves on Epps' plantation is at once explicit and insidious, sometimes manifesting in horrifying brutality, sometimes in subtler ways. Immediately after telling her husband that he must employ more force against their slaves, for instance, Mistress Epps encourages the slaves to eat the food she has had made for them. Later, after we see Patsey, with blood in her eyes from the brutal beatings of Epps, Epps picks up a little slave girl and brings her into the house for some candy. The juxtaposition of generosity and violence is perhaps the most disturbing element of the narrative, an exploration of the horrifying complications of slavery, the way abuse bubbles up unexpectedly.

Throughout the film, Solomon finds himself almost achieving some level of liberation, then seeing it quickly dashed soon enough. Not long after getting a job at the judge's plantation, he is sent back to the cruel Epps. Then, when he seems to have found an ally in the white servant Armsby, who offers to mail a letter for him, Armsby immediately reports his actions to Epps. Solomon must burn the letter he wanted to send and resign himself to further hardship on the plantation.