Slavery in American: “Twelve Years a Slave” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Synopsis of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave

Drugged, beaten, and uprooted from anything and anyone he had ever known, Solomon Northup was illegitimately abducted from New York and taken to the south in the year 1841. He found himself in a slave pen where he was transformed from a free African-American into a slave in the south, a metamorphosis that would describe him for the next 12 years.[1] In fact, being bound with chains and stripped of any document that would identify him, he was transported to Virginia. His declarations and protests of freedom and liberty were responded to with violent beatings. He had no option but to exercise submission and compliance, a factor that saw him shipped onward through the ocean. Eventually, he was sold as a slave in Louisiana, a geographical environment that saw his darkest servitude for 12 years.

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Synopsis of Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The fictional story Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe starts on the Shelby farm based in Kentucky when two individuals are sold as slaves to clear an old debt. The story focuses on a man by the name of Tom, who lives in slavery with his three children, and a woman by the name of Eliza, who is Harry’s mother. Having not contemplated the danger he poses to his son Harry, Eliza’s husband, has already run away with the intention of later purchasing his family’s freedom. To protect her son Harry, Eliza also runs away, and the family eventually reunites and heads to Canada. On the other hand, Tom opts to remain in slavery to protect his family and ensure they stay together. The story ends when Tom and his family run away from slavery. Although Eliza’s family reaches their destination safely, Tom’s escape comes with death.[2]

Similarities in Northup and Stowe’s Critiques of Slavery


In these two books on slavery, various concepts relate to each other. One of the most outstanding aspects of their abolitionist texts is the religious feature of the main characters. In fact, the topic of religion is of great significance in both books. Stowe attempted to bring to light to the members of the public that the system of slavery and Christianity doctrines and values were incompatible. In fact, she demonstrates how the two concepts opposed each other. In the entire book, Stowe attempts to show that the more an individual practiced Christianity, the more he or she argued against the systems of slavery. An excellent example is the morally perfect white woman by the name of Eva, who fails to realize why any person would note a difference between Whites and African-Americans. In addition, Uncle Tom has a character that shows that he is a stout believer in Christianity. He reads the Bible frequently and leads the other slaves in prayers during the meetings. Although blacks were seen as lesser beings who were not supposed to lead in any Christianity meetings, Tom conducted prayers to make other people learn about God and live according to his teachings. In fact, even in death, Tom refused to denounce his faith in God. Similar to the character of Tom, Northup was also a follower of Christianity. Although he did not teach people around him to follow his religion, he passed his morals and Christianity values through his behavior.


The other similarity between the two books is the concept of violence. In this case, both books demonstrate similar aggression and violence that the children of Israel received during their time in Egypt. In addition, Solomon and Tom go through severe beatings, the worst beating they have ever known since their childhood phase. Due to his Christianity belief, Tom was a good slave, and he rarely got ill-treatment, such as beatings from his masters. However, with time, he was sold to another unkind master. One day he was commanded to beat other slaves, but upon refusal, his master beat him badly such that the bruises he got on that day would later cause his death. Solomon also got similar treatment from both his abductors and his masters. His firsthand experience of how slaves were beaten was on the cotton farm when he got blows from Edwin Epps.

Unplanned Turn of Life Events

Unanticipated change in life is a thing that is inevitable, as people will always experience unplanned experiences in life. Both Northup and Tom went through various life events and occurrences that were unexpected and were all based on similar reasons. Primarily, Northup was tricked into servitude for one reason: he needed money to support his family, and since he had a talent for playing the circuit, his abductors used it to entice him to go to the south. Similarly, Tom and his family were sold to Shelby to clear a debt. Therefore, it means that money was the reason that these two men found themselves in slavery. Another similar unexpected turn of events in life was being sold to cruel masters who not only beat them but also mistreated them. Unlike his previous master who was kind and caring, Solomon was sold to a cruel master who owned a cotton field. Similarly, Tom was also sold from a previous master who was kind to a heartless one who beat him to the extent that the wounds he got from the beatings resulted in his death.

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Differences in Northup and Stowe’s Narratives as Abolitionists Texts

Despite the fact that the two books have a similar goal, which is to abolish slavery in the United States, they have some differences that can be explained through the analysis of various elements. The first difference is based on the concept that one book is fictional while the other one is non-fictional. On the one hand, in the book Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup bases the narrative on a true story that is grounded in his experiences as a slave in the south for twelve years. On the other hand, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book is fictional. Her narrative is based on her research on slavery and firsthand information gathered from people who had been enslaved.

The second difference can be explained by the fact that in Stowe’s book, the texts of slavery are explored in a mild milieu as compared to that of Northup who experienced the evils of slavery. In most cases, Stowe portrays scenes where the masters and their slaves were seemingly in positive relationships. For instance, at Shelby’s plantation, slaves are shown to have good correlations with their masters. There are no elements of mistreatment or slave abuse owing to the reason that masters are kind. It is imperative to note that Stowe’s intention is not to show that the masters did not mistreat and abuse their slaves. Her main intention is to demonstrate that even in the best scenarios where slaves are not physically abused or mistreated, owning a slave is still a vice. Therefore, the masters who appear to be intelligent and relatively kind are equally in the wrong; furthermore, they are morally weak and hypocritical. Indeed, even in the hands of the most benevolent master, slaves do suffer. On the other hand, Northup demonstrates slave mistreatment and abuse in a more vigorous and intense manner. Slaves are beaten, abused, and kept in inhumane conditions. In fact, the difference in slave treatment in the two books brought about the controversy among the public. In essence, huge numbers of liberal abolitionists felt that, unlike Northup’s book, Stowe’s was less likely to call for an immediate termination of slavery due to its rather moderate milieu.       


The books Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe have similarities and differences as abolitionist texts. One of the differences is based on the fact that one of the books is fictional, while the other one is factual. The second difference can be explained by describing their relationships with their masters. While one book shows a mild correlation between the masters and their slaves, the other portrays masters as cruel characters. Some of the similarities in the books as abolitionist texts include religion, impromptu turn of events, and violence. By and large, these books are recommended for any person with an interest in understanding the issue of slavery in America. 



Northup, Solomon and David Wilson. Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York. Miller, Orton & Mulligan. 1855. Print.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, and Brett Thomas. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. København: Aschehoug. 1996.






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