Twelve Years a Slave

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Twelve Years a Slave, sub-title: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana, is a memoir by Solomon Northup as told to and edited by David Wilson. It is a slave narrative of a black man who was born free in New York state but kidnapped in Washington, D.C., sold into slavery, and kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana. He provided details of slave markets in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, as well as describing at length cotton and sugar cultivation on major plantations in Louisiana. (From feedbooks.com)
Curriculet Details
54 Questions
31 Annotations
3 Quizzes

In this 9th and 10th grade digital curriculum, students explore annotations and questions aligned with the Common Core’s standards in language analysis. Many of the annotations also help students develop a historical framework for understanding the political, economic, religious, social, intellectual, and artistic context of slavery in the antebellum American South. The videos augment the language study aspect of the curriculum by going in depth about rhetorical topics like the three appeals and sentence variety. As students work through the text, they will also be asked to consider themes like the meaning of humanity, the cruelty that men do, and the ways appearance can defy reality. Our free online unit will increase student engagement with rich media annotations while boosting the individual student’s understanding of the rhetorical frameworks that underpin Northup’s masterful use of language to communicate the inhumanity of a bygone institution.

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Chapter 1

As you read the opening, consider the audience for such a work. Solomon Northup may be an African-American man, but he is writing about slavery to inform and persuade a white audience. This color difference means that Northup must write in a way his white audience would accept. 
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Why does Solomon Northup provide so much information about his family in the opening of this text? 
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Name the literary device used by Solomon Northup in the highlighted passage to look ahead to future events. 
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Solomon Northup is struggling with some very real, very challenging issues of race and slavery in this paragraph. What is his belief about slavery and how does he acknowledge his own bias in the formation of this belief? Be sure to cite the text to support your own assertions about Northup's belief. 

Chapter 2

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Why does Solomon Northup make reference to documentary evidence and what is he trying to suggest? 
This allusion refers to former President William Henry Harrison. Strangely, despite his brief tenure as President, his grandson would be elected to the same office a few decades later. Check out the information below, as well as the website from which it comes, to learn more about this President. Remember, Solomon Northup is living in a world shaped by this man's administration's policies. (This annotation contains a link)

Chapter 3

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Northup uses contrast in this situation to point out something that doesn't quite fit. What is the name of this literary term that deals with various types of incongruity? 
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What does this statement reveal about Northup's treatment in the slave prison? 
These slave penitentiaries were the worst kind of places imaginable. Check out the primary source below: (This annotation contains a link)
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Why does Northup include this vignette about Randall and his mother (that is, what purpose does it serve)? 

Chapter 4

A fascinating look at a once-popular metaphorical representation of America: (This annotation contains a link)
Northup is keenly aware of the irony of his situation and takes the time to point this out to his audience. The effect is almost one of shame; how could Americans, people who believe these truths to be self-evident, also subjugate other men? Northup points out this irony by juxtaposing, placing side-by-side in order to compare, the capital of the nation and his own ordeal. 
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Northup places the calm of the day next to the despair of his situation in order to emphasize his sadness. This technique is called _____. 
An interesting allusion to the Greek river of forgetting. Check out the link below: (This annotation contains a link)
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In this chapter, Northup introduces a character that is a lot like him in many ways. This type of character is called a foil because foils act like reflections of the protagonist. Which character in this chapter seems to be a foil for Northup's own situation? 

Chapter 5

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Northup uses language expertly throughout his narrative to say more than his words mean on the surface. He often does this to disguise insults or other derogatory comments. How does "sable fingers" insult the way the men eat their food? 
Education of any kind was often withheld from slaves lest they come to understand their plight. Check out this article for some context on Education and the Arts during the slave era: (This annotation contains a link)
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In this chapter, Northup provides two very different white men: Manning and Freeman. What theme do these two characters most represent? 

Chapter 6

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Northup uses a very matter-of-fact tone throughout his discussion of the process of buying and selling slaves. Why do you think he uses such a tone? What effect does it have on the audience? 
An appeal to emotion, or pathos, can be a very effective means of persuasion. Here, Northup dwells upon the despair of the mother separated from her child by sale. He throws the inhumanity of the moment into stark relief when he details Freeman's cold and insensitive reaction to Eliza's sobbing. Check out the link below for more on the three persuasive appeals: (This annotation contains a link)
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Using relevant evidence from the text, explain how Northup uses Eliza to persuade his audience of the evils of the institution of slavery. 
According to Charles Sangster, Pisgah, as an allusion, represents faith. Read more about this allusion here: (This annotation contains a link)

Chapter 7

Check out this interesting article from the Liberty Education Forum on the uses of the Bible, the central text in Christianity, in the justification of the practice of slavery. This article should help you understand how William Ford could own slaves and become a Baptist preacher: (This annotation contains a link)
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What does all of this laughter, in combination with what you know of Ford already, suggest about life on Ford's plantation? 
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Throughout this chapter, Northup describes Ford's kindness and charity. Find examples of Ford's kindness as a master; then, choose one on which to focus. For that one example, explain how it stands in ironic contrast to Northup's situation. 
The education of slaves was often illegal; what Ford is doing here is very unconventional for his time. Read more about it: (This annotation contains a link)
Robert Fulton was a noted inventor. Learn more about this allusion here: (This annotation contains a link)
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For what reason would Northup include this miniature ethnography of the Chicopees in his story of his own time spent as a slave? 
12 Years a Slave Quiz 1 

Chapter 8

Slave narratives had certain expected portions of the narrative structure, just like any other work. One of these expected portions was the inevitable fight against a cruel master. Frederick Douglass, the noted former slave and statesman, also detailed an account of a fight with one of his masters, Mr. Covey. It is Chapter X (Ten) of his autobiography which you can read below: (This annotation contains a link)
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John Tibeats, by law as Northup's owner, has the right to whip Solomon whenever he feels he must. What clue from earlier in the chapter lets you know that this is an unusual reaction from an overseer in how Mr. Chapin will react? 
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Northup mentions both Chapin's disdain for Tibeats and the four hundred dollar mortgage multiple times at the beginning of this chapter. This technique, hinting at future events, is known as _____. 

Chapter 9

This type of sentence is known as a periodic sentence. Periodic sentences are so named because they contain the most important information right before the period. Notice that the core clause of this sentence is "the southern slave...is [not] happier than the free colored citizen of the North." All of the rest builds up to this point. The structure of the sentence also creates an interesting parallel between slave and citizen, an interesting parallel that becomes an interesting dilemma after the Civil War. Keep an eye out for these periodic sentences. Many of Northup's sentences follow this pattern. 
If there are periodic sentences, then there must be an opposite form, too. This form, the cumulative sentence, presents the core clause up front ("he had the disposition of an assassin") and follows with compounding modifiers. The effect here is to embellish the main idea of the sentence with further and further refinements. This embellishment emphasizes the main idea. 
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What literary device is at work here? 
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The humor in Peter Tanner's speech comes from the reference he makes to a previous notable event. What is the name for this type of literary device? 

Chapter 10

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In this second fight with Mr. Tibeats, a theme emerges about the condition of master and slave, the cycle that cannot end because Northup can neither kill nor release Tibeats without Northup's own death following as a result. Select the best quotation below that represents this theme. 
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What type of sentence is this? 
Swamps are powerful symbols and dangerous, mysterious places. Northup, being a displaced person from New York, probably had limited experience with this type of geography as is evidenced by his descriptions of the wildlife. Check out this resource to learn more about the swamp in Louisiana culture: (This annotation contains a link)
Throughout this chapter, Northup mentions being afraid of any passing white man who would stop him and have him arrested until he could be identified by his master. This fear comes from the fugitive slave laws of the time. Check out this article from the History Channel website: (This annotation contains a link)

Chapter 11

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Despite the kindness of this sentiment, the bottom line is that Ford still thinks it is ok to "restrain" the slaves and render them "obedient." How do you reconcile the kindness of Ford's thought with the enslavement of others? 
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Northup spends a lot of time describing the flora and fauna of the various places that he lives and works. What effect do his naturalistic descriptions have on the narrative? 
Ethos, the appeal to credibility or authority, can be built in many ways. Northup is particularly skilled at the use of fairness to build his credibility. Even in the throes of slavery, Northup finds a way to compliment the Southern culture that has bound him in captivity. 

Chapter 12

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According to this introductory description of Edwin Epps, Northup's tone could best be characterized as which of the following? 
Juxtaposition, or the placement of two things next to one another, can be a very powerful tool for persuasion, especially in creating logical or emotional appeals. In this section, Northup juxtaposes the cruelty of the treatment of the slaves with the mundane task of growing cotton. This juxtaposition throws the cruelty in sharp relief when compared with the banality of his description of how cotton is grown. Check out the video below to learn more about the appeals referenced in this annotation: (This annotation contains a video)
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Identify the type of sentence. 
A gin-house is so named for the cotton gin which it housed. It was not an elaborate structure, but a functional one. Check out the image below to check an idea of how a gin-house operated: (This annotation contains an image)
Sarcasm is more than mere verbal irony; sarcasm is intended to be biting and hurtful. When you are joking with your friends, you are being more sardonic than sarcastic. This caustic invective is sarcastic. 
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For what purpose does Northup take the time to interrupt the flow of his text to introduce the idea of life on a Southern plantation? What would be the reason for the structuring of the text in this fashion? 

Chapter 13

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Thinking back on the previous chapter, and focusing in specifically on the highlighted excerpt, what motif is Northup establishing in his text in regards to the way Epps perceives his slaves? 
A motif is anything that is repeated over and over in a work and often help to point to a deeper meaning (or theme). Themes are written in complete sentences because they are complete ideas. Motifs, on the other hand, are individual ideas that appear throughout a work and help to determine what the work has to say about the thematic topic in question. Check out this video for more on motifs: (This annotation contains a video)
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First, identify the type of sentence this is (Periodic or Cumulative). Then, discuss what the effect of the sentence is (how does it make its audience feel?). Finally, explain HOW the sentence achieves this effect. 
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Which appeal does Northup help construct when he juxtaposes Epps and Burns with the other slaves on Epps's plantation? 

Chapter 14

Simile and Metaphor are two very common pieces of figurative language that you will encounter throughout your lives. They have the same basic function, but each completes this function in two different ways. Similes and Metaphors both contain comparisons of unlike things that end up making the one thing clearer. This definition is as clear as mud is a simile; definitions are not inherently related to mud, but because we know what mud looks like we understand what the author is suggesting. Similes differ from metaphors in the explicitness of the comparison; words like "like" or "as" are used to show that the author is deliberately and obviously making a comparison to create meaning. Metaphors are sneakier. Metaphors imply their figurative comparisons. For example, the Greek epic poet Homer often called the Aegean sea the wine-dark sea. The sea is not made of wine, but if you visualize the color of dark wine in your mind, you understand what Homer is implying. This highlighted example is a simile. Northup uses it to give his audience an understanding of the openness and emptiness of the Grand Coteau. 
This is another example of figurative language known as synecdoche.  
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What is the purpose of this catalog of items? 
Here is an interesting article on the historical development and the economic importance of sugar cane plantations in the early nineteenth century: (This annotation contains a link)
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The highlighted figure of speech is a 
Northup, for a man supposedly uneducated in the art of rhetoric, has a very good grasp of how to construct arguments. Take this paragraph: according to Stephen Toulmin, the philosopher who gives his name to the Toulmin model of argument, an argument has, at its most basic, three parts. These three parts are the claim, data, and warrant. The topic sentence (highlighted) of this paragraph is a claim that Northup will attempt to prove. In his attempt, he must provide data and then show that this data is linked to the claim by a reasonable. In the second sentence, Northup provides a number of examples of the cruelty of slavery and then reasons that exposure to these cruelties would make anyone "brutified and reckless of human life." 
12 Years a Slave Quiz 2 
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In the final paragraph, Northup makes the claim that "the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust, and barbarous one." Thinking back on the chapter, choose a couple of examples of this cruelty. Then, write two sentences per example explaining how the data you've selected connects with the claim cited above. 

Chapter 15

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Look back at a previous chapter where Northup describes the hardships of slavery. Then, return to this passage and analyze how the language of Northup's description of the Christmas celebration contrasts with the language used to describe other aspects of the slave's life. Please cite specific pages from where examples come. 
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What type of sentence is this and what figure of speech does Northup employ at the end of it? 
Check out the interview below from NPR featuring Princeton University History Professor Tera Hunter. The written transcript is printed below the audio file of the interview: (This annotation contains a link)

Chapter 16

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Throughout this paragraph, Northup juxtaposes a humorous anecdote with his master's monstrous behavior. These two show a _____ contrast because they are so incongruous. 
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How does Northup's voice change from his role as the narrator of this tale to his role as the slave of Epps? In other words, how is his diction different in this conversation with Epps, and why does Northup need to speak differently to Epps in this case? 

Chapter 17

Runaways were never truly free, especially after the passage of the various Fugitive Slave Acts. Check out this account of another escaped slave who was captured: (This annotation contains a link)
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What is the reason for Northup's uncommonly violent behavior in this situation? 
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What thematic topic does this episode and its conclusion MOST represent? 
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Why does Northup tell his fellow slaves not to rise up and fight for their freedom? 

Chapter 18

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This common phrase is an allusion to which of the following? 
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What is the effect of Northup's juxtaposition of the brutality of Patsey's beating and the beauty of the day? 
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Why does Northup include this section on the ways slavery corrupts the family of the slaveholder? What does it say about him as a person? 

Chapter 19

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Why would the "slavewhipping tribe" of Bayou Boeuf want to hurt Bass after Northup's restoration to freedom? 
Epps is making reference to a number of things here: first, the three-fifths compromise; second, the practices of abolitionists. Epps says that some "cursed fanatics" pretend that they "know more than the constitution" because up until the civil war slavery was protected in the US Constitution. For more on the "three-fifths compromise" check out the link below. The "peddling of clocks" that Epps refers to is a reference to an abolitionist who worked on the Underground Railroad. Mr Barbour of Onondaga County, when asked what he was doing with his wagon full of straw, would say that he was peddling clocks. In reality, he was smuggling slaves out of the South under the straw in his wagon. (This annotation contains a link)
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Analyze Bass's argument: what does he claim? What is his evidence? What connects his evidence to his claim? 
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According to Northup, why did he have to pretend to know Bass less than he did? 
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In this metaphor, Northup compares slavery to _____. 

Chapter 20

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In this sentence, Northup catalogs many of the good qualities that Miss Mary McCoy possesses. What is the linguistic technique Northup uses to separate each one of these qualities? 
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Identify the type of sentence and explain the effect the sentence construction has on the meaning. 

Chapter 21

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What would be some of the possible reasons that Senator Soule would want to be so helpful in the restoration of Northup? 
Northup uses the star as a metaphor here for his return to freedom. Stars were part of the culture of slave escapes. Frederick Douglass's newspaper was even titled "The North Star" after the star that guided so many runaways to freedom. Checl out the link below for information on the star in runaway slave culture: (This annotation contains a link)
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What is the effect of this dove-tailing on the narrative? Does this structure enhance or detract from the power of the narrative? 
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Why would Mistress Epps have been so happy if Patsey were the one to leave? 

Chapter 22

Even in this pass, written after proof of his freedom has been accepted, Solomon is written about as though he were less than his relation. This attitude is evident in the language of this pass and the necessity of its existence. 
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The rejection of Northup's testimony as legitimate based on the color of his skin is an example of _____. 
12 Years a Slave Final Quiz 
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What appeal does this closing paragraph help to build?