12 Years a Slave


Solomon Northup

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12 Years a Slave: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Since Solomon is skilled at harvesting sugar cane, Epps hires him out every season for the sake of his own profit. In great detail, Solomon explains how sugar cane is harvested.
Just like his earlier detailed description of how cotton is harvested, Solomon explains the process of harvesting sugar cane to show that his narrative is true, and his depiction of slavery accurate.
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All year, Epps’ slaves look forward to Christmas, when they are allotted three days off (though other owners give their slaves six). The three days provide the only moments of “a little restricted liberty” out of the entire year and include feasts, music, flirting, and dancing. Solomon likens it to “the carnival season with the children of bondage.” Each year, the feast takes place at a different plantation, and all the neighboring slaves and slave owners are invited.
Once again, Epps is cruel to his slaves seemingly for no other reason than because he can be. He gives his slaves a meager three days off at Christmas (even though the norm at most plantations is twice that) because he seems to want to restrict the joy and limited freedom that comes with the holidays.
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At these feasts, Solomon plays the fiddle. He tells the reader that during his twelve years of bondage, he was often hired to play the fiddle at slave owners’ parties. This opportunity saved him from many tiresome days in the field toiling under Eppswhip. He writes that his fiddle was his closest friend, “triumphing loudly when I was joyful, and uttering its soft, melodious consolations when I was sad.”
Solomon illustrates how music saved him in emotional and physical ways. His fiddle brings him emotional comfort and a sense of companionship while also giving him an excuse to not work in the fields on certain days, allowing him a brief measure of relief.
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Oftentimes, there are marriages during the Christmas holidays, usually between slaves from neighboring plantations. Slaves can have as many husbands or wives as their owner allows, and are permitted to visit their spouses on Saturday nights if the journey is short enough.
Solomon shows how every aspect of a slave’s life—including marriage and relationships—is dictated by their owner. Regardless, marriage seems to give slaves a greater sense of purpose, as it gives them the small comfort of having someone to visit on Saturday nights.
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