12 Years a Slave

Edwin Epps Character Analysis

Epps is Solomon’s third and most inhumane master, whom Solomon serves for ten years. Epps is married to Mistress Epps, and the two have at least two children, although only one, Young Master Epps, appears in the narrative. A heavy set, coarse man with a love of drinking, Epps is cruel and malicious toward all his slaves, including Solomon (whom he knows as Platt), but reserves particularly brutal treatment to an elderly male slave named Abram and a young, pretty female slave named Patsey. Epps frequently rapes Patsey, making her the object of Mistress Epps’ jealousy and hatred. Epps views his slaves as nothing more than animals who harvest his cotton so that he can make a profit—a dehumanizing view he passes down to his son.

Edwin Epps Quotes in 12 Years a Slave

The 12 Years a Slave quotes below are all either spoken by Edwin Epps or refer to Edwin Epps. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Graymalkin Media edition of 12 Years a Slave published in 2014.
Chapter 13 Quotes

Bent with excessive toil—actually suffering for a little refreshing rest, and feeling rather as if we could cast ourselves upon the earth and weep, many a night in the house of Edwin Epps have his unhappy slaves been made to dance and laugh.

Related Characters: Solomon Northup (speaker), Edwin Epps
Related Symbols: Whip
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:
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He could have stood unmoved and seen the tongues of his poor slaves torn out by the roots—he could have seen them burned to ashes over a slow fire, or gnawed to death by dogs, if it only brought him profit. Such a hard, cruel, unjust man is Edwin Epps.

Related Characters: Solomon Northup (speaker), Edwin Epps
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:
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[…] it had fallen to her lot to be the slave of a licentious master and a jealous mistress. She shrank before the lustful eye of one, and was in danger even of her life at the hands of the other, and in between the two, she was indeed accursed.

Related Characters: Solomon Northup (speaker), Edwin Epps, Patsey, Mistress Epps
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 14 Quotes

The existence of Slavery in its most cruel form among them has a tendency to brutalize the humane and finer feelings of their nature. Daily witnesses of human suffering—listening to the agonizing screeches of the human slave—beholding him writhing beneath the merciless lash—bitten and torn by dogs—dying without attention, and buried without shroud or coffin—it cannot otherwise be expected, than that they should become brutified and reckless of human life.

Related Characters: Solomon Northup (speaker), Edwin Epps
Related Symbols: Whip
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
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It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him. Taught from earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears, that the rod is for the slave’s back, he will not be apt to change his opinions in mature years.

Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 18 Quotes

It was the Sabbath of the Lord. The fields smiled in the warm sunlight—the birds chirped merrily amidst the foliage of the trees—peace and happiness seemed to reign everywhere, save in the bosoms of Epps and his panting victim and the silent witnesses around him. The tempestuous emotions that were raging there were little in harmony with the calm and quiet beauty of the day. I could look on Epps only with unutterable loathing and abhorrence, and thought within myself—“Thou devil, sooner or later, somewhere in the course of eternal justice, thou shalt answer for this sin!”

Related Characters: Solomon Northup (speaker), Edwin Epps, Patsey
Related Symbols: Whip
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 19 Quotes

If they are baboons, or stand no higher in the scale of intelligence than such animals, you and men like you will have to answer for it. There’s a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be a reckoning yet—yes, Epps, there’s a day coming that will burn as an oven. It may be sooner or it may be later, but it’s a coming as sure as the Lord is just.

Related Characters: Bass (speaker), Solomon Northup , Edwin Epps
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:
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Edwin Epps Character Timeline in 12 Years a Slave

The timeline below shows where the character Edwin Epps appears in 12 Years a Slave. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 11
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
...tells him that he has been sold to a man at the next plantation, Edwin Epps. Tibeats brings Solomon to Epps’ plantation, and Solomon is relieved to be under new ownership... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Edwin Epps is a gruff, heavy-set man who is “fond of the bottle,” and goes on drinking... (full context)
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Epps’ primary business is growing and harvesting cotton. Solomon explains to the reader the way cotton... (full context)
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Epps’ slaves are given one element of choice in their day-to-day lives. Whether they want to... (full context)
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Solomon also describes the slave accommodations at Epps’ plantation. Each slave sleeps on a plank of wood for a bed, a “stick of... (full context)
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Solomon describes Epps’ cattle that inhabit the swamplands. The cattle are branded, and then herded toward the swamps,... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...and is punished when he lags. When it is clear that Solomon is nearing death, Epps begrudgingly calls for a doctor, not wanting to lose “an animal worth a thousand dollars.”... (full context)
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When Solomon has partially recovered, Epps forces him to return to work and pick cotton for the first time. Solomon ends... (full context)
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Epps frequently stumbles home drunk in the middle of the night, returning from a shooting match... (full context)
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Epps usually forces the slaves to “dance and laugh” until morning, rendering them so weary that... (full context)
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Solomon writes that Epps “is a man in whose heart the quality of kindness or of justice is not... (full context)
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Epps’ other slaves include Abram, a kindly, aging man who has lost his physical and mental... (full context)
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...she frequently weeps, suffering the constant punishment of a “licentious master and a jealous mistress.” Epps frequently rapes Patsey, earning her even greater punishment from Mistress Epps, who loves to see... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Traveling through a small village on the way back to Epps’ plantation, Solomon catches a glimpse of Tibeats and notices that he looks “seedy” and “out... (full context)
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When Solomon returns to Epps’ plantation, he hears that Patsey has been subjected to crueler-than-usual punishment. Phebe tells Solomon that... (full context)
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Solomon tells the reader that Mistress Epps is “possessed of the devil, jealousy,” when it comes to Patsey, but that she has... (full context)
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One day, a messenger comes running to the Epps plantation, exclaiming that someone was murdered at a nearby plantation belonging to a man named... (full context)
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Although Epps befriends Marshall to get on his good side, Marshall eventually turns on him too, challenging... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Since Solomon is skilled at harvesting sugar cane, Epps hires him out every season for the sake of his own profit. In great detail,... (full context)
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All year, Epps’ slaves look forward to Christmas, when they are allotted three days off (though other owners... (full context)
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The Power of Music Theme Icon
...owners’ parties. This opportunity saved him from many tiresome days in the field toiling under Epps’ whip. He writes that his fiddle was his closest friend, “triumphing loudly when I was... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Epps enlists Solomon as a driver. Solomon knows that Epps is always watching and will know... (full context)
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One day, Epps arrives at the fields clearly intoxicated and motions for Patsey to follow him. Patsey begins... (full context)
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Mistress Epps watches the “half-serious, half-comical maneuvers” from the distance, and Solomon runs to her for protection... (full context)
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...Nine years into Solomon’s slavery, he finally obtains a single piece of paper when Mistress Epps sends Solomon into town to buy several things, including a stack of paper. Solomon steals... (full context)
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...potential opportunity to send it. A poor white man named Armsby comes to work at Epps’ plantation among the slaves. Solomon tries to befriend him, and eventually asks Armsby if he... (full context)
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The next day, Solomon’s suspicions are confirmed. Epps enters Solomon’s cabin, whip in hand, and confronts him about the letter. Solomon pretends to... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...late. Without a pass, Wiley is captured by white patrollers and is forcibly returned to Epps, who beats him severely for many days. Wiley decides to run away and slips out... (full context)
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...in the way of the flying slave” render it impossible. Solomon does manage to make Epps’ dogs afraid of him by whipping them at night while he hunts for racoons and... (full context)
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...she is a slave. For most of the summer, she lives in the swamp near Epps’ plantation, sustained by the small amounts of food that Solomon brings her. Eventually, she is... (full context)
Chapter 18
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An old man named O’Niel calls on Epps and asks to buy Solomon—a conversation overheard by Phebe, and quickly relayed to Solomon. Solomon... (full context)
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Solomon writes that Epps’ aging slave, Abram, is often the recipient of overwhelming cruelty. One day, Solomon returns to... (full context)
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Solomon recounts the cruelest whipping that he ever saw, which was given to Patsey. Epps partakes in “an infernal jubilee over the girl’s miseries,” just like his jealous wife. On... (full context)
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Epps orders Solomon to secure four stakes into the ground. He forces Patsey to strip and... (full context)
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...warm sunlight,” and “peace and happiness seem[ed] to reign everywhere, save in the bosoms of Epps and his panting victim and the silent witnesses around him.” Solomon can do nothing but... (full context)
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Christianity Theme Icon
Young Master Epps, Epps’ ten- or twelve-year-old son, also treats the slaves with extreme cruelty. He enjoys “playing... (full context)
Chapter 19
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In the summer of 1852, Epps begins a construction project on his land, aided by Solomon and a white Canadian contractor... (full context)
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Bass frequently argues with Epps about slavery, declaring that the law “lies.” He asks, “Is every thing right because the... (full context)
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Bass asks Epps what the difference is between a white man and a black man in God’s eyes.... (full context)
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When Bass returns to Epps’ plantation, he tells Solomon that it will likely take six weeks to receive a reply... (full context)
Chapter 20
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On the day before Christmas, Solomon is delighted to see that Bass has arrived at Epps’ plantation. Bass tells Epps that he’s in town briefly for business and was hoping to... (full context)
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...in person. Bass tells Solomon, “I am with you, life or death,” and departs from Epps’ plantation. (full context)
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...points out to the reader that not all slave owners are cruel like Tibeats or Epps; although rare, slaveholders like Ford and Miss McCoy do exist. (full context)
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After the Christmas festivities, Solomon and the other slaves return to work at Epps’ plantation. One morning, Epps is particularly disagreeable and claims that the slaves are doing their... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...finds out that there is a rumor floating around that he is after one of Epps’ slaves. Knowing Epps will soon hear the rumor and get rid of Solomon, Waddill convinces... (full context)
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The carriage arrives at Epps’ plantation right as Epps goes inside the house to find a whip. Henry B. Northup... (full context)
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...identity from them. Meanwhile, Henry B. Northup, the sheriff, and Solomon make their way to Epps’ house to finalize Solomon’s freedom. As they walk, Northup gently tells Solomon that his mother... (full context)
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Henry B. Northup and the sheriff speak with Epps and read their legal documents proving Solomon’s right to freedom. Enraged, Epps asks Solomon why... (full context)
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Epps demands to know who wrote the letter to Perry and Parker, and Solomon refuses to... (full context)