12 Years a Slave


Solomon Northup

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Free papers Symbol Analysis

Free papers Symbol Icon

Lightweight and easy to steal, Solomon’s free papers symbolize his identity as a free black man; like his freedom, they proved flimsy and easy to take from him. Solomon’s arguments with the Washington D.C. slave dealer Burch reveal that Solomon’s thirty years of life as a free man of New York mean little now that he is in chains. Solomon’s claims to freedom hold no weight against the violently-reinforced power of white slave holders and slave traders, just as his papers held no weight, taken from his pockets and disposed of somewhere while he was drugged.

Free papers Quotes in 12 Years a Slave

The 12 Years a Slave quotes below all refer to the symbol of Free papers. 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 2 Quotes

The idea struck me as a prudent one, though I think it would scarcely have occurred to me, had they not proposed it […] I must confess, that the papers were scarcely worth the cost of obtaining them—the apprehension of danger to my personal safety never having suggested itself to me in the remotest manner.

Related Characters: Solomon Northup (speaker), Merrill Brown, Abram Hamilton
Related Symbols: Free papers
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Then did the idea begin to break upon my mind, at first dim and confused, that I had been kidnapped. There must have been some misapprehension—some unfortunate mistake. It could not be that a free citizen of New-York, who had wronged no man, nor violated any law, should be dealt with thus inhumanly […] I felt there was no trust or mercy in unfeeling man.

Related Characters: Solomon Northup (speaker), James Burch, Merrill Brown, Abram Hamilton
Related Symbols: Free papers, Chains
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:
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Free papers Symbol Timeline in 12 Years a Slave

The timeline below shows where the symbol Free papers appears in 12 Years a Slave. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
The next morning, Hamilton and Brown tell Solomon to get his free papers , since the group will be traveling to Washington D.C., a slave state. Solomon thinks... (full context)
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...their kindness to him, and he trusted them entirely. Between their suggestion that Solomon obtain free papers and the “hundred other little acts” they did for him, Hamilton and Brown appeared as... (full context)
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...that there is a huge gap in his memory. Feeling his pockets, Solomon realizes his free papers are gone and that he has been kidnapped. He thinks there must have been some... (full context)
Chapter 3
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...telling her that she would be freed. When Brooks took her into town to secure free papers , he promptly sold Eliza and her children to James Burch. Listening to Eliza’s story,... (full context)
Chapter 19
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...letter to his friends and family so that they can rescue him or forward his free papers . Bass agrees to help, and the following night, the two meet again. Bass writes... (full context)