12 Years a Slave

by

Solomon Northrup

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Whip Symbol Icon

The whip that is used to control and punish the slaves symbolizes the dehumanization of black slaves by white slave owners. Throughout the narrative, slaves are frequently treated as beasts of burden, like workhorses—first, dressed up at a slave auction with potential buyers examining their limbs and looking in their mouths, then, forced to toil in the fields, spurred by the sharp, cracking whip. The whip is the ultimate symbol of the slaves’ dehumanization, as its use on slaves implies that slaves are like livestock that can be bought, trained, and controlled by the threat—or use—of brutal physical violence.

Whip Quotes in 12 Years a Slave

The 12 Years a Slave quotes below all refer to the symbol of Whip. 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:
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:
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:
Get the entire 12 Years a Slave LitChart as a printable PDF.
12 Years a Slave PDF

Whip Symbol Timeline in 12 Years a Slave

The timeline below shows where the symbol Whip appears in 12 Years a Slave. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Burch orders Radburn to retrieve the paddle and whip, and Burch proceeds to beat and whip Solomon severely, increasing the severity and power of... (full context)
Chapter 8
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...necessary. Tibeats lashes out at Solomon with a “flood of curses” and reaches for the whip. Feeling that he had dutifully done the work that Tibeats asked of him, Solomon angrily... (full context)
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...Solomon tackles him to the ground. With his foot on Tibeats’ neck, Solomon begins to whip his master, despite Tibeats’ screams for mercy. Solomon pauses, and notices Chapin’s wife and a... (full context)
Chapter 12
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
...he is “in his cups,” he is noisy, abrasive, and loves to make games of whipping his slaves. When he is sober, he is stoic and clever and whips his slaves... (full context)
Chapter 13
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...cotton for the first time. Solomon ends up being unfit to pick cotton. He is whipped for his meager harvest and is sent instead to chop wood. Other slaves who fail... (full context)
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
...slaves’ quarters in search of more amusement. Sometimes he hides in the dark yard to whip unsuspecting slaves when they pass his hiding place. Other times, he decides “there must be... (full context)
Chapter 15
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The Power of Music Theme Icon
...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 joyful,... (full context)
Chapter 16
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
...who ensures the slaves are working efficiently. Overseers are armed with pistols, a knife, a whip, and dogs. Solomon says that “the requisite qualifications in an overseer are utter heartlessness, brutality,... (full context)
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...Solomon knows that Epps is always watching and will know if Solomon doesn’t use the whip as he is supposed to. To satisfy Epps’ violence while protecting his fellow slaves, Solomon... (full context)
Chapter 18
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
...down by tying her wrists and feet to each stake with rope. Procuring a thick whip, Epps commands Solomon to whip Patsey, and Solomon is forced to oblige. Meanwhile, Mistress Epps... (full context)
Chapter 20
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
...and claims that the slaves are doing their work wrong. He leaves to get a whip, and Solomon notices two men approaching in a carriage. Solomon interjects in the narrative, telling... (full context)
Chapter 21
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
...carriage arrives at Epps’ plantation right as Epps goes inside the house to find a whip. Henry B. Northup and the sheriff walk to the cotton fields, where the sheriff asks... (full context)