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
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.
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.
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!”