12 Years a Slave

Themes and Colors
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
The Power of Music Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in 12 Years a Slave, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

12 Years a Slave grapples with the racism that fuels slavery and Solomon Northup’s suffering. The narrative illustrates how racism is an instrument for human wickedness—a justification for a slave owner to be unrelenting, cruel, and inhumane. 12 Years a Slave clearly points out that racism is a learned behavior, not an inherent understanding that people are born with. The overarching purpose of 12 Years a Slave is to reveal the heartbreaking realities of…

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Although 12 Years a Slave commends telling the truth, considering it a sign of integrity and strength, the book also explores the complexity involved in telling the truth in nineteenth-century America. Racism means that truth coming from a slave is deemed worthless, limiting a slave’s ability to seek justice. Further, telling the truth can be dangerous or deadly for an innocent person in this toxic environment. In this case, Solomon Northup maintains, it is appropriate…

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12 Years a Slave centers on the twelve years of agony that author and protagonist Solomon Northup spent as a slave in Louisiana, completely cut off from his family. Although Solomon’s family appears very little throughout the narrative, family plays a key role in Solomon’s experiences. The narrative points out that the concept of family is broader than being related by blood or marriage. Instead, family encompasses those who show one another love, compassion, and…

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Throughout 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup asserts that God loves all of his people, regardless of race. The inherent equality among men in God’s eyes means that Christianity is a source of comfort and strength for the slaves, as well as a way to understand their circumstances. 12 Years a Slave also reveals the hypocritical underbelly of Christianity in the American South, showing the way that Christianity can be terribly manipulated into a…

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In 12 Years a Slave, author and protagonist Solomon Northup highlights how his violin brought him brief but treasured moments of joy and comfort in the midst of otherwise-horrific situations. He even attributes his physical survival under his most brutal master, Edwin Epps, to his violin. However, Solomon also reveals how the scant joy in his life, music, was perverted by slave dealers and owners.

In the opening pages of his narrative, Solomon…

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