12 Years a Slave is a 2013 drama film of British-American origin. It is an adaptation of a memoir by Solomon Northup of 1853. In the summary of this film, there will be used the film name, as opposed to the use of actual people who were involved in the events. In the film story, which started in 1841, Solomon Northup was a black guy who lived with his wife and children. He was an African American violinist, whose life is viewed as simple and peaceful at the beginning of the film. One day, two men approached him and offered a 2-week job that was to take place in Washington DC. When they got there, the two men dragged Northup away and he found himself in chains when he woke up. This is how he was sold into slavery. Then, he was shipped to New Orleans and renamed Platt.

In New Orleans, Northup was mistreated and beaten repeatedly and later sold to a plantation owner known as William Ford. Here, he stays on good terms with Ford due to his abilities. At a certain time, he even engineers a bridge, over which they are able to transport logs effectively. However, he was not at terms with the overseer, Tibeats. After getting into a fight with this overseer, Northup is forced to stand on tiptoes for hours and his master says that to save his life, he has to be sold to Edwin Epps. Edwin Epps was a man who believed that he had the right to abuse his slaves. He even believed that it was biblically sanctioned. He has a young girl for a slave, Pastey, whom he used to rape repeatedly. She even wished to die. When Northup is at the Ebbs’ plantation, they are leased to other plantations where he gains their favor for his personality. With the help of a supervisor, Baas, Northup is able to gain freedom after 12 years of slavery (Northup 23-88).


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Sociological Analysis of the Film

There are many perspectives, from which this film can be viewed. These are perspectives that can be related to sociology. Therefore, the review and analysis of the same will be done systematically. This is to allow for the coverage of most of the views and perspectives. The violation of human rights is one of the most discussed issues in the society. This is because people around the world have a tendency to overlook the fact that people have rights, especially when they are at privileged positions. In the film, the consequences that come with the violation of human rights are seen with regards to the people, whose rights are violated. This essay deals with racial and ethical discrimination. This is an issue that is existent even today. However, there are some actions that are against the whole human race. These are called actions against humanity. The mistreatments that were performed to these slaves were extremely painful. This went to a point that one of the young girls wished for her death. This was when she discovered that her life was beyond death. This is the reason as to why the essay has been decided to begin with human rights.

Nelson Mandela once said that people are bound by their human compassion. For people to live together, there have to rule that govern their actions. These are the rules that come with the power figures that are existent at times. However, these powers may not be there. It does not mean that the same people cannot coexist. People live through an unsaid code that ensures that they coexist. One cannot live with people who do not respect the humanity. Even if someone is a slave, there is some torture, which they should not be subjected to. This is just by the simple rule that they are humans. During the slavery period, this was a common occurrence; the masters treated their slaves like people who did not have emotions. This was seen from the brutality that they showed towards them. This means that they were responsible for the money and returns that their masters were receiving. However, the masters were never thankful. As a matter of fact, the food that they gave to them was just to keep them alive for the next day. This was so that they could not lose workers (Northup 20-67).

In the society, there is no one that can survive alone, as people have to help each other and live by this means. This way, they can be in a position to share different things that they own. These are things that can be seen to complement each other and help in the achievement of different purposes. However, if one person treats the other in a manner to suggest that they do not have the slightest bit of respect for them, such scenario will fail. This is what was witnessed in the life of Northup. When he was a slave, he was very helpful to his masters. At a certain time, he was even allowed to attend a wedding and play his violin. However, Ebbs never treated him well. He felt that he had the right to mistreat his slaves as he saw fit. For this reason, Northup decided to use the money that he had obtained from the wedding to attempt an escape. This was when he decided to write a letter back home. It shows that he was never comfortable in the place, in which he was staying. He always wished that he was never there.

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Racial inequality is well seen in this film. Ebb had a wife who was extremely jealous. This means that she did not like it when she noticed that other people had good attributes and property. This is one negative characteristic that this woman had. As Pastey used to stay in the farm, she was one of the best workers. This is because her work rate was higher than that of others. Even her master suggested the same to any visitors that came to the place. However, the manner, in which the same master repaid her, was extremely unbecoming. This is because he used to rape her repeatedly. Even after these rapes, Pastey was abler to persevere and keep up with the good job that she was involved in. However, this continued for so long that she wished to die. After some time, the wife of Ebb noticed that her husband was looking at Pastey suggestively. This caused her to believe that he was having an affair with her. This is where the question of racism comes into the equation. Instead of being angry with her husband for infidelity, she was angry with Pastey. However, she did not see a way of how she could say it to her. For this reason, she used to unleash her anger on Pastey every single day. This was through the actions that she used to direct towards her. She always mistreated her and insulted her in public. This always humiliated Pastey.

At a certain time, Pastey went out to look for soap at the neighbors’ place. This was because she did not like the odor that was emanating from her clothes. She had been working for a long time without taking a bath. When she came back, Ebb did not believe her. According to him, she was trying to escape from the farm. This caused him to be completely angry. His wife also stepped in and threw the same accusation on Pastey. After this, Ebb ordered that Pastey was to be tied onto a post. Before being tied to the post, she was stripped of all her clothes. In a shameful request, Ebb asked Northup to whip her. However, Northup could not agree to this. This is because she was a slave like him. He knew what it felt to be a slave and did not want to add to the suffering of Pastey. Northup was also a man with compassion. He knew that he was dealing with humans and saw no need to cause harm to his fellow mates. However, this was different with Ebbs. After noticing that Northup was reluctant, he took the whip away from him and thrashed the poor girl on her backside. This inflicted a lot of pain on her as she screamed for help. This shows that he felt nothing towards black people. He saw them as creatures that were just meant to do work. He believed that God did not create people equally.

According to the macrostructural perspective of the society, there are analyses of how the society fits together. This is regardless of the races of people. If there were any differences in human interaction that should be brought about by race, the same would have been mentioned in sociology. Therefore, it is correct to conclude that people are created equal and no race should be the preference of the other. Even though Ebb disliked black people, he was able to bring out this fact in the film. As Pastey was working in the fields, Ebb noticed that she was beautiful. Despite her color, he began to develop a liking for her. When he was raping her, it was not due to the fact that he had the need to mistreat a black girl. It was because he hated himself for loving her. He believed that he was falling in love with the wrong person. According to him, blacks could not be compared with white people. This is because they were not created equal. The same person went on to prove that he had been wrong all along. The effects that have been observed in failing to accept the fact that all men are equal is seen in his frustrations. He ends up being unfaithful to his wife. He also unleashed all his anger on the girl that he loved. This was something that he always felt guilty about (Northup 34-77).

In spite of the fact that there are people who are inflicted by racism, there are others who do not agree with the same. These are people who may even be of the race that has an upper hand in the region they are based. During the period of slavery, there were numerous abolitionists from the south. These were black men who used to complain and demand the rights of their fellow blacks. However, there were white people from the north. Some of these white people arose against slavery that was taking place in the south. They believed that all men were equal in the eyes of God. For that reason, there was no need to mistreat anyone on the basis of their color. This is a fact that was also seen in the film. As Ebb was in Ebbs plantation, he was able to bond with a white man to whose plantation he had been sent. This was a white man who had respect for all people. In his endeavors, he met many people of different races. However, he treated people on the basis of their merits, as opposed to treating them on the basis of their color. For this reason, he liked Northup for the fact that he could play the violin. This was why he allowed him to play it at a wedding in his neighborhood.

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This was not the same case with Tibeats. As a white overseer, he believed that black people could only be involved in manual work. However, Northup could not be restricted. This was because he was brilliant as an engineer. At one time, the workers found that it was very hard to cross the river with logs. This was when Northup decided to step in. He helped to engineer a bridge, over which logs could be transported. Tibeats felt bad and angered for this endeavor. He hated Northup even more. This belief in inequality now seemed like a sheer lack of wisdom. This was the man who had helped make work easier. Therefore, he had the ability to perform even better. However, he just decided to dislike him more. Towards the end of the film, Northup is able to bond with another supervisor. This was Baas, who used to ensure that all the work was done well. Despite being from a different race, he was the one who helped Northup. He took a letter that Northup gave him and ensured that it reached his home. After some time, people from his home came and bought his freedom. Northup was thankful that this man saved his life. This shows that help can even come across racial boundaries. One does not have to be of the same race with the person he/she is helping (Northup 23-88).

The disrespect for other races is something that cannot augur well with the stay of anyone in the society. This is because the society will always be full of different races. There are no restrictions as to the number of races that can be existent in any part of the world. In the film, the disrespect for the race can be clearly seen. In the present world, the sale of items is an everyday activity. This means that people always sell commodities at different prices, depending on the value that they place in the same. However, the film shows the sale of people. Northup was sold by people he trusted to take him to a place he could work. After being dragged, Northup discovered that his freedom had been taken away. This meant that he was even sold at a price. The fact that someone could have a price, at which he could be sold, is extremely against the societal norms. It shows contempt and disrespect for existing ties and associations that exist between different races. This is just a representation of what occurs in the world today. There are people who believe that races are not equal. These are parts in the world that have not yet come to the realization that the age, in which people did not respect certain races, is already gone. It is clear, that as the society develops, racism declines. This means that the most developed societies are those that have reduced cases of racism. It also proves that racism is a hindrance to development. Some time ago, there was the enslavement of Black people in America. However, this is not the case anymore. America has grown to be a developed nation and is admired by the whole world. At the moment, the country has a Black President. This shows the levels to which development cannot go in line with racial perceptions and boundaries.

Apart from the structural view of the society, which accounts for less than 10% of how people view the society, there is the fact that human activities are the main contributor to people’s view of the society. In the world, there are many geographical locations that can be identified. These are locations that can be said to have some characteristics, depending on the conditions existent in the areas. However, there is a way, in which the relationship between people affects how the world sees some areas since different people have different ways of interaction. The study of individual communities is as monotonous as it can get. Sometimes, it has no major impact on the sociological world. This is because sociology is about the interaction of people from different societies. Therefore, racial differences are one aspect of the analyses that have to be conducted in the attempt to come up with conclusions, regarding human interactions. In the film, Northup is first seen to be peaceful. He was in the part of the United States, where he even had a wife and children. He was just a normal man who was looking to earn a living for his family.

After Northup was sold into slavery, the film depicts another setting, in which racial discrimination is the order of the day. There were numerous black people who were involved in forced labor. They were always forced to do work, regardless of their conditions. It is this interaction between people that influenced the writing of the book from which this film is derived. In the place that Northup lived, there were no such cases. That is the reason as to why the story had to begin with his departure from the same place. This shows that repulsion or attraction of attention is mainly based on the interaction of people in the region of concern. This is because the interaction of people is the basis of the formation of a society. When different races are able to work together, they are able to achieve great things. However, if there is racial discrimination, the atrocities are of the same magnitude. Therefore, it only depends on the choice of the society on the route or path that they intend to take. For example, the film showed that there were numerous ways in which the rights of people were abused. Young people who were talented were not involved in the nation’s development process. Instead, they were all subjected to manual labor to help make a few people richer. This is the reason as to why development was as slow as it was observed. Even today, development is high in the areas with reduced cases of racism. However, America is not one of these areas. Despite the fact that there are some racists in the nation, the issue has not been so evident in the country (Northup 23-88).

In the society, there are structures. These are the positions that people are placed in by the society. In these positions, people have their own way of living. This position can even be used to depict races. Everyone is created to a certain race with which he or she has to be associated. Every race has its own way of doing things. Therefore, every race has to be distinct. This is called free living. It is not right to force someone from any race to be involved in activities that would hinder their freedom. However, human beings are creative and intelligent creatures. These are creatures that can change their environment to suit their future lives. Therefore, the fact that people are born different does not mean that they cannot come together.

According to the film, Northup is just a representation of other black Americans. The ability that he showed in all the things that he did shows that black men also have their potential. They have the ability to achieve a lot. In America, there are Chinese, Asians, whites, Latinos, Blacks and any other races that exist in the world. Depending on the places of their origin, all these races categorize people with different abilities. With these abilities, they can all come up with a better nation to be admired by other nations in the world. Therefore, there is no need to dislike or disrespect any single race. At the end of this film, a message of hope is communicated by the author. First, there is a successful relationship between a black person and a white one. This is the relationship that buys the freedom of Northup. The freedom that Northup acquires represents the freedom that should be acquired by every race. This freedom should be viewed from all aspects, including movement and association. Anybody should be free in their country, as well as in other nations. This way, there can be a productive association between races to bring about development. The opposite of this is the birth of hatred and the consequent wastage of national building time (Jacobs and Brent 22-90).


The essay above is the analysis of the film, 12 Years a Slave. However, the major objective that has been achieved in the essay is a sociological analysis of the film. The essay has attempted to analyze the film 12 Years a Slave with regards to racial inequality in the US. Although it has covered a time age that has already passed, the current paper has tried to compare the same with issues that are still existent. It is due to the fact that such issues never end. Instead, they evolve into new ways and forms that are only recognizable by a keen eye. However, the essay proved that despite the existence of racial inequality in the US, it decreased by a considerable margin. As stated above, it is an ideal sign of the development process.

Works Cited:

  1. Jacobs, Harriet, and Linda Brent. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Rockville: ARC Manor, 2008. Print.
  2. Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River in Louisiana. Vancouver: Engage Books, 2013. Print.
  3. Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave. Ed. Sue L. Eakin and Joseph Logsdon. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968. Print.
  4. Northup, Solomon. 12 Years a Slave: A True Story of Betrayal, Kidnap and Slavery. London: Hesperus Press, 2013. Print.
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