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Genovese and Northup Paper

Essay written by Joe Masters
Slavery as a global institution tends to have an unreal aura surrounding it. Modern
perspectives cannot be empathetic because it is not an institution even partially
realized in the last century of American life. This is why even through reading Eugene
Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll and examining most of the aspects of slave life, slavery
still remains a mystery in the personal sense. Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave,
in addition to being one of Genovese’s own resources, fills this void with its brutally
honest personal story of a slave’s life. Northup’s account enlightens and strengthens
Genovese’s arguments, specifically those concerning labor, the master-slave
relationship, and rebellion, by putting global descriptions in a personal perspective.
One of the main advantages of 12 Years a Slave is that Northup is a slave himself, and
in that respect does not have to be an apologist for slavery and slaveholders. It is not
that Genovese himself is an apologist, but as a modern Caucasian, he must approach
the subject of casting any light that might be perceived as positive on slaveholders
with trepidation. Although Genovese does his best to present a fair and accurate
depiction of slavery, he cannot know the slaves’ perceptions of their masters. It is
really in this respect that Northup’s account is so useful. By portraying slaveholders as
people with human faults and sensibilities, he shows how the institution affects
everyone involved. Slaveholders can still be good people, and that goodness shines
through the peculiar institution. This is a vital piece of the story of slavery that
Genovese cannot put in his comprehensive history. Northup’s words must be left to
stand alone, and draw specifics against a general background.
The details of working cotton and sugar cane differ little from Genov…

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