Thanks for having me in the Faculty Lounge! For my first piece, I wanted to post something I wrote soon after seeing the movie, 12 Years a Slave, which deeply affected me. It's a bit charged, but it captures well how I felt after viewing the film. I hope you enjoy it. I'll post it in two parts; the next installment will come tomorrow.
Patsy is her master’s favorite. She picks over five hundred pounds of
cotton a day. Her beauty radiates obstinately through all of her sweat and
suffering. How does her master show his favor? He barely flinches when his
wife throws a whiskey decanter at Patsy’s forehead. He holds Patsy down
outside while he rapes her. When he’s finished, he slaps her hard across
One day he finds that Patsy’s run off to a neighboring plantation. She
returned with a bar of soap, which the mistress had denied her. For this
transgression, he orders Patsy whipped. Finally, he finishes the deed
himself, flaying Patsy’s back until there’s little skin left.
All Patsy can do is ask her fellow slave, Solomon, the protagonist of this
story, to end her life. She asks him to hold her head down in the nearby
river until she stops struggling, until she gets the only kind of freedom
that seems within reach.
Solomon’s story, while replete with similar indignities, ends more gladly
than Patsy’s. He calls his eventual reunion with his family “an unspeakable
happiness.” After all, he lived to write the tale–Twelve Years a Slave–that
director Steve McQueen adapted for one of this year’s most acclaimed films.
I’ve never seen a film like it. More than any other historical movie I’ve
viewed, Twelve Years a Slave left me with a sense of being there. For
anyone who cares about American law or history, I would venture to call it
How did so many bystanders stand by and do so little? How could all these
people chant of freedom on Saturday, pray to a Christian god on Sunday, and
then on Monday, watch one human being lead another by chains on the cobbled
Our understanding of American history, in particular the Constitution, must
account for this. Surely we try. Watching a movie like this one cannot help
but make me think we have largely failed.