Responses to Separation

English L120 Essay

For most of us, family is one of the most important things in our lives. Few of us want to think about how we would react if forcibly separated from our families. Unfortunately for many throughout history, this subconscious fear suddenly became a harsh reality. A quintessential example can be found in American slavery. One of the worst aspects of the slave system was that slave families could be separated at any time never to see one another again. Although terrible regardless of the details, slaves reacted to this separation very differently. A prime example is found in the book 12 Years a Slave, which is the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery and rescued 12 years later. The example compares the reaction of Solomon Northup and a slave he briefly knew named Eliza.

The first thing to remember when comparing Northup’s and Eliza’s reaction is the difference in the circumstances that led to separation from family. Northup was kidnapped, shipped south and sold, where Eliza was sold with her children to the same slave trader that bought Northup and then separated from her children later by sale. In addition, Northup knew his children were safe and free in the North while Eliza’s children were as slaves were in extreme danger of injury and even death. Even taking into account the differences in Northup’s and Eliza’s circumstances, Northup handled the separation much better then Eliza.

At first, Northup does become depressed and disheartened, but he eventually realizes that his self-pity, however justifiable it was, will not help him in any way.  So he resigns himself to his situation, but maintains hope that an escape opportunity will arise. Initially, Eliza reacts to separation from her family in a manner similar to Northup, albeit in a more vocal fashion. However as time passes, Eliza is unable to gain control of her grief, and falls into an unbreakable depression.

Throughout his servitude, Northup holds himself together and emerges from his almost unbearable trials stronger than before.  On the other hand, Eliza, her psyche shattered by the sudden separation from her children, meaninglessly floats through life until she simply gives up and dies.


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