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does not call attention to itself so much" as other slave narratives, which tend to be steeped in a sentimental tradition "that often discomfits and annoys 20th-century critics." Northup's autobiography feels less like fiction, in other words, because its writer is so experienced with fiction.
Some anthropological asides are even more jarring; in one case, Northup refers to a slave rebel named Lew Cheney as "a shrewd, cunning negro, more intelligent than the generality of his race." That description would sound condescending and prejudiced if a white man wrote it.Which, of course, a white man named David Wilson did.A story about slavery, a real, horrible crime, inevitably involves an appeal to reality—the story has to seem accurate if it is to be accepted as true.Gladly would Patsey have appeased this unforgiving spirit, if it had been in her power, but not like Joseph, dared she escape from Master Epps, leaving her garment in his hand.As you can see, in the book, it is Mistress Epps who wants to bribe Northup to drown Patsey. The film seems to have misread the line, attributing the mistress's desires to Patsey.This is nowhere more the case than in slave narratives themselves.
Often published by abolitionist presses or in explicit support of the abolitionist cause, slave narratives represented themselves as accurate, first-person accounts of life under slavery.It's scenes like these in the film, surely, that lead critic Susan Wloszczyna to state that watching And yet, for all its verisimilitude, the encounter never happened.It appears nowhere in Northup's autobiography, and it’s likely he would be horrified at the suggestion that he was anything less than absolutely faithful to his wife.But that seeming accuracy requires artifice and fiction—a cool distance in one case, an acknowledgement of sexuality in another. But refusing to try to recapture the experience and instead deciding to, say, treat slavery as a genre Western, can be presumptuous in its own way as well.And then, even with the best will in the world, there are bound to be mistakes and discrepancies, as with Mistress Epps's plea for murder transforming into Patsey's wish for death. The writers of the original slave narratives knew that to end injustice, you must first acknowledge that injustice exists.Yet, as University of North Carolina professor William Andrews has discussed in , the representation of accuracy, and, for that matter, of first-person account, required a good deal of artifice.