Essay on 12 Years a Slave: Cultural Relativism and Norms in 19th Century Culture

Paper Type:  Creative writing
Pages:  3
Wordcount:  563 Words
Date:  2023-03-02


Cultural relativism is the act of analyzing culture, and it's components from its point of view without imposing judgment or a diminishing comparison from other cultures. In relation to the film 12 years a slave, the setting in the 19th century portrays a number of cultures that apply the idea of cultural relativism.

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Norms and Culture

Violence is a tool portrayed in the film that gives power in the culture by then. Northup is subjected to beatings and torture in a bid to retain him as a slave, and violence was normalcy in society by then. Secondly, slavery was the norm in American society by then, forced labor, and proprietary of human beings was normal. Northup was sold as a slave in spite of his prior status of being a free man; he was in servitude for more than a decade involuntarily.

Cultural comparisons

Disparities of cultures have outshone in the setting of this film between the slave owners and the slaves. The slave owners were the Caucasian man who often had a higher status in American society. On the contrary, the majority of people in the servitude were the African -American descent people of the lower state in the American setting. Slave owners were more aggressive and used this nature and integrated into their culture to ensure dominance and power over the slaves. Such life bears effects, and ostensibly the effect trickled down to what the culture of African American people had to be. Northup had little bargaining power against slavery because his culture had low ability to bargain for slavery abolition. Both the culture had accepted and integrated slavery as a part of them regardless of the inequalities within them.

Cultural difference

Cultural difference is evident between Northup and Epps, his owner. Epps comes out as a ruthless and sadist, in line with his culture that allows it as a means to handle slaves. Epps' culture shows no remorse and respect for human life as his behavior is not punishable or bears no sanctions against such action and instead normalizes it. Further, his wife portrays a similar response towards Patsey, who is a rape victim of Epps, affirming the nature in the duos' culture. On the other hand, Northup culture is very different since he portrays an excellent value for human life as opposed to Epps. He, Northup, is deranged when he is forced to whip Patsey to near death; he destroys his violin in anger after the incidence. There is a clears difference between the two cultures, basically the slave owners and slaves, and the Caucasian American and African American.

Cultural relativism

In the film, cultural relativism comes out as a paradox in its complexity. Both the primary cultures in the movie are different yet in a way similar to the principles they share. In Epps' culture, Caucasian, they have normalized slavery and use it as an economic tool as well as show dominance over the African American race. Similarly, slavery is accepted, although opposed sentimentally by the African American race. Further, slavery is a source of livelihood for African Americans whose freedom has been crippled by the slave owners through traditional means. Violence has remained a tool to restore sanity in the interaction between the two sets of cultures. Force is used amongst the slaves' sub-culture too. Northup was nearly hung by his fellow slaves to settles their scores.

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Essay on 12 Years a Slave: Cultural Relativism and Norms in 19th Century Culture. (2023, Mar 02). Retrieved from

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