How could I adopt Northup’s technique of using contrasts?

Solomon Northup was born and raised a free African-American man in the state of New York.  He lived a good life, and brought up a family, life was good for him, until the day he was kidnapped and sold into slavery.  For 12 years he worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana.  He lived in the corrupt system of slavery until alas he found a way to write a letter to his friends in New York, they worked out the details and he was freed from the evil system, able to return to his life as a free American man.  He wrote an autobiography in 1853 that described in detail his 12 years in bondage.  In 2013, a movie based on his narrative was released, it won an academy award for best picture of the year.   As he narrates, it is clear that he was considerate of the reader and put forth effort to keep the reader engaged.  But something else played a big role in the strength of the narrative, what? Contrasts.

Northup’s use of contrasts is what excites the reader to keep reading, or in the case of the movie, to continue watching.  One of the biggest contrasts regarding the treatment of the slaves was positive sanctions vs. negative sanctions.  The slave owners who treated their slaves with respect, and treated them right, only beating them if, and when absolutely necessary, recieved more efficient work from their slaves.  Obviously this meant that they had more prosperous plantations.  But there were slave owners who almost appeared to take pride in beating their slaves, they treated them like objects, and nearly beat them to death many times.  The slaves retaliated, no matter what they did, negative sanctions were inflicted.  They did what was necessary, or what they were able, but they had no motivation to work harder, nothing to look forward to.

This was the major contrast of the narrative, but upon reading it, you will find that he often uses contrasts to strengthen and deliver his story.

Now, back to the main question, how can I adopt Northup’s strategy of using contrasts?  The first step is observation, I will definitely be going back to review this autobiography.  When someone learns something new, they must first understand what it is they are learning.  Taking time to understand why and how contrasts are used when creating a narrative is the first step to adopting this strategy.

Currently, I keep notes on the important events in my life, later on in my life, I will combine them together to create an autobiography of my own.  Another step I could take towards adopting his strategy is assessing contrasts as I note down important events in my life.  And using these contrasts to explain relevancy and to keep the reader engaged, will strengthen my narrative.

I have a lot to learn in the respect of using contrasts in my narrative, but after reading this, I have gained at least a general idea of the steps I should begin taking to train myself.  Northup created a good model, and provided a good basis of what is possible when using this style of writing.

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