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

Solomon Northup, a free-born black man who had been kidnapped and forced into slavery for twelve years, used amazing contrasts in his autobiography (Twelve Years a Slave). This made for a very entertaining read. In my autobiography I want to use contrasts, mainly because it helps to give more insights into a person’s life.

How could I adopt Northup’s technique? I would probably re-read several times Northup’s book, especially those passages that contained the contrasts. This would lead to an analysis of how Northup used his contrasts. Also, I would have to know the lives and situations of people that lived in my time so that I could see the differences between our lives.

Do Contrasts Make An Autobiography Stronger?

A young Russian Communist, having escaped into Canada, noted the difference between the two cultures.

“They took me… and drove me around Prince Rupert…. My eyes almost popped out as I looked at the cars and nice homes….They said, “This is where the people live.” “Who, capitalists and businessmen?” I asked. He laughed and said, “No, just the plain, working people….” Later they brought me a photographic magazine to look at… full of pictures of mirrors, chairs, beds, carpets, and… expensive furniture…. Russian propaganda says that the very rich have become rich by exploiting the very poor. But the homes of the workers here were the equivalent of palaces in Russia, and I couldn’t fail to notice that everyone was dressed almost the same, with good clothes….”[1]

Contrasts definitely make this autobiography stronger because they help us to relate to the author’s feelings. The contrasts also help us to view the world through the author’s eyes, and therefore see different aspects of it that we would otherwise not notice. Without contrasts, this autobiography would be boring, dull and unattractive.

[1] Excerpt from The Persecutor, autobiography of Sergei Kourdakov (See here).