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|“||You will remove that black bitch from this property, or I'll take myself back to Cheneyville!||„|
|~ Mary Epps to her husband|
Mary Epps is the secondary antagonist of the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave. She is the wife of main antagonist Edwin Epps.
Mary is the matriarch of the Epps plantation and was a cruel, manipulative woman who held her status as a lady of high class in very high regard - she was aware of her husband's tendency towards uncontrollable rage and violence, which she often encouraged - due to Edwin also having frequent affairs with some of the female slaves (most notably Patsy) Mary's hatred of African Americans grew strong but she, unlike her husband, was restrained and instead focused her violence upon Patsy, whom she felt personally threatened by.
Mary would assault Patsy, demand Edwin to punish her and generally inflict as much pain as possible upon her - while she held all the slaves in contempt Patsy was the only slave that Mary truly desired to kill, yet to her frustration Edwin would never listen to her requests to do so.
Mary had brief interactions with Solomon and while generally dismissive of him was clever enough to detect that Solomon seemed more intelligent than other slaves, she even questioned if he knew how to read or write, Solomon lied and stated he could read but had "no understanding of the written word", she proceeded to inform him not to concern himself with anything other than manual work, which was his future and warned him that any further attempts to educate himself beyond manual work would result in twenty lashes: this interactions shows how Mary treated most of her slaves, with a false sense of civilness but laced with threat of punishment should they dare cross a line.
In the end Mary's intense and long rivalry with Patsy comes to a dramatic and horrifying conclusion when Patsy is caught stealing soap, prompting Mary to demand that Edwin whip her for it, when Edwin begins to falter Mary decides to push the matter and takes his pride to force him into acting - at first Edwin forces Solomon to whip Patsy for him, which Mary finds objectionable but allows until she realizes Solomon is holding back.
Desiring Patsy to be truly tortured (or even killed) Mary further provokes her husband's temper by suggesting Solomon was making a fool of him, prompting Edwin to furiously take the whip back and inflict a savage beating upon Patsy that leaves her near-dead, much to Mary's delight.
During this beating Solomon angrily proclaims that God will punish Edwin for his cruelty, Mary says nothing but is clearly displeased with Solomon's outburst, yet it is quickly silenced by Edwin - who mocks the idea of "sin" against a slave, who he justifies as his own property - he warns Solomon not to test his patience further and proceeds to beat Patsy further.
At the end of the film Mary is seen watching as Solomon is liberated from the plantation, pursued by a livid Edwin - neither she nor her husband could prevent Solomon's escape however and thus lose him as he finally regains his freedom in the North.
Like her husband, Mary is a racist who believes that the slaves on their plantation are subhuman, and so treats them with cruelty and contempt. She is also pathologically jealous of her husband, who has a habit of raping their more attractive female slaves. She blames his victims themselves for his actions, having convinced herself that they "seduced" him.
She and Edwin have no children; it is implied that they rarely have sex because Edwin is not attracted to her, thus fueling her hatred of the women Edwin abuses.
While Edwin is an unstable maniac with little restraint over his outbursts of insanity (further fueled by alcoholism) Mary was depicted as a more traditional psychopath who could use charm and restraint but had a deep and sadistic hatred of those she felt had wronged her - this hatred was strongest for Patsey and developed into murderous intents. Solomon makes it clear that while she was jealous of Patsy, she used it as an excuse to abuse her rather than because she did care about Edwin.
Mary was also clever and manipulative, knowing how to make her husband react and thus encouraging his already violent nature, if and when it suited her - while she held slaves in contempt she could have civil conversations with some but always made sure that they knew their place in her hierarchy : this was apparent when she gave Solomon a "friendly" warning not to concern himself with matters of reading or writing and that he was there only to work. Therefore, despite her somewhat justified hatred towards Edwin, she is almost as vile as him.
- Mary's warning to Solomon was, surprisingly, her only real act of mercy as in the South any slave who was caught able to read or write was considered dangerous and often killed - however she would not of been doing any of this out of true concern for Solomon but rather in hopes of intimidating him and thus making him compliant (as slavers in the South lived in perpetual fear of uprising).
- While not shown in the film the real Mary was prone to having Solomon beat Patsey for minor things, according to his book Solomon would often manage to prevent these beatings by saying that he would not like the anger "Master Epps" (as with all things this was likely true but unconfirmed beyond what Solomon himself wrote down).
- The Epps would both ultimately be left in poverty after the Civil War, losing their plantation and dying of yellow plague - thus Patsey would manage to outlive her cruel mistress and lived her final days in freedom.