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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
Do it. Strike the life outta' her.
~ Mary telling her husband Edwin, to strike Patsy.

Mary Epps is the secondary antagonist of the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave. She is the wife of main antagonist Edwin Epps.

She was portrayed by Sarah Paulson, who also portrayed Dr. Ellie Staple in GlassSally McKenna, Ally Mayfair-Richards, and Wilhelmina Venable in American Horror Story, Anne Gillette in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Dr. Zara in Abominable.

Biography

Mary, the matriarch of the Epps plantation, holds her status as a lady of high class in very high regard. She is aware of her husband's uncontrollable rage and violence, which she often encourages. She is also aware that Edwin frequently rapes their female slaves, whom she sees as her rivals rather than his victims. She is especially threatened by Patsy, Edwin's "favorite", and thus is particularly cruel to her; she beats Patsy, demands Edwin punish her and generally inflicts as much pain as possible upon her.

Mary has brief interactions with Solomon and, while generally dismissive of him, is intuitive enough to detect that he seems more intelligent than other slaves. She even asks him if he knows how to read or write. Solomon lies and says he can read but has "no understanding of the written word". She proceeds to tell him not to concern himself with anything other than manual work, and warns him that any further attempts to educate himself will result in twenty lashes.

In the end Mary's 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. Mary further provokes her husband's temper by suggesting Solomon is making a fool of him, prompting Edwin to take the whip back and beat Patsy nearly to death with it.

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 laughs at the idea of "sin" against a slave. 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 can prevent Solomon's escape, however, and thus lose him as he finally regains his freedom in the North.

Personality

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. This is one of many signs that Mary sees black folks as nothing more than toys that she can abuse whenever she feels like taking her anger out on them.

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. That said, she does have some loyalty to Edwin even though that's likely only due to the time period considering both  the book and the film take place during a time in which woman's rights were frowned upon/

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 if not a bit more sympathetic considering she must deal with having him for a husband.

Trivia

  • 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.
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