Summary: Chapter 20

Bass returns and tells Solomon that he has not yet heard back from anyone in Saratoga. He tells Solomon that he plans to travel to Saratoga in the spring and will try to contact Solomon’s acquaintances then. Solomon feels hopeful that Bass will live up to this promise. About a week after Christmas, Solomon and the others are working when they see two men stepping out of a carriage down to the field.

Summary: Chapter 21

Solomon explains what happened when his letter arrived in Saratoga. When one of his acquaintances received it, he told Solomon’s wife and children, who were thrilled to learn that Solomon was still alive. They immediately sought legal advice from Henry Northup, a lawyer who had freed Solomon’s father and who had been Solomon’s lifelong friend. Northup contacted the governor of New York on the basis that Solomon’s captivity was illegal, and the governor appointed Northup to restore Solomon’s freedom. Although Northup knew Solomon was in New Orleans, he was unable to locate him; no one he asked had heard the name Solomon Northup, as Solomon was known to everyone there as Platt. Upon hearing about Bass, an abolitionist with unpopular opinions, Northup deduced that Bass had assisted Solomon with his letter and contacted Bass to find out Solomon’s location. Later, the sheriff and Northup arrive at Epps’s plantation and confirm Solomon’s identity, and Solomon leaves with them. 

Summary: Chapter 22

The final chapter opens with Northup and Solomon traveling to New York. Northup files a lawsuit against James Burch for Solomon’s kidnapping, but the lawsuit fails when Burch tells the ludicrous lie that Solomon identified himself as slave and told Burch that he wanted to go south. Solomon, being Black, is not allowed to testify on his own behalf. Northup and Solomon then continue back to Saratoga, where Solomon joyfully reunites with his wife and children.

Analysis: Chapters 20–22

In the narrative’s final chapters, Solomon’s release from bondage is told from several points of view, a narrative device not yet used in Northup’s book. First, Solomon himself waits for word from Bass in agonizing anticipation, always tempered by a healthy fear that his plan will be discovered. Switching point of view in Chapter 21 allows Northup to chronicle the actions of his friends and family after one of Solomon’s letters finally gets through. Here Northup’s detached, journalistic style softens, since he is in obvious admiration and gratitude of his ultimate rescuers and true friends. Also meticulous in his descriptions, Northup takes this opportunity to highlight the heroic actions undertaken by others to set him free.

Solomon’s last description of Epps’s plantation features Patsey, the broken woman, watching him leave and crying out in sorrow, emblematic of the hopelessness of enslavement. This contrasts with his last encounter with Epps, the bitter and still hateful slaveowner, who ceaselessly curses Solomon and denies his clearly truthful claims. This contrast between Epps and Patsey is a strong stylistic choice by Northup, a mostly dispassionate and journalistic author. By contrasting these reactions to his liberation from the plantation, Northup bluntly reminds his audience, in the year 1853, that though he was rescued from enslavement, countless others, Patsey included, are still being beaten and mistreated all throughout the country by men like Epps.

These final chapters hold both frustration and redemption for Solomon, deepening the emotional side of his character by the contrasting outcomes of his rescue. The swift actions taken by his friends somewhat restores faith in the goodness of people after a long narrative of rampant corruption and cruelty. But the court handling Solomon’s suit against James Burch shows blatant bias toward slaveholders. Solomon is reunited with his wife and children at last, a joyous occasion, but despite the actions of New York’s governor, the Virginia court acquits James Burch of any wrongdoing. Northup, as author, again allows the iniquities of his direct experience to speak for themselves rather than extrapolating on those experiences to make a political point. Instead, Northup allows the cruelty and injustice he has witnessed firsthand for twelve years to leave his audience with journalistic accuracy to reckon with. But in the end, Northup lets some solace to creep into his dispassionate style, sweetly describing his long overdue homecoming. Coupled with his frustration at the outcome of Burch’s trial, Solomon’s liberation is tainted by the injustices that persist in his world.