Summary: Chapter 7

Solomon introduces his new master William Ford, a kind-hearted man who is nevertheless blind to the immorality and horror of slavery. Solomon impresses Ford by building a raft and thereafter becomes known for his skill in many trades. A carpenter named Tibeats comes to Ford’s plantation to work on his house, and Solomon is told to assist him. Solomon describes Tibeats as the opposite of Ford in every way. A cruel and ignorant man, Tibeats doesn’t own his own plantation but makes his living by working on the plantations of others. 

Summary: Chapter 8

Ford faces financial troubles and must sell Solomon to Tibeats. Tibeats and Solomon go to work at another plantation owned by Ford, which is overseen by the reasonable Mr. Chapin. One morning, Tibeats becomes angry with Solomon even though Solomon has done exactly what Tibeats asked. When Tibeats tries to whip Solomon, Solomon fights back, refusing to be punished for following orders. Chapin intervenes and tells Tibeats that there is no reason to whip Solomon. Tibeats leaves but returns with two men who tie up Solomon and discuss where to hang him. Chapin orders Tibeats and the men to leave, then sends a messenger to Ford to alert him that Tibeats tried to murder Solomon. Inexplicably, Chapin does not free Solomon from the ropes that bind him.

Analysis: Chapters 7–8

Tibeats, the spiteful and violent carpenter, is the narrative’s first major antagonist, discounting the terrible violence done by James Burch. Solomon’s harrowing run-ins with Tibeats in this section of the narrative are contrasted to the otherwise fair treatment he experiences in servitude to William Ford. Solomon is protected by Ford, a more complex character than the villain Tibeats. William Ford, as described by Northup, is a good man in every respect, but blind to the horrors of slavery he actively benefits from, which makes this gentle master an antagonist as well. Detailed encounters with both Ford and Tibeats highlight the inner complexities of chattel slavery, and the shades of antagonism various slave masters embody. Some masters may treat their slaves well, but many suffer the whip under tyrants such as Tibeats.

Northup describes his fight with Tibeats in agonizing detail, presenting the defense for his actions clearly and boldly, all from his own point of view. Even as he beats back Tibeats with the whip, Solomon knows he will be severely punished for his outburst. But his feelings of righteousness push him to aggressively resist and even beat Tibeats. As narrator, Northup claims his actions were those of a just man in an unjust world, and he is right to claim it. He refuses to be punished for something he did correctly in the first place, but this moral perspective has no place in his immoral situation. Solomon’s near hanging, the punishment he faces for standing up to Tibeats, shows Solomon the harsh truth of his enslavement. A slave is beaten by their master for nothing, but if a slave hits their master, they face death. Solomon’s antagonists, whether Tibeats or Ford, have an institutional power over his life or death, and this truth is one Solomon will reckon with for twelve agonizing years.