Summary: Chapter 9

Solomon remains bound with a noose around his neck, unable to move. Chapin is nearby, but inexplicably allows Solomon to suffer under the burning sun, Solomon’s legs and arms swelling painfully against his bindings. A slave named Rachel gives Solomon a sip of water. After many hours, Ford arrives and cuts Solomon free. That night, Chapin takes Solomon to sleep on the floor in his own house in order to protect him from Tibeats. Over the next month, Solomon is sent to work at the plantation of Ford’s brother-in-law, Peter Tanner; while there, he’s safe from Tibeats. 

Summary: Chapter 10

Solomon returns from Ford’s brother-in-law’s plantation and begins working for Tibeats again. One morning, Tibeats becomes angry with Solomon and grabs a hatchet. The two men fight until Solomon, fearing for his life, runs from the plantation. He swims through the dangerous Pacoudrie Swamp in order to escape the dogs that Tibeats has sent after him. Solomon eventually finds his way to Ford’s plantation, where he explains what happened. Ford gives him food and allows him to stay in one of the cabins that night.

Analysis: Chapters 9–10 

Chapter 9 finds Solomon suspended and uncertain, highlighting the unpredictable nature of life as a slave, a theme here painfully developed by the actions of the witnesses. He is utterly at the whim of the master’s scorn or mercy, and as if afraid to touch him, both slaves and overseer leave the scene of the crime untouched. This hesitancy and inability to help shows the near impossibility of mercy in the landscape of the plantation. Anyone who aids or abets the misbehavior of slaves is treated with the same harshness as the perpetrator, or perhaps even more. In short, the lives of these enslaved people are held in the hands of their masters, and a whim or temper or state of drunkenness can easily bring a master like Tibeats to the point of murder. But in stark contrast, William Ford’s conditional mercy saves Solomon’s life. Powerless in their enslavement, Solomon and the others live on the knife’s edge of their masters’ unpredictable bouts of hate or their brief mercy.

When Solomon nearly kills Tibeats and runs from the plantation, highly detailed descriptions of dogs on his heels, palmettoes, water moccasins, and alligators, reflect Solomon’s fears in natural symbols. Even in his wild, unplanned escape attempt, Solomon knows that full escape through the swamp is near impossible. The threats of the swamp are immediate symbols of the dangers that lie beyond. Solomon does not know the geography of the Red River, where he has been forcibly taken. Northup painstakingly makes a circuitous route back to Ford’s plantation, a location which takes on a momentary representation of safety. Ford’s plantation is indeed the only place he may be safe from Tibeats in near proximity. The wild lands and their dangers symbolize the danger of escape, which could easily land Solomon in the hands of Tibeats or someone like him.