Summary: Chapter 11

Ford allows Solomon to stay on his plantation to recover for a few days. When Ford brings Solomon back to Chapin’s plantation, Tibeats joins them. Ford advises Tibeats to sell Solomon as it is clear they cannot get along. The next day, Tibeats leaves, and a man named Mr. Eldret arrives, saying that Tibeats hired Solomon out to work for him. Solomon and Mr. Eldret head to Eldret’s plantation. After four weeks, Eldret allows Solomon to visit his friends at Chapin’s plantation. On his way back to Eldret’s, Tibeats encounters Solomon and tells him he has sold him to an Edward Epps. 

Summary: Chapter 12

Solomon describes Edward Epps as repulsive, coarse, inhumane, and often drunk. Solomon also describes the process of picking cotton, explaining that each slave must pick at least 200 pounds of cotton every day. If a slave picks under 200 pounds in a day, he or she is whipped. If a slave picks over 200 pounds, however, then he or she must pick that much every day from then on or face punishment. Solomon reveals that life on this new plantation includes long hours and very harsh living conditions, especially compared with life at Ford’s plantation.

Analysis: Chapters 11–12

Chapter 11 reinforces the comparisons and contrasts between Ford and Tibeats as antagonists in Northup’s narrative. By forcing Solomon’s sale, Ford saves Solomon’s life, but his righteous act once again falls short of truly respecting Solomon’s humanity. Despite the easy contrast with Tibeats, who is violent and unpredictable, Ford, the merciful master, is just as complicit in Solomon’s captivity and treatment as the cruel carpenter. The very act of selling Solomon as a form of rescue calls out Ford’s supposedly moral character. Like any other slave owner, Ford is comfortable selling human beings and determining their fates by dollar amount. Even mercy in this cruel world is another form of oppression, and even the merciful antagonize Solomon by keeping him enslaved.

In Chapter 12, Northup carefully describes the setting of Epps’s cotton plantation, where his short experience in the cotton fields provided northern audiences with a true view of the overwhelming hopelessness of enslavement in the American south. When daily minimums fall short, the slaves are whipped, and the cotton must be picked whether the slaves are unwell or still injured from previous beatings. Hopelessness pervades the lives of these enslaved people. Further, Northup entreats his audience to see how few masters are gentle and kind to their slaves by describing his new master in greater detail than he did Ford or even Tibeats. Epps’s cruelty knows no match in Northup’s twelve years of enslavement, and the setting of Epps’s plantation will be the site of Solomon’s continued torture.