12 Years a Slave

by

Solomon Northrup

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12 Years a Slave: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the morning, Solomon tends to the garden to show his gratitude. Although Mistress Ford tells Solomon that he need not work and should continue to rest, Solomon still wants to help. For three days, he works in the garden, tending to the vines “which the gentle and generous hand of my protectress had taught to clamber along the walls.”
Solomon also thinks of Mistress Ford as a mother figure, referring to her as a “protectress” who is “gentle and generous.” Like a mother, Mistress Ford fusses over Solomon’s physical condition and tries to get him to rest instead of work.
Themes
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On the fourth morning, Ford and Solomon set off for Bayou Boeuf. Ford rides on horseback while Solomon walks alongside him, though Ford frequently tries to convince Solomon to trade places with him. As the men travel, Ford tells Solomon that surviving the swamp was a miracle from God, like Daniel surviving the lions’ den. Ford also talks about the “vanity of earthly things” and the goodness of eternal life.
Like Mistress Ford trying to get Solomon to rest instead of work, Ford tries to persuade Solomon to ride on horseback rather than walk, showing that he cares for Solomon’s physical health. Ford also wants to nurture Solomon’s spiritual health. He tells Solomon the biblical story of when Daniel, the lead advisor to King Darius, was betrayed by the King’s other advisors and eventually thrown into the lions’ den. Daniel miraculously survived because of his steadfast faith and trust in God. Ford encourages Solomon to continue to find strength and hope in God, just like Daniel did.
Themes
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As Ford and Solomon near Bayou Boeuf, they come across Tibeats on horseback, who turns around and rides alongside them. Ford chastises Tibeats for trying to attack his slave with a hatchet. He tells Tibeats that treating slaves with kindness is a far better way to earn loyalty and respect. Ford says Tibeats and Solomon can no longer live together, as Tibeats will only continue to try to murder Solomon. Ford declares that Tibeats must sell Solomon immediately.
This is the second time that Tibeats has been criticized by a fellow white man and slave owner for the way he treats Solomon (first Chapin, now Ford).
Themes
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Tibeats briefly hires Solomon out to a man named Eldret. Solomon works long, hard hours chopping wood, but he is grateful to be working under Eldret rather than Tibeats. Eldret even promises that if Solomon works hard and faithfully, he will be able to visit Ford in the course of a few weeks. Right before Solomon is about to embark on that trip, Tibeats arrives and objects to it. Eldret is firm, stating that Solomon earned the opportunity to visit Ford and will be allowed to go. Tibeats begrudgingly writes Solomon a pass, which reads, “Platt has permission to go to Ford’s plantation, on Bayou Boeuf, and return by Tuesday morning.”
Tibeats is clearly cruel for the sake of being cruel. Even though Solomon is temporarily under Eldret’s authority and Solomon has rightfully earned the chance to visit Ford, Tibeats still objects to the plan just to be malicious. The pass he writes shows what standard slave passes looked like at the time. The pass includes Solomon’s slave name (Platt), his end destination, and when he is to return by.
Themes
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As Solomon travels, many white men demand his pass. He tells the reader that for many white men, catching runaway slaves is a lucrative business. There are financial rewards for catching a fugitive, and if the fugitive is not reclaimed by his or her owner, the slave can be resold for a hefty profit. A man who undertakes this profession is called “a mean white.”
 In this passage, Solomon shows his white Northern readership how the institution of slavery is built on cruelty and greed. For these “mean whites,” catching slaves is less about returning them to their owner and more about being able to resell them to make money.
Themes
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Once at Ford’s plantation, Solomon spends the evening catching up with the other slaves. He is shocked to see the way that Eliza has wasted away, as “grief […] gnawed remorselessly at her heart, until her strength was gone.” Solomon tells the reader that this was the last time he saw Eliza. Sometime after his visit, Eliza was sent to another owner but couldn’t keep up with the work. One day, “the Angel of the Lord […] gathering in his harvest of departing souls, had silently entered the cabin of the dying woman, and had taken her from thence. She was free at last!”
Hopeless about ever seeing her children again, Eliza loses all motivation to continue living. In contrast, Solomon’s thoughts about his family throughout the novel make him feel tenacious and hopeful for the future. Solomon shows the reader how for Eliza, death is a welcome, gentle end to the bitterness and barbarity of slavery.
Themes
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The next day, Solomon leaves the plantation early to return to Eldret’s plantation. Along the way, Solomon runs into Tibeats, who tells him that he has been sold to a man at the next plantation, Edwin Epps. Tibeats brings Solomon to Epps’ plantation, and Solomon is relieved to be under new ownership and rid of Tibeats.
Tibeats listens to Ford’s earlier advice and sells Solomon instead of continuing to abuse him. It’s unclear whether Tibeats knew of Epps’ reputation as a cruel master before he sold Solomon to him, though it’s possible that Tibeats purposefully tried to find a cruel master for Solomon just out of spite.
Themes
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon