12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the summer of 1852, Epps begins a construction project on his land, aided by Solomon and a white Canadian contractor named Bass. A middle-aged bachelor with no other family, Bass wanders from state to state on his own whims. Bass is an outspoken man who enjoys arguing but has a certain pleasant manner that makes people not take offense to his opinions.
The detail that Bass is Canadian is important for understanding his opinions and role in the narrative. Slavery was abolished in Canada in 1834—nearly twenty years before Bass’s arrival at Epps’ plantation. This means that Bass likely grew up in an opposite environment to Epps. Instead of seeing and accepting slavery as normal for his whole life, Bass has witnessed slavery be abolished in his home country.
Themes
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Bass frequently argues with Epps about slavery, declaring that the law “lies.” He asks, “Is every thing right because the law allows it? Suppose they’d pass a law taking away your liberty and making you a slave?” This question elicits little more than laughter and jokes from Epps.
Bass criticizes the American government, explaining that even if injustice (like slavery) is legal, that doesn’t mean that it is morally right. Bass attempts to instill Epps with empathy for his slaves, but in his characteristically coarse manner, Epps takes Bass’s opinions as a joke.
Themes
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Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Bass asks Epps what the difference is between a white man and a black man in God’s eyes. Epps, finding the entire conversation comical, claims it makes “All the difference in the world,” and is like comparing white men to monkeys. Trying a different approach, Bass asks, “Are all men created free and equal as the Declaration of Independence holds they are?” Epps answers that “all men” doesn’t include black men or monkeys. Bass tells him that he knows many white men who are less sensible than monkeys. He also says that there are a large number of slaves on the Bayou who are as white as himself and Epps. Amused, Epps tells Bass that he likes to hear himself talk.
Epps’ lifelong exposure to slavery and racism blinds him to the idea that all people are equal in God’s eyes, reaffirming that racism is a learned behavior. Epps’ racism is so deep rooted that he is unable to internalize Bass’s points at all, instead interpreting Bass’s comments as idle banter. Bass highlights the absurdity of racism, pointing out that many slaves look completely white. This moment gestures to Solomon’s argument that sometimes slavery and racism seems to be less about skin color and more about having a justification for slave owners to be cruel and barbaric toward other humans.
Themes
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Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Christianity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Throughout the summer, Solomon works silently alongside Bass and is increasingly convinced of Bass’s trustworthiness. One day, while the pair work alone, Solomon asks Bass where he came from. Bass tells him that he’s from Canada, not expecting Solomon to know where that is. When Solomon rattles off several city names in Canada, claiming to have visited all of them, Bass knows that Solomon used to be a free man. He wants to know Solomon’s life story, so the two men agree to meet in the middle of the night to talk.
By wanting to know more about Solomon’s life story, Bass demonstrates his empathy and shows that his outspoken abolitionist opinions are not just empty words. Bass is the first person Solomon has divulged his true identity to since Manning, the kindhearted sailor that Solomon met on the way to New Orleans nearly twelve years prior. Solomon’s silence in between that time shows that he understands the grave danger in telling the truth about his past.
Themes
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Truth and Justice Theme Icon
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That night, Solomon explains to Bass how he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. He begs Bass to write a letter to his friends and family so that they can rescue him or forward his free papers. Bass agrees to help, and the following night, the two meet again. Bass writes down the names and addresses of some of Solomon’s contacts from New York, including Judge Marvin, William Perry, and Cephas Parker.
Almost mirroring the situation with Manning twelve years prior, Bass agrees to write and send a letter for Solomon even though it is extremely dangerous for the both of them. Even though it’s legal for Bass to help restore a kidnapped slave to freedom, the dangerous (or deadly) repercussions would come in the form of Epps’ wrath.
Themes
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Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Solomon tells Bass that all he thinks about is the joy that will come when he is reunited with his family again. Bass tells Solomon that he is without a family of his own to care for him or remember him. He declares that he will dedicate his life to helping Solomon find justice. A few days later, Bass goes into town to write and send three letters—one to Judge Marvin, one to Perry and Parker, and a third to the Collector of Customs at New York.
Solomon’s family has given him hope and purpose throughout his enslavement. In contrast, Bass feels purposeless without such family ties. However, since Bass and Solomon’s friendship is built on loyalty, compassion, and love, the two men are becoming practically family—something Bass seems to recognize when he vows to dedicate his life to restoring Solomon to freedom.
Themes
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Related Quotes
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When Bass returns to Epps’ plantation, he tells Solomon that it will likely take six weeks to receive a reply from New York. Four weeks go by, and Solomon begins to feel hopeless. Bass promises to return to visit Solomon on the day before Christmas.
Bass shows his loyalty to Solomon and his antislavery convictions by promising to return to Epps’ plantation at a later date, even though doing so may dangerously arouse Epps’ suspicions.
Themes
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon