12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the day before Christmas, Solomon is delighted to see that Bass has arrived at Epps’ plantation. Bass tells Epps that he’s in town briefly for business and was hoping to stay overnight at the Epps plantation. That night, Solomon senses that Bass won’t be able to sneak out of the Epps’ home to come meet him, so he decides to intercept Bass at dawn.
Once again, Bass shows his loyalty and commitment to justice, even though helping Solomon is risky for both parties. Also, the fact that Bass is visiting by himself on the day before Christmas reaffirms that he doesn’t have a family, and that he’s taken on Solomon as a makeshift one.
Themes
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
In the morning, Bass tells Solomon that he hasn’t received a reply from any of the three letters he sent. Solomon is crushed, but Bass quickly tells him that he has several construction jobs lined up that will finish in April. At that time, he will use his newly earned money to travel to New York to find Solomon’s contacts in person. Bass tells Solomon, “I am with you, life or death,” and departs from Epps’ plantation.
Bass’s parting words, “I am with you, life or death,” are reminiscent of marriage vows, gesturing to the way that Bass and Solomon have become like family. Helping Solomon gives Bass a sense of purpose—so much so that he’s willing to spend his hard-earned money to travel to New York.
Themes
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
The next morning, the slaves leave for the annual Christmas feast, this time hosted by a young, gentle slaveowner named Mary McCoy, who is “an angel of kindness.” Solomon points out to the reader that not all slave owners are cruel like Tibeats or Epps; although rare, slaveholders like Ford and Miss McCoy do exist.
By telling the reader about the kindly slave owners as well as the cruel and inhumane ones, Solomon paints a complex picture of slavery that details both the ups and the downs of his experiences.
Themes
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
After the Christmas festivities, Solomon and the other slaves return to work at Epps’ plantation. One morning, Epps is particularly disagreeable and claims that the slaves are doing their work wrong. He leaves to get a whip, and Solomon notices two men approaching in a carriage. Solomon interjects in the narrative, telling the reader that he will briefly turn back the clock to August, “to follow Bass’s letter on its long journey” and “to learn the effect it produced.”
Epps seems to be looking for a reason to whip his slaves, illustrating his own cruel nature. He claims the slaves are doing their work incorrectly, but this is probably false, considering the fact that most slaves are forced to pick cotton every day during harvest season for their entire lives.
Themes
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
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