12 Years a Slave

by

Solomon Northrup

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12 Years a Slave: Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Solomon and Henry B. Northup board a steamboat for New Orleans, and Solomon can’t keep himself from dancing around the deck. When the pair arrive in New Orleans, Solomon points out several notable places, including Freeman’s slave pen. The men run into Freeman himself, but Solomon avoids “renew[ing] acquaintance with him.” Northup and Solomon hear that Freeman has become a “miserably […] broken-down, disreputable man.”
Freeman transforms from powerful slave dealer to “miserably […] broken-down,” mirroring the transformation that also happened to Tibeats. Both men’s lifelong cruelty eventually destroy them.
Themes
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After a long journey by train and another steamboat, Solomon and Henry B. Northup arrive in Washington D.C., where they immediately go to the police to file a complaint against Burch for selling Solomon into slavery. Burch is arrested but bailed out by his fellow slave dealer, Benjamin O. Shekels. Later, Shekels and another man named Benjamin A. Thorn act as witnesses in the trial, claiming that Solomon wanted to go South. Solomon is not allowed to testify, despite his proven status as a free man. Burch, however, is allowed to testify and is deemed innocent.
Burch lies to escape punishment for his crime, going so far as to hire two fake witnesses. The claim that Solomon wanted to go South is absurd, but the court accepts this explanation simply because it came from white witnesses. It seems that the court is also avoiding the truth in order to avoid potential revenge from Burch and other slave dealers. The court also shows clear racism and obstruction of justice by allowing Burch to testify but not Solomon.
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Soon after, Burch tries to charge Solomon with “conspir[ing] with the two white men to defraud him.” Solomon is arrested and brought to court with Henry B. Northup as his lawyer. In the middle of the court procession, Burch drops the charges. Solomon addresses the reader, stressing that he is innocent and in no way was involved in an attempt to defraud Burch. 
Burch files a complaint against Solomon as revenge, even though Burch was just pronounced innocent. Like Epps, Burch’s deep-set racism allows him to justify his wickedness.
Themes
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Henry B. Northup and Solomon reach New York in late January. When Solomon enters his family’s home, his daughter Margaret doesn’t recognize him, since she was only seven years old when he was kidnapped. When Solomon reveals who he is, Margaret is overjoyed and introduces him to her own son, Solomon Northup Staunton. Elizabeth and Anne also come running, smothering Solomon with hugs and kisses. Solomon finds out that his son, Alonzo, has gone west to earn enough money to purchase his father’s freedom.
The fact that Solomon’s son, Alonzo, has gone all the way across the country to earn enough money to buy his father’s freedom emphasizes the way that family provides a sense of purpose—just as Solomon’s family gave him a sense of purpose and the tenacity to endure slavery for the past twelve years.
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Addressing the reader, Solomon says that his story has come to a close. He reaffirms that everything he has written is true, stating, “If I have failed in anything, it has been in presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture.” He vows to now live an “upright though lowly life” as a free man.
This passage refers back to when Solomon noted that many people, having never known slavery or the South, speak “flippantly” about the bright spots of slavery. Solomon challenges his reader to instead confront the fact that slavery is evil, inhumane, and unjust, and to use those antislavery convictions to fight for justice and strengthen the Abolitionist Movement.
Themes
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