12 Years a Slave

by

Solomon Northrup

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12 Years a Slave: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, “The very amiable, pious-hearted” Freeman prepares his “animals” to be sold. After all of the slaves bathe, the men are given suits and hats, and the women are given dresses and handkerchiefs to tie up their hair. Freeman makes the slaves practice arranging themselves according to height and sex and also forces them to dance to the tune of a fiddle, played by one of Freeman’s personal slaves. Solomon soon takes over on the fiddle, and Freeman is delighted by his musical talents.
As he often does throughout the narrative, Solomon uses sarcasm to draw attention to the inhumanity of slave traders and slave owners. Here, he calls Freeman “amiable” and “pious-hearted” to underscore that Freeman can act so inhumanely to slaves and still perhaps be seen as a good and ordinary man in white society. This society has normalized evil, so one can act evilly and still be seen as a good citizen.
Themes
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
The following day, potential buyers arrive to examine Freeman’s “new lot.” The customers feel the slaves’ limbs, ask them about their abilities, and make the slaves open their mouths to reveal their teeth, “precisely as a jockey examines a horse which he is about to barter for or purchase.” The customers also check the slaves’ backs for scars.
Collectively, the slaves are considered a “new lot,” making them more like products than people. Furthering their dehumanizing treatment, they are examined by potential buyers as if they were race horses. Buyers also check the slaves’ backs for scars to see if the slave has a history of bad behavior—even though scars likely mean the slave has a history of barbaric owners.
Themes
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Solomon watches Eliza and her children be separated. Randall is bought first, and the man who buys him can’t afford to buy Eliza and Emily as well, despite Eliza’s pleas and tears. As Randall is taken away, he says, “Don’t cry, mama. I will be a good boy. Don’t cry.” Solomon tells the reader that he would have easily cried too if he had “dared.”
Solomon appeals to his readers’ empathy by showing them, in heartbreaking detail, how slave traders and buyers permanently separate families without so much as a second thought.
Themes
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
That night, many of the slaves come down with smallpox. Solomon, Eliza, Emily, and Harry grow so ill that they are taken to the hospital, where they remain for two weeks. When they are eventually returned to Freeman’s slave pen, they are examined by a potential buyer named William Ford. He asks many of the slaves “if [they] thought [they] would like to live with him, and would be good boys if he would buy [them].” He purchases Solomon, Harry, and Eliza, and, upon learning that he would be separating Eliza from her daughter, Ford offers to buy Emily too. Freeman claims Emily is not for sale and will be worth more once she’s older. Emily and Eliza cry and scream as they are separated, and Ford looks regretful.
William Ford is a sharp contrast from all of the other slave dealers and potential buyers that Solomon has encountered. Ford interacts with the slaves as if they are orphaned children that he is going to adopt. He also shows empathy by offering to buy Emily so that she won’t be separated from her mother. Even though Emily has been lined up with the slaves the whole time, as if for sale, Freeman suddenly claims she is not for sale—clearly wanting Emily and her mother to be separated just for the sake of it.
Themes
Racism and Slavery Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
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Solomon tells the reader that Eliza never again saw her children. He says that her hope for freedom was shattered by her separation from her children, and now “she weepeth sore in the night, and tears are on her cheeks: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her: they have become her enemies.”
Solomon references the Bible, quoting Lamentations 1:2 in his description of Eliza’s overwhelming pain having lost her children. In Lamentations, the nation of Judah is betrayed by its allied nations, just as Eliza was betrayed by her original owner’s son-in-law and sold into slavery.
Themes
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Truth and Justice Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
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