Summary and Analysis
Platt spends a month in relative safety at Tanner’s plantation before returning to work for Tibeats. It takes only a few days for Tibeats to become violent again. After a minor disagreement, Tibeats attacks Platt with a hatchet. Again, the slave is able to disarm the master, but unlike before, Platt acts only in self-defense this time. Enraged, Tibeats attempts to kill Platt with an axe. Platt prevents Tibeats from using the axe and finally begins to choke the life out of his master. Platt finally releases Tibeats, alive, and runs away. The next hours are filled with danger and fear as Platt must brave the Great Pacoudrie Swamp with its poisonous snakes and alligators to escape the dogs Tibeats has sent to hunt him down. At last, after a long and frightful night, he finds his way back to William Ford’s home, where he is given shelter and safety, at least for the moment.
The costs of freedom are emphasized through Platt’s escape into the swamp. The slave has done nothing deserving of punishment. He has simply acted in self-defense to prevent the white master from committing murder. Had he been a white man, he would have been legally and socially exonerated, but his status as a black slave made that kind of justice impossible. The white owner had legal rights denied to the black slave, and in that system moral rightness was no defense against the immoral law. Freedom, however limited, was his only hope for survival. So Platt runs from one danger to another, trading the murderous human overlord for the potential killers in the wilderness of the swamp.
In spite of the dangers of the Great Pacoudrie Swamp, Platt’s temporary freedom is worth the risk, worth the cost, and worth the hardship. Pursued by men and dogs, surrounded by alligators and poisonous water snakes, for this one night at least, he is free. He is the master of his own destiny. He avoids the dogs and the dangers in the swamp and survives the night. The next day, the harsh reality sets in for Platt: His freedom has only been temporary. Sooner or later Tibeats—and the unjust laws that support him—will catch up to Platt. So he seeks out the only white man who has treated him with human dignity, sacrificing his freedom for protection and the slim hope that, somehow, William Ford will rescue him once again.