Summary and Analysis
At William Ford’s plantation, Platt is given shelter and treated with kindness, which he tries to repay by working in Ford’s wife’s garden. After four days, William Ford accompanies Platt back to Tibeats and the plantation in Bayou Boeuf. There, Ford lectures Tibeats on the proper treatment of slaves, urging him to treat Platt humanely. Tibeats apparently listens, and Platt is spared punishment for running away.
Tibeats subsequently hires Platt out to a Mr. Eldret for work clearing trees in Big Cane Break, 38 miles away. The work is hard, but satisfying, and Platt is treated fairly by Eldret. They are joined by four “lumberwomen,” black slaves whom Platt is impressed to note are “equal to any man.” At length, Platt’s hard work earns him a weekend pass to visit William Ford’s home. While there, he reunites with Eliza and observes that she has become a shell of the woman she once was. He reports that she later dies in sorrow and agony in the service of a cruel master. On his way back to Big Cane Break, he meets Tibeats, who informs Platt that he’s been sold to the planter Edwin Epps.
Northup’s experience as a slave seems to have heightened his sensitivity to the value and abilities of women. For example, in Chapter XI he exhibits this pre-feminist leaning with two stories. First is the story of the four “lumberwomen” who join the work clearing trees from Big Cane Break. Assigned to work side-by-side with them, Platt is deliberate about praising their abilities. They are, he says, “equal to any man,” and to prove it he lists the kinds of work they did with excellence: “They plough, drag, drive team, clear wild lands, work on the highway, and so forth.”
Next, Northup returns to the story of Eliza, the woman he met way back in Burch’s slave pen. At that time, Eliza had been a picture of health and intelligence, the mistress of her white master and mother of his daughter, Emily. But months of neglect and hardship as a slave robbed her of strength and vitality. “Old Elisha Berry would not have recognized the mother of his child,” Northup writes. In Northup’s eyes, the loss of Eliza’s feminine value in the eyes of her owners is a cause for mourning, and it is emphasized in the details he relates of her death.