Summary and Analysis
Northup relates more stories of brutality from his time as a slave on Epps’ plantation. At one point, a white tanner named Mr. O’Niel inquires about buying Platt from Epps. Platt comments privately to Phebe that he would be happy with that arrangement, but Mistress Epps overhears him and tells her husband. Epps refuses to sell Platt and is enraged that Platt would dare to dream of serving another master. He punishes Platt with a merciless whipping. Another time Epps grows angry at Abram’s elderly confusion and punishes him by stabbing him in the back with a knife, wounding him severely.
Patsey also suffers from Epps’ unreasonable anger. One day she goes to a nearby plantation to get soap. When she returns, Epps is furious with her, accusing her of having an affair with the white master of that plantation. He has her stripped naked and tied to four stakes in the ground. Then he forces Platt to administer a brutal whipping. At last, Platt can do no more, and Epps himself picks up the whip and continues beating Patsey with an unnatural fury until he is finally too exhausted to beat her anymore. Patsey is never the same again.
Northup ends this chapter by telling of Epps’ oldest son, a boy about 10 or 12 years old. An admirer of his father, the boy gleefully rides into the cotton fields with a whip in his hand, often beating and cursing the slaves while his father looks on laughing.
Chapter XVIII provides perhaps Northup’s most heartbreaking examples of the awful moral toll that slavery exacts from all involved. Every story he tells here is an example of things that are lost to the corrupting power of the slave trade: freedom of thought and speech, basic human dignity, the value of life, truth, moral integrity, and a father’s legacy. All of these are sacrificed on the greedy altar of the slave system.
For example, Platt innocently comments about his potential sale to a new owner and is punished for so-called disloyalty—as though whipping him should make him love his master more. Abram, elderly and losing his mental faculties, is stripped of human dignity and actually stabbed for making a minor mistake. His very life has zero value to a master who views black people as livestock. That same master discards Patsey’s truth in order to believe an evil lie birthed in his own sexually predatory behavior. Worse yet, Epps forces Platt to sacrifice his moral integrity and become the brutal torturer of his friend Patsey, making him complicit in the slave master’s evil. Finally, the legacy of the father and moral future of the son are lost, as is seen sadly in the imitative example of young Master Epps, who delights in beating old Abram just as his father would flog a mule.