Summary and Analysis
It is now summer of 1852, and Platt has been a slave for more than a decade. Epps hires a crew of carpenters to build a house on his property, and among the crew is a white man named Bass. Platt is assigned to work with Bass and discovers that he is from Canada—and an abolitionist at heart. He overhears Bass and Epps have many friendly arguments about the benefits and evils of slavery. Platt decides to risk asking Bass for help. Bass proves to be a faithful friend and secretly sends letters on Northup’s behalf to Northup’s friends in Saratoga Springs, New York. Both men wait to hear word in return, but there is no response. By summer’s end, Platt is almost ready to give up hope, but Bass encourages him. His work done on the house, Bass leaves Epps’ plantation but promises to return at Christmas, when they will consider what else they can do to keep pursuing the slave’s rightful freedom.
Bass’ appearance on Epps’ plantation is the first real ray of light in Northup’s story. Bass represents not only hope, but more specifically the hope that the abolitionist movement offers to everyone tainted by the evils of slavery. Even more than William Ford, Bass is presented as the most honorable, faithful white man Solomon Northup meets during his slavery in the South. Bass is described as generous, kind, good, and loyal. He is intelligent and able to stand toe-to-toe in arguments with Edwin Epps, yet he is also able to avoid offending Platt’s cruel master.
Most importantly, Bass is a white man who is finally able to articulate clearly the theme that Northup has alluded to in stories throughout his memoir up to this point: the inherent dignity of all humanity. “These niggers are human beings,” Bass says in an argument with Epps, adding, “And what difference is there in the color of the soul? Pshaw! the whole system is as absurd as it is cruel.” Bass’ words are at the heart of the abolitionist argument against slavery—and the only real hope that Northup has for freedom. In this way, Bass embodies both the abolitionist ideal and Northup’s potential salvation.