Summary and Analysis Chapter 20



In December 1852, Bass returns to check on Platt. Much to both men’s disappointment, Bass reports that there has been no response to the letters they sent to the North during the past summer. Bass, however, is not ready to give up. He promises to travel to Saratoga Springs, where he will try to contact Northup’s friends personally. He tells Platt he is determined to see him freed from slavery and encourages him to keep up hope.

At Christmas, Platt is hired out to play violin for several celebrations. After the holiday, Platt returns to work in Epps’ fields. One Saturday, he’s whipped for oversleeping. Sunday he spends in misery from the pain of his whipping and from the sorrow of the apparent failure of Bass’ letters. Monday morning, January 3, 1853, begins like any other day on Epps’ plantation until Northup writes in his memoir, “Looking up, we saw two men approaching us through the cotton-field.”


In Chapter XIX, Bass articulated the abolitionist ideal, “These niggers are human beings…” Now in Chapter XX, that ideal has its first real hope of becoming reality in the life of Solomon Northup.

Platt’s final Christmas season in the South is filled with mixed blessings. On the one hand, it’s the happiest time of the year for slaves on the Bayou Boeuf. Platt has his annual three days off and is an in-demand performer for all the best celebrations. On the other hand, Bass’ visit confirms his worst fears: Not one of his friends has responded to the letters pleading for help. Still, Bass proves faithful to his ideals, and the promise that he will travel to Saratoga Springs gives new hope to Solomon’s constant longing for freedom. At the same time, Solomon is quickly reminded of his meager status in his slave-master’s eyes, enduring yet another undeserved, inhumane beating. Bass may consider him a human being, but Epps certainly does not.

And then, in the darkness of the New Year, early in the morning, just when it seems like Platt’s life is destined to go on like this forever, two men approach the cotton field. In their appearance, the abolitionist ideal has taken human form—and finally come to save Solomon Northup.