Summary and Analysis
Bad luck comes to the Ford estate, and as a result of financial missteps, William Ford is forced to sell Platt to his carpenter, John M. Tibeats. With his new master, Platt goes to work on Ford’s Bayou Boeuf plantation, 27 miles away. There Platt and Tibeats engage in several building projects for Ford. Platt finds Tibeats to be almost the opposite of William Ford in manner and conduct. Tibeats is abusive, bitter, angry, never satisfied, and unreasonable in his demands. After a perceived slight, Tibeats is enraged and tries to whip Platt, but the slave being stronger than the master, Platt turns the tables. In his own fit of anger, Platt instead whips Tibeats “until my right arm ached.” After the beating, Tibeats leaves the plantation, swearing he will have revenge.
Tibeats returns soon after with two white henchmen in tow. They tie up Platt and prepare to hang him from a nearby tree. Finally, William Ford’s white overseer, Mr. Chapin, intervenes. Threatening to shoot Tibeats, he rescues Platt from hanging and chases away the three men. He also sends word to William Ford that Tibeats is “trying to murder Platt.” Inexplicably, though, Chapin leaves Platt bound and immobile in the yard.
Up to this point, Northup has dealt with the injustices of slavery in large strokes, including the kidnapping of a free man, the beating of an innocent, and the wanton fracturing of families. In Chapter VIII, though, the injustice of slavery is brought to light in an intimate, everyday way.
As “Platt,” Solomon has been working tirelessly for an unworthy master, adhering to Tibeats’ unreasonable demands and barely resting from morning until night. On this day, Platt follows Tibeats’ orders exactly, only to be rebuked as if he’d been flagrantly disobedient and ignorant. Tibeats’ injustice moves Northup to the breaking point when the master decides to whip the slave without cause. Solomon defends himself, as any free man would, but in this part of the South, a black man defending himself against a white man is punishable by death. To Solomon’s great relief, the overseer Mr. Chapin comes to his rescue, saving him from Tibeats’ murderous intent. Yet even Chapin, in his aid, acts unjustly toward the slave. After Tibeats has fled and the threat is gone, Chapin leaves Platt bound and suffering, alone in the yard. For Northup, these personal injustices from men who know him—not strangers like Burch or Freeman—sting almost like blows from a whip. Though he hates being a slave, he has been faithful in this role, yet his masters—even the kind one—have treated him as faithless nonetheless. In the South, it’s this kind of intimate, commonplace injustice that condemns yet again the very idea of human slavery in America.