Summary and Analysis
It is still early in the day, and Platt is left bound and immobile in the yard where Tibeats and Chapin have left him. Throughout noontime and the rest of the day, the sun beats down on him. His arms and legs swell and ache from poor circulation caused by the tight ropes around him. Though nearby, Chapin refuses to alleviate Platt’s pain. “…why he suffered me to remain in agony the whole weary day, I never knew,” Northup says. At the hottest part of the day, another slave named Rachel ventures to at least give him a sip of water—and then quickly retreats.
Platt spends his day in meditation on the awfulness of his situation and comments wryly: “…I came not to the conclusion, even once, that the southern slave, fed, clothed, whipped and protected by his master, is happier than the free colored citizen of the North.” At long last, William Ford arrives and cuts Platt free. A few days after that, Tibeats hires Platt out to Ford’s brother-in-law, Peter Tanner. Tanner is hard and demanding but keeps Platt in relative safety on his plantation.
Once again, Northup’s narrative touches on the themes of human dignity and man’s inhumanity to man. Both his white owner and his white protector have caused Platt to suffer unnecessarily—something that does not go unnoticed in Northup’s account. Tibeats, of course, is murderous in his treatment, but Chapin is deliberately negligent. Trapped in the heat of the day and the physical torment of his bonds—with a hangman’s noose still wrapped around his neck—Northup’s thoughts wander to the popular argument that southern blacks were happy in their servitude. No southern slave, fed and whipped by his master, Northup says in the midst of his agony, is happier than a free black man in the North.
Northup also uses this episode as an opportunity to decry the corrupted southern legal system that denied basic civil rights to its black citizens. He points out, “Had he [Tibeats] stabbed me to the heart in the presence of a hundred slaves, not one of them, by the laws of Louisiana, could have given evidence against him.” This obvious injustice is yet another of the ways that slavery strips humanity of its inherent dignity and imposes immorality on all it touches.