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Free Study Guide-Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe-Free Notes
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

The story begins on the Shelby plantation in Kentucky. It is a large parcel of property worked by Mr. Shelby's slaves. In the beginning, the central action of the novel is entirely located here. The slaves have their own cabins on the plantation, the central one being Uncle Tom's cabin. Uncle Tom is an older, wise slave who uses his cabin as a meeting place for the other slaves' religious education. The other characters of import are George Harris, a slave from a neighboring plantation, and Eliza, a slave who works inside the Shelby house. George and Eliza are married, though they are slaves for different masters.

The novel splits into parallel story lines, at which point the setting also changes. Tom is sold to pay his master's debts. He is put on a boat bound for Louisiana. On the boat, he is bought by Augustine St. Clare and taken to New Orleans. From there, the setting shifts to Lake Pontchartrain. After that, Tom is sold to Simon Legree, who moves him down the Red River into the Deep South.

The second storyline involves Eliza and her young son Harry, and peripherally, George. Eliza and Harry make their desperate escape from Kentucky to Ohio by crossing the icy river. In Ohio they meet Senator and Mrs. Bird and a man named Van Trompe, all of whom help them reach the safety of a Quaker settlement in Indiana. They are reunited with George Harris. The Quakers escort them to Sandusky. From Sandusky they reach the safety of Amherstberg in Canada.

In the final pages of the novel, the characters relocate to Liberia, though the novel is never actually set there.

LIST OF CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Uncle Tom

The hero of the novel, a faithful and pious slave. On the Shelby estate he serves as a kind of a spiritual father to the slaves. He does not run away when he learns he will be sold away from his wife and children. He is bold in his convictions, even giving advice to one master, Augustine St. Clare. When others encourage him to fight or run, he refuses, claiming it is his duty to serve the man who has purchased him and hope that by faithfulness, he will earn his reward. On Simon Legree's plantation, he refuses to strike a female slave and incurs Legree's wrath for this. Under torture to forsake his beliefs, he refuses. On nearly all issues he is submissive to his white masters but on the matter of his faith he is unyielding. He is a Christian martyr, ultimately dying for the sake of his principles and convictions.


Eliza

A beautiful young slave who works in the Shelby house. She is a special favorite of Mrs. Shelby. When she learns that her son Harry will be sold, she takes him and runs away to Canada. On the way, she is reunited with her husband, a fellow slave from another plantation who had already run away. Eliza's courage, fierce maternal love, and faith in God are the traits which best characterize her.

George Harris

A slave on an estate near the Shelby's. He is Eliza's husband. As well, he is intelligent and has learned to read and write. He heads for Canada without his wife and son, hoping to earn the money to redeem them as soon as possible. He is bitter and atheistic, though he softens somewhat as a result of the many good Christian white people who help him win his freedom. In the end, however, he swears his distaste for America and white men, and decides to move to Liberia where he can denounce slavery without fear.

Minor Characters

Little Harry ("Jim Crow")

George and Eliza's son. He is a very minor character in terms of appearances in the novel. When he is about to be sold to Haley, Eliza runs away with him and manages to reach the safety of Canada.

Mr. Shelby

A southern slave owner who is forced to sell Tom and Harry to another man as compensation for debts. He feels that slavery is a necessary economic situation, and though he regrets splitting up the families, believes he has no other choice.

Mrs. Shelby

Shelby's wife. She is a kind-hearted woman who feels her Christianity is undone by slavery. She cannot bear to see two families split up to pay debts. She covertly encourages the other slaves to help Eliza and Harry escape the sale. She promises to work hard to earn the money to redeem Tom. At the end of the novel, she and her son George try to fulfill her promise, but Tom is already dead.

George Shelby

Mr. and Mrs. Shelby's son. When he is thirteen years old he teaches Tom how to write. At the end of the novel he locates Tom but it is too late. After this he liberates all his slaves.

Aunt Chloe

Tom's wife. She is an excellent cook and housekeeper. She receives permission from Mrs. Shelby to work for a confectioner and use her wages to redeem Tom.

Haley

The slave owner who takes Tom from the Shelby's. He is heartless and cold. He chooses not to beat his slaves because that makes them unable to work. He considers this a testament to his morality.

Augustine St. Clare

A rich slave owner who buys Tom from Haley after Tom rescues his young daughter from drowning. He promises to give Tom his freedom, but dies before he can fulfill his promise. Unfortunately he is fatally wounded when he tries to settle a drunken brawl.

Evangeline St. Clare (Little Eva)

St. Clare's daughter, an angelic creature always dressed in white. She takes an immediate liking to Tom, and begs her father to purchase Tom for her. She becomes very ill; before her death she makes St. Claire promise to set Tom free.

Marie St. Clare

St. Clare's wife. A selfish, demanding hypochondriac. Against her dead husband's wishes, she sells Tom and the other slaves

Miss Ophelia St. Clare

St. Clare's cousin. She comes from New England to help run the St. Clare household and look after little Eva. She is an efficient and pragmatic person who despises slavery, but thinks black people are incapable of living outside it. St. Clare gives her a young black girl to educate as she pleases. The experience changes her and she sheds her prejudices. She returns with Topsy to Vermont after St. Clare's death.

Topsy

A black child who is given to Miss Ophelia. She is an abused child who has no idea of right or wrong. Her soul is finally touched when she realizes that Eva loves her. After Eva's death, Topsy makes an effort to improve herself. She finally goes to Africa as a missionary.

Simon Legree

A Yankee from Vermont. He is Tom's last owner. He is a wicked plantation owner who beats Tom to death because Tom is too faithful and good. He is pure evil.

Cassy

Legree's slave mistress. She nurses Tom from the wounds Legree has inflicted. She escapes with another slave, Emmeline, and returns in secret only to discover Tom has died for refusing to reveal her hiding place. Later, it is discovered she is Eliza's mother.

Senator John Bird

He has voted for an Ohio law that prevents residents from aiding fugitive slaves. However, he is touched by Eliza's plight. This "political sinner" helps redeem himself by personally escorting Eliza and Harry to John Van Trompe, the man who will get them to Canada.

Mrs. Mary Bird

The Senator's wife.

John Van Trompe

A client of Senator Bird who was originally from Kentucky. He set all his slaves free. He helps Eliza and Harry reach the Quaker settlement.

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