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Free Study Guide-Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe-Free Notes
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CONFLICT

Since Uncle Tom's Cabin has parallel plots, the dramatic elements are different in each. For convenience, the plots are referred to as Tom's story and the George-Eliza Plot.

TOM'S STORY

Protagonist

Uncle Tom is the protagonist in this plot. He is faithful, honest and pious. He is a kind of spiritual father to the slaves on the Shelby estate. His first owner, Mr. Shelby, is forced to sell Tom to settle his debt. The new owner, Mr. Haley, is a brute who in turn sells Tom to Augustine St. Clare. St. Clare is a mild- mannered but ineffectual man who purchases Tom at the request of his young daughter Eva, who has taken a liking to Tom. Tom becomes St. Clare's confidante and spiritual adviser.

Young Eva dies, and in accordance with her last wishes, her father begins the legal procedures necessary to liberate Tom. Unfortunately, he dies before he is able to finish freeing Tom. His selfish and vengeful wife sells Tom to Simon Legree, an evil slave owner who eventually beats Tom to death for being too good. Tom is a martyr, a Christ figure who attains his salvation through death.

Antagonist

The principal villain in this plot is the institution of slavery, but it finds a face and a name in several characters. The most representative character is Simon Legree, who is the most evil of all slave owners portrayed in the novel. Simon once had a pious and saintly mother but he ignored her and her teachings and took to the path of evil. He is a monster who runs a squalid plantation deep in the American South.


He uses slaves to run the plantation, and thinks of them as disposable commodities. He does not hesitate to kill his slaves or abuse them to near-death. He dislikes Tom because Tom is good. Legree represents evil in startling contrast to Tom's goodness. He has rejected and continues to reject all manner of morality and purity. He, as the spokesman for slavery, destroys Tom. In the end, however, he is not able to snuff out the abolitionist movement. Because of his actions, young George Shelby devotes himself to ending slavery.

Climax

The climax in this plot occurs when Legree kills Tom. Slowly, Tom has grown accustomed to the increasing abuse and mistreatment. Sometimes, he despairs and feels dejected. However, when he faces Legree, his spiritual strength sustains him and makes him strong. After continually refusing to submit to Legree's evil, Tom is beaten to death. He dies just after George Shelby arrives to rescue him.

Outcome

Tom's example of patience and love converts Sambo and Quimbo, who turn from their evil ways and ask for redemption. Cassy and Emmeline are able to escape Legree's plantation undetected. George Shelby resolves to liberate his slaves, and does so immediately upon returning to Kentucky. As well, he commits himself to the fight to end slavery. Tom's death is tragic, but it is true martyrdom in that it has a higher purpose.

THE GEORGE - ELIZA PLOT

Protagonist

George Harris, a mulatto slave, and his wife Eliza, a quadroon slave, are the protagonists in this plot. George rebels against his white master Mr. Harris first, believing he does not deserve the life of slavery and knowing he is capable of a better life. He is intelligent and proud, and slavery has made him bitter. He runs away to Canada with the hope of earning the money to redeem his wife and child.

Eliza, his wife, is a good Christian woman. She believes in the sanctity of the family and cannot bear it when her son is about to be sold. She runs away with her child, hoping to make it to Canada. She plans to earn money to send to her former owner, as compensation for running away. She is patient and pious. At a Quaker settlement in Indiana, Eliza and Harry are reunited with George, and the three plan to make their move for Canada together.

Antagonist

Slavery is once again the villain, but the names and faces it possesses are different. The first is Haley, a slave trader who hopes to own little Harry. He thinks he is a moral slave owner because he does not beat his slaves; in truth, he simply does not want to lose the labor. He pursues the escaped woman and child for quite some time, eventually employing two others to help him. The other slave-hunters, Loker and Marks, are even more unscrupulous and dangerous than Haley is.

Climax

Loker and Marks track George, Eliza, and Harry to the outskirts of the Quaker settlement. There is a scuffle and Loker is seriously injured. Marks abandons his companion and leaves. The fugitives rescue their injured pursuer and take him to a safe place to heal.

Outcome

George and Eliza make it to Canada safely. Loker repents of his evil ways and decides to make his living another way. George is eventually reunited with his sister Madame de Thoux, and Eliza discovers that Cassy (of Tom's story) is her mother. George and his entire family move to Liberia, where he will devote himself to the anti-slavery movement.

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