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Free Study Guide-Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe-Free Notes
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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

A slave owner named Shelby is forced to sell his treasured slave Uncle Tom and a young boy named Harry to settle his debts. Uncle Tom is an older man, highly spiritual and loyal. He decides he will not resist the sale, though it means leaving his wife and children behind. Harry's mother, Eliza, cannot bear to lose her son. Her husband has already fled for Canada, promising to send money for her redemption as quickly as possible. Eliza takes Harry and runs away, with the covert approval of Mrs. Shelby, who hates slavery and believes in the importance of family.

Eliza and Harry head towards the Ohio River with Haley, Harry's new master, close on her tracks. In desperation she leaps from ice floe to ice floe, finally reaching the other side. Haley has hired slave-hunters to catch her and her son and bring them back. The slave-hunters are vicious and cruel, like Haley. But Eliza and Harry are helped by various people along the way, and eventually end up in a Quaker settlement in Indiana. Remarkably, George is also there and the small family is reunited.

Tom, who did not flee, is not as lucky. Haley puts Tom on a boat bound for his home in Louisiana. Tom bears his plight stoically, for he can depend on his Bible to give him comfort. On the way to Haley's plantation, Tom befriends a white child, Eva St. Clare. He saves her from drowning one day, and her father purchases Tom as thanks. He makes Tom Eva's personal slave and they all head for the St. Clare mansion in New Orleans.

Life in the St. Clare household is pleasant for Tom. Eva is a warm, loving child. Her warmth even touches the heart of a mischievous slave girl named Topsy who generally terrorizes everyone. Eva's aunt, Miss Ophelia St. Clare, is give Topsy as a charge. She is efficient and practical, and believes all slaves need education and training. She is opposed to slavery as a practice.

Eva develops a persistent cough and becomes weaker in time. She senses that she is going to die soon, so she asks for all the servants to assemble at her bedside. She gives them all a lock of her golden hair and implores them to become Christians. She even makes her father promise to set Tom free.


After Eva's death, her father leans on Tom for support and spiritual guidance. He has never been very decisive, but promises to set Tom free. Unfortunately, he is fatally wounded when he tries to intervene in a drunken brawl at a bar, and Tom loses his chance for freedom. St. Clare's selfish wife disregards her late husband's wishes with respect to Tom, and has him auctioned off. Simon Legree buys him.

Simon Legree is a Yankee who has a plantation down south. His plantation is large and squalid. He is a brute who overworks and beats his slaves till they drop. He is the devil incarnate. He always taunts Tom for his belief in God. In the very beginning he has Tom flogged mercilessly because he refuses to whip a slave woman, Lucy. He tries to bend Tom's will to his own.

Legree has a quadroon mistress, Cassy, who hates him. Cassy ministers to Tom's wounds when he is beaten by Legree and tries to shield him from Legree's brutality. One day Cassy tries to kill Legree but is prevented from doing so by Tom. She then hides with another slave, Emmeline, in Legree's attic, planning their escape. Legree is certain that Tom knows where the two women are hiding. He beats Tom but Tom refuses to disclose their hiding place. The beating is so severe that Tom is near death. Young George Shelby, the son of Tom's first owner, arrives to redeem Tom just in time to see him die.

After Tom's death, the young Shelby vows to do whatever is within the power of one man to abolish slavery. He boards a steamer for Kentucky where he meets Cassy and Emmeline, recently escaped. Through sheer coincidence, they meet a Madame de Thoux on board. She is none other then George Harris' sister. Cassy is discovered to be Eliza's mother. The whole family is reunited in Canada. Madame de Thoux finances George's education, and the entire group chooses to move to Liberia to fight slavery practices from there. Topsy accompanies Miss Ophelia to Vermont, and grows up to be a missionary in Africa. George Shelby returns to his mother's estate and, true to his promise, emancipates all his slaves, including Tom's wife Chloe.

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