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Free Study Guide-Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe-Free Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTERS 2 - 3

Summary

These chapters introduce the history of Eliza and George, young Harry's father. Eliza is known as a quadroon slave--one-fourth black since she has a mulatto mother and a white father. She has always been very pretty and graceful, which is why Mrs. Shelby likes her as her personal maid. George is a mulatto from a neighboring plantation. The two met in a factory where they worked to earn for their masters.

Mrs. Shelby arranged the marriage for the two, and since George was allowed to visit Eliza frequently, both remained reasonably happy. However, one day in the factory George came up with a brilliant idea for a machine that would clean hemp automatically. His owner, Mr. Harris, was incensed. He did not like the idea of a slave possessing genius and ingenuity. He demanded George's wages and announced his intention of taking George home and assigning him the most awful tasks on the farm.

On one of his visits to Eliza, immediately after Haley's visit to the Shelby's, George is very angry. He tells Eliza that Mr. Harris is a cruel master whose jealousy made him take George away from the factory. He is aware of the fact that he is a better person, better educated and more intelligent than his master is. His patience with his lot in life has worn out. Even Harris' son is encouraged to whip George. His dog has been drowned, because slaves are not allowed to own dogs. And the final indignity is that Harris has commanded George to marry another slave, Mina, or be sold down river. George has made up his mind to run away to Canada, where he will earn the money to buy Eliza and young Harry from Mr. Shelby and bring them to live with him. He does not know they are in the process of being sold.


Eliza, for her part, does not understand fully the position of slaves. She believes her marriage to George is sanctified by their vows. She does not realize that neither they nor their young son are safe from the consumerism of slavery. Any or all of them can be sold to whomever their owners please.

Notes

These chapters introduce another important character, George Harris. His ingenious makes his factory manager consider him an asset. However, since he is only a slave he enjoys no rights. This is aptly demonstrated by his master's unreasonable behavior. Harris does not appreciate George's invention, feeling that only a "nigger" would invent laborsaving devices. He considers slaves to be the ultimate laborsaving machines and is threatened by the idea that a slave could come up with an innovation. Very appropriately, Harris is referred to as a "tyrant". When the manufacturer tries to get George back into his factory, Harris declares "Its a free country, sir; the man's mine, and I do what I please with him, that's it!" This strikes a brilliant ironic note: the country is free only for whites and not blacks.

It is not surprising that George becomes more embittered. He realizes Harris is out to break his will. He wishes his son Harry was never born because he knows he will be sold into eventual slavery, parted from his mother. Patience is exactly what George has run out of. He knows he is superior to Harris in every respect. Yet, because he is a slave his virtues are not recognized or appreciated. He dares to question the entire concept of slavery. He has reached a stage of rebellion in which he cannot bear to be a slave any longer. He makes his crucial decision to run away.

The sanctity of marriage and the right to have a family is denied to a slave. Only the whites are entitled to the right to marry and raise a family. George is a realist, and fully understands the unhappy fate that awaits his family unless he does something drastic. Eliza, on the other hand, has been brought up under the protective care of Mrs. Shelby. Perhaps to drive home the injustices of slavery, Stowe goes to great lengths to show that the young slave woman has the same feelings a white mother has. Eliza had lost two children in infancy, and was grief stricken. Little Harry has become her pride and joy. The predicament that is approaching is unbearable, and Stowe is careful to show the inhumanity and all its ill effects.

As far as Eliza's character, she has always thought it her Christian duty to obey her master and mistress. It appears, however, that she has been brainwashed into accepting her status as a slave. She is upset when George demands to know who had made Harris his master. She, unlike George, has been brought up, educated, and treated with kindness by her mistress. She has faith in God. She also believes in the sanctity of marriage and is shocked when she is told a slave is not allowed the luxury of marriage and the freedom to raise a family.

These two chapters do more than illustrate the destructive power of slavery on individual people. They also set the stage for the George and Eliza's bid for freedom and the rest of the plot. The reader is already aware of the fact that little Harry has been sold to Haley, though the parents do not yet know. This strategy adds suspense and tragic irony to the conversation between George and Eliza.

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