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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

CHAPTER 7

Summary

Eliza and Harry have managed to travel several miles away, to an area Eliza recognizes from one of her trips with Mrs. Shelby. She realizes she must slow her pace and relax, for fear that someone might become suspicious. In order to make it to the North and freedom, Eliza knows she will have to cross the Ohio River, which is packed with ice. She stops in the house of a kind woman and rests, preparing for the impossible journey across the river.

Meanwhile, dinner at the Shelby house has been delayed as much as possible. Haley does not leave until two o'clock in the afternoon. In the kitchen, Aunt Chloe expresses her bitterness towards all slave traders. Tom encourages her not to hate them, but to pray for their souls. Mr. Shelby sends for Tom. He tells Tom that he will lose one thousand dollars if Tom is not present when Haley comes to take him. Tom assures him that he will be there.

Haley is with Black Sam and Andy, searching for Eliza. Sam takes Haley on an unused and abandoned dirt road. Sam and Andy delay as much as possible, but finally reach the pike (the new road) and accept they have done all they can to impede Haley's progress. When they reach the village tavern, Sam sees Eliza standing by the window. He manages to lose his hat and utters a loud cry of alarm. Eliza sees him and realizes she is in danger of being caught. She snatches Harry and runs to the river. Unmindful of the danger, she plunges from one ice floe to another till she finally reaches the opposite bank, bruised and bleeding. A farmer, Mr. Symmes, helps her out of the river. He recognizes her as an escaped slave and directs her to a large white house where he is sure she will get help. For the moment, Haley's pursuit has been foiled. Sam and Andy return to the Shelby's house in high spirits.


Notes

This chapter continues the account of Eliza's flight. Her state of mind is depicted aptly: her fear for her husband and child and her sense of desolation in parting with everything familiar. Overriding all this is her strong maternal instinct in trying to protect her son from falling into Haley's clutches. Her faith in God is borne out by her mechanical repetition of "Lord, help! Lord, save me!" She is characterized as deeply maternal and spiritual, an effort on Stowe'' part to make her as empathetic as possible.

Eliza's plan of escape is vague and desperate. However, she is sensible enough to slacken her pace when horses and vehicles start plying the road, so as not to arouse any suspicion. Stowe melodramatically intrudes, asking the readers how they would feel if any children were to be torn from a parent. This is effective in arousing sympathy for Eliza and, at the same time, evoking a sense of disgust against the system of slavery.

While the readers are left in suspense about Eliza, they are taken back to the Shelby farm where dinner is purposely being delayed. Aunt Chloe feels he is getting his just desserts, realizing he is responsible for the break-up of many families, not to mention her own. She desires vengeance and wants Haley to suffer. But Tom, overhearing her ill thoughts, tells her that they should not wish bad things on others. Instead, they should pray. Tom's genuine loyalty and goodness also comes through in his attempts to reassure Mr. Shelby that he will not attempt to escape. It is this saintly disposition in the face of his own dilemma that has often made Tom a stereotype for the black person who does not protest against his imprisonment. Many times, the phrase "uncle Tom" has been used to criticize a black person who is willing to accept imprisonment and injustice. Stowe, however, does not intend these sentiments to portray Tom as apathetic. On the contrary, she simply wants him portrayed as a righteous man who upholds good in the face of terrible evil. It is unfortunate that the modern reader sees Tom's qualities as character flaws, whereas Stowe only meant them to make him more appealing and more ideal.

Shelby's promise to redeem Tom as early as possible is a glimmer of hope that will sustain him in the worst of his trials, and a suspense-building strategy. It leads the reader to surmise that Tom's suffering (in Haley's possession) will have an end.

The chapter again switches back to Eliza. Haley has spotted her in the town and the dramatic chase begins. Despair and fright gives Eliza superhuman strength and the courage necessary to negotiate the cracking and floating ice floes. Eliza's escape across the Ohio is one of the most melodramatic scenes in the story. Mr. Symmes is a particularly memorable hero in this scene, believing that Eliza has earned her liberty. Symmes is a "poor and heathenish" man, neither philosophical nor political. He simply feels that Eliza has done her best to be free; therefore, she ought to be free.

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