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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 11

Summary

This chapter takes place in a small country hotel in Kentucky. Mr. Wilson, a short, thickset man, enters reading a handbill about a runaway slave, George Harris. According to the description given, the runaway is deeply scarred on his back and shoulders and branded with the letter 'H' on his right hand. The advertiser offers four hundred dollars for him, dead or alive, and reveals that he is quite smart, having invented an ingenious laborsaving machine. A gentleman in the bar expresses his opinion that anyone who treats his slaves in such an inhuman manner deserves to lose them. He himself allows complete freedom to his slaves. He has also drawn up papers giving them their freedom in case of his death. His genuine concern for their well being is returned by honesty and integrity. Another die-hard slave owner says that bright "niggers" are of no use to their masters and that intelligence in slaves will only lead to trouble.

At this point, a tall Spanish-looking gentleman enters with his servant. He introduces himself as Henry Butler of Oaklands, Shelby country. He asks the landlord to give him a private apartment. After reading the advertisement he casually remarks to his servant that he had seen a person answering the description at Bernan's. Mr. Wilson appears to know Henry Butler, who greets him by name. He asks Mr. Butler to come to his apartment.

Henry Butler is in fact George Harris, disguised as a Spanish man. Mr. Wilson tells George he is breaking the law by running away. He urges George to return "home", telling him the risk he is taking is too great. George shows him his two pistols and a Bowie knife. He declares that he is prepared to fight for his liberty to the last. His companion Jim was also a runaway, but is returning to rescue his mother, who is being treated very badly. Jim is taking them both to Ohio, where they can find help. Mr. Wilson is so moved by this zeal for freedom that he gives George some money and wishes him well.


Notes

Stowe's ability to recreate the atmosphere prevalent in a hotel bar is remarkable. There is a bit of humor in the beginning of the chapter, especially when she describes the various hats the people wear. She calls it a "Shakespearean study." Another example of her humor is the way she describes the tall Kentuckian "firing" tobacco-juice with accuracy and military precision.

Stowe's ability to perceive a situation from different angles is illustrated here. One notices how the tall tobacco-chewing gentleman is contemptuous of the advertiser who has offered a big sum to bring George dead or alive. He has every right to be contemptuous, for he treats his slaves with kindness and has drawn up papers for their emancipation. He is rewarded with the devotion and honesty of his slaves. His opinion rings true: "Treat 'em like dogs, and you'll have dogs' works and dogs' actions. Treat 'em like men, and you'll have men's works." The "honest-drover" has grasped this simple truth, which aptly echoes Stowe's own opinion.

Mr. Wilson has been introduced to argue weakly with George and to try to induce him not to run away or to break the laws of the country. George very vehemently repudiates the country and its laws. He quite rightly points and that America is not his country for the law does not own or protect him. His determination and desperation to escape become apparent. When George very eloquently recounts his parentage, his deprived childhood, his brutal separation from his mother and sister, and his master's command to take another woman for his wife, his bitter rebellion against his plight is more understandable. It also illustrates the two sets of laws in America, one for the whites and the other for the blacks.

This chapter, appropriately titled "In Which Property Gets Into An Improper State of Mind," deals primarily with George's situation now that he has escaped. As evidenced by the mixed conversation in the bar, George's "rebellion" can certainly be termed "improper" by some white men. First of all, he is smart enough to innovate. Second, he is independent enough to escape. And third, he is clever enough to fool white men into thinking he is Spanish.

Much is learned about George's past by way of third-hand accounts. He has been punished so much that he bears deep scars on his back and shoulders. The letter 'H' has been cruelly branded on his right hand. Despite this obvious history of suffering, George bears himself with dignity and pride, considering himself free in spirit. He maintains that the government and rules of America do not apply to him. He says to Wilson, "You Christians don't know how these things look to us. There's a God for you, but is there any for us?" This heart-wrenching question reveals the hypocrisy of so-called Christian America, and drives home a hard point to the novel's so- called Christian readership.

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