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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 12

Summary

Haley stops to buy more slaves. His first purchase is a fourteen year-old slave named Albert. Albert's mother, Hagar, pleads to be sold with her only remaining child but she is ignored. Haley picks up two more men, handcuffs them, and drives the three off to join Tom.

A few days later Haley and his gang of slaves are on a boat headed for Louisiana. One of them, a slave named John, is sad because he had not been able to bid his wife a farewell. The slaves are "stored" on the lower deck. Above deck, two women talk about slavery. One of them feels blacks are better off enslaved than free. The other considers slavery to be an outrageous sin. One grave-looking clergyman quotes from the Bible in defense of slavery: "Cursed be Cavaran; a servant of servants shall he be." Another clergyman is against slavery and quotes, "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them."

The boat makes another stop and Haley buys a female slave, Lucy, and her small infant. Back on board the boat, Haley sells the infant to another slave trader. In the dead of night, when everyone is asleep, Lucy jumps overboard and commits suicide. Haley remains unmoved, merely opening his account book and writing Lucy's name under the heading "losses".

Notes

This chapter dwells further on the inhumanity of the slave trade. Though Haley considers himself benevolent and humane because he does not fetter Tom's hands, he chooses to lodge Tom in a jail while he is out carousing. Tom is neither a thief nor a criminal, and yet because he is a slave, he is treated as one. At the slave auction, slaves are treated not as criminals but as cattle. The slaves are inspected as though they are horses and are sold as if they were on display in a fair. These scenes are intended to highlight the lack of compassion or humanity in the slave buyers and sellers.


As if these scenes are not enough, Stowe also focuses on two women who are separated from their children: old Hagar and Lucy. The chapter begins with a scriptural quotation. "In Ramah there was a voice heard, -- weeping, and lamentation, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted." First an old mother is separated from her only remaining child and her tears are unanswered. Then a young mother is torn from an infant, and chooses death rather than life without that child. The parallel between these two stories and Eliza's plight is obvious. In each story, the prospect of separation is horrible and agonizing. The result of these parallels is to create an even greater sense of urgency and fear in regard to Eliza and Harry. The need to stay together and free is unbearably obvious.

Aside from the emotional coldness of slavery, Stowe offers an intellectual dissection of the practice in the form of conversations taking place on the deck of La Belle Riveire, the boat bound for Louisiana. Some passengers discuss slavery and have diametrically opposite views to offer. The divisions on the issue go far beyond North and South, as evidenced by the clergymen who each quote scripture to support their views. Stowe does this to show her serious consideration of the ideology of slavery. She realizes it is not an issue that can be easily argued because everyone has polemic views.

Haley, it may be worth noting, has periodic tussles with his conscience or is simply tired of the stress caused by such an inhumane practice. He resolves to stop trading that very year if he makes good money. Money is obviously the overriding consideration with him and yet he will give up his trade (he says) if he makes enough money this year. And yet, despite this avowal, he seems so inured to the miseries he encounters as a slave trader that old Hagar's pleadings have no effect on him. Even Lucy's wild look of anguish does not move him. Lucy's suicide evokes horror and pathos, but to the trader it is just an economic loss he has suffered.

This chapter might appear to be a digression from Tom's fate, since it focuses on other incidents and characters. However, this is done with the purpose of creating horror at the situation of slavery and sympathy for its victims. It delves deep into sentimentality, but with the aim of creating disgust.

The chapter ends with Stowe's comments on slave traders who are universally despised and never received into any decent society. They thrive because the so-called "enlightened, cultivated, educated" men support the practice. She makes a scathingly ironic comment on the American "Wilber farces" who declaim the foreign slave trade in Africa but encourage it in Kentucky by owning slaves. Rather than abolish the practice they openly denounce, they encourage it by covert participation.

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