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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 18-20

Summary

Tom soon realizes that Augustine St. Clare is indolent and careless with his money. Gradually Tom takes over the marketing and provisions for the family, as he is reliable and honest. In this respect he is different than the other slave, Adolph, who always pockets the change. Tom regards his master with a mixture of "fealty reverence and fatherly solicitude." He is concerned because St. Clare does not read the Bible or go to church. One night when St. Clare returns home drunk, Tom lies awake the whole night praying for him. The next day he asks St. Clare to take better care of himself. St. Clare promises Tom he will never drink again. It is a promise he keeps.

In the meantime, Miss Ophelia takes over the management of the St. Clare household. With her efficient and impersonal sense of responsibility, she thoroughly reforms every department of the house. She tells Augustine she believes the servants are dishonest and need instruction. St. Clare tells her it would be a waste of time. He believes morality in slaves (such as that exhibited by Tom) is a "moral miracle."

Tom, though happy in the St. Clare household, is homesick. He tries to write a letter but has forgotten how to write. Eventually St. Clare writes the letter for him, though he does not believe that the Shelbys will ever redeem Tom.

Miss Ophelia continues her housekeeping reforms. One day St. Clare brings home a slave named Topsy, a small girl around the age of nine. Topsy has been beaten and abused. Though she appears meek, there is a cunning expression in her eyes. St. Clare tells Miss Ophelia that the girl is hers to educate and bring up in a Christian manner. He has brought Topsy because he could not bear her screams when her drunken masters were beating her. Because Miss Ophelia is conscientious and has an ingrained sense of duty, she takes on the challenge of molding Topsy. Topsy, however, is not an easy child to handle. Miss Ophelia tries to educate her in the orthodox New England manner, but fails. Her ignorance of all Christian "rules" amazes Miss Ophelia. The only person who can manage to touch her heart is Eva, because she speaks kindly to her.

Notes

These chapters once again emphasize (and perhaps over- emphasize) Tom's goodness in direct contrast to everyone around. Even when Adolph pockets his master's loose change, Tom is dutiful and honest. All his resolve is attributed to simple Christian faith. He shows concern for the well being of Augustine, and even goes as far as telling his master he is worried for him. The fact that he is able to speak so freely not only indicates his incredible influence with Mr. St. Clare, but also St. Clare's respect for him.


The second character to be developed in this chapter is Miss Ophelia. Miss Ophelia is a person with boundless energy and drive. She takes her responsibilities seriously and goes about reforming every department of the St. Clare household with a single-minded devotion. She faces stiff opposition from the servants, especially old Dinah, the cook. Her encounter with Dinah has a touch of humor in it. She considers the management "shiftless". When St. Clare advises her to turn a blind eye to the waste and confusion, she cannot accept it with patience. She has a no-nonsense approach to matters.

Miss Ophelia has a cold, stern, unemotional and demanding faith. At times, her idealism is too rigid, too heartless. She sees everything as if it is a puzzle to be solved. This rigidity alienates her from many of the servants and also makes it very difficult for her to make any headway with Topsy. It is also a threat to Tom, though this threat is as of yet unfelt.

Augustine St. Clare's character is also explored more in these chapters. His apparent indolence and easy-going apathy mask the sensitivity he rarely reveals. He has thoroughly understood the psychology of both slaves and masters. His heart bleeds for all the miseries and injustices meted out to the slaves, but he finds he is unable to fight the system. He could have become a reformer but, by his own admission, he has become "a piece of drift-wood."

The readers also get a glimpse into his childhood. He has been greatly influenced by his dead mother to look upon slaves as humans and not "things" or articles. He is smart enough to realize that a few hours of religious instruction every Sunday will have no effect on the slaves since they are exposed to nothing but brutality from the time they are born. Yet for all his talk, he has not freed his slaves due to sheer laziness on his part.

Prue and Topsy are also direct criticisms of the system of slavery. Another ugly fact of slavery comes to light with the introduction of Prue: many slave owners kept slave women simply to breed children for the market, as Prue had been made to do. No one takes Prue's feelings, longings, or yearnings into consideration. As a result, she was extremely unhappy and longed for death. The tragic details of her life are poignant and once again horrifyingly indicative of the evil of slavery.

Topsy is the product of the unjust practice of separating slave children from their families. She is a classic example of an emotionally deprived and physically abused child who has received nothing but brutal treatment. In fact she has reached such a stage that even lashings do not effect her; she has become immune to all kinds of brutality. But the consequences are grave. She has become a liar and a thief. She is also impudent and self- willed. St. Clare rightly remarks, "Whipping and abuse are like laudanum; you have to double the dose as the sensibilities decline." Religious instruction does not work in her case for she does not understand what is being imparted to her. Moreover, it is contrary to what she has experienced from the so-called Christians. The only person who has touched her so far is Eva with her angelic goodness.

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