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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 31-33

Summary

Tom's new master, Simon Legree, is a brute and a drunk. He takes his new slaves on the steamboat Pirate and handcuffs them for the journey. What's more, he makes Tom remove his good clothes and instead wear a pair of old pantaloons and a dilapidated coat and a pair of shoes. Tom transfers his Bible to the clothes he is wearing but forgets his Methodist hymnbook. Legree comes across the hymnal and keeps it, telling Tom, "I'm your church now!" In his mind, Tom denounces this, but is silent. He hears little Eva's voice telling him to "Fear not!"

At last the boat stops at a small town. Tom and his companions are made to walk behind a wagon toward Legree's farm. When they finally reach the estate they find it in utter ruin and decay. There are three or four ferocious looking dogs and two brutish colored men, Sambo and Quimbo, who are as tyrannical as their master. Legree tells Sambo to take the boys to their quarters. He says the mulatto woman, Lucy, belongs to him. He pushes Emmeline into the house.

The slave quarters are crude shanties, with heaps of dirty straw spread on the ground. Despite the dispiriting condition of the quarters, and the fact that the slaves are weary, Tom reads from the Bible to them.

Though Tom works hard, Legree is unhappy with him. He had purchased him with the thought that Tom could be an overseer, but Tom lacks the requisite rigidity. Legree is determined to break Tom of his fairness and kindness. He considers it "breaking him in."


One morning Tom notices that Lucy is in the field struggling with her load. He tries to help her, but he is not quick enough. Sambo kicks her in the head, knocking her unconscious. Legree hears that Tom has tried to help and orders Tom to beat Lucy. Tom refuses and Legree strikes him repeatedly with a whip. Despite the brutal beating, Tom still refuses to strike Lucy, telling Legree "I'll die first!" The beating goes on till Tom loses consciousness.

Notes

The description of the approach to Legree's plantation is rife with imagery and symbols reflective of the mood. The trip begins with a journey on the steamer named Pirate up the Red River. The "red, muddy, turbid current" and "steep, red-clay banks" suggest that Legree's territory is soaked in blood. The "small, mean boat," the dreary, wild, forsaken road to Legree's plantation, and the neglected, decayed estate are all symbolic of the heaviness of spirit that Tom experiences on the way to his new home. The decay is not only of house and plantation but also of the soul and spirit in Legree.

The pathetic condition of Tom is well brought out. He is the bond- slave of the coarsest and most brutal master. When Legree comes across Tom's hymnal he sneers at his piety, claiming he will knock it out of him. He declares, "I'm your church now!" For Stowe, such a statement is blasphemous. Legree is absolutely brutal and villainous. He boasts about his iron fists, fists that he uses for knocking down "niggers". Legree proudly declares, "I don't go for savin' niggers. Use up, and buy more, its my way; -- makes you less trouble, and I'm quite sure it comes cheaper in the end."

Legree's two slave drivers, Sambo and Quimbo, and his ferocious dogs are all living examples of the heavy hand he uses in getting work done. The two slaves have been trained in savageness and brutality and are a portrait of what Legree had hoped in vain to transform Tom into. Tom's unwillingness to become a mean brute stuns his new owner, whose anger seems borne out of a desire not to have a slave with more principles or moral values than he. Ironically, however, the more brutal Legree is, the less respect the other slave owners have for him. But these disdainful slave-owners fall under attack as well, for Stowe also indicts the good but silent, more "Christian" plantation owners for their silence. The mute compliance encourages and protects Legree's brutality.

Tom's heaviness of heart can be understood perfectly. One thing Tom can be admired for is his moral courage. When Legree declares "I'm your church now!" Tom resists silently for he feels God calling him from heaven, "Thou art MINE!" Thus, religion sustains and fortifies him for the struggle ahead. His Bible, which he has managed to save, is his salvation and comfort. Even here, under such discouraging circumstances, Tom has the capacity to be generous. The first day itself he helps two weary women. This deed of charity is a new phenomenon for the plantation hands.

Tom's faith is sorely tried on the plantation. Most of the slaves have sacrificed their belief in God. One woman poignantly tells him, "de Lor an't here." As if to revive his flagging spirits, Tom dreams of Eva in the garb of an angel. She reads a passage from the Bible that reassures Tom that God will not desert him. Whether it is a vision, an apparition or a hallucination is not very clear for Stowe states, "Was it a dream? Let it pass for one." Whatever it is, it clearly strengthens Tom's spiritually for the troubles ahead.

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