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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 38-41

Summary

Every day, Tom continues to face the wrath of his Legree. Long before his wounds are healed, he is put back to work in the fields. He is no longer surprised at the surliness and hopelessness of his companions. He rarely has time to do more than work; even the Bible readings have been squeezed out of his schedule. He prays to God for his deliverance, and thinks often of the letter Miss Ophelia wrote to his wife and the Shelbys. One evening when he finds the time to read his Bible, he realizes he is losing hope. Even the Bible seems to be losing the power to revive him. Just then Legree comes in to taunt him about his faith. Though his resolve is at its lowest, Tom decides to hold on. That night he sees Christ before him. He hears a voice say, "He that overcometh shall sit down with me on my throne."

When Tom comes out of his vision, he is markedly different. His spirit seems revived by a divine power. There is a new cheerfulness in him, so much so that Legree's blows no longer have the capacity to hurt him. Gradually, Tom's visible peace and happiness begins to exert strange power over the other slaves. All of them gather round him to hear stories from the Bible, and he tries to lessen their burdens with stories of hope.

Cassy often thinks of seeking retribution. One night she drugs Legree and tells Tom to axe him to death. Tom refuses and tells her not to sell her soul to the devil. He tells her to find some other way of escape. Tom decides to stay on the plantation; he feels that the Lord has allotted him some work amongst the poor lost souls.

Inspired by Tom, Cassy plans another means of escape. She makes everyone, including Legree, believe that the garret in the house is haunted. She stocks the garret with provisions and clothes. She plans to hide there, along with Emmeline; she is sure Legree will search the swamps but not the garret. She helps herself to a large sum of Legree's money.


After the escape of his two mistress slaves, Legree is angered. Unable to find Cassy and Emmeline, he turns his anger on Tom, suspecting the old slave knows their whereabouts. Legree beats Tom till he falls unconscious. When he regains consciousness he tells Legree, "I forgive ye, with all my soul." Sambo and Quimbo take pity on him. Overcome by Tom's Christian courage they beg for his forgiveness. Tom forgives them and tells them about the love of Christ.

Two days later George Shelby reaches Legree's plantation to redeem Tom. The narrative reveals that Mr. Shelby is dead. Mrs. Shelby and her son George have begun to put their affairs in order. Part of that ordering was finding out the whereabouts of Tom so that he could be redeemed.

Meanwhile, Cassy has risked the danger of being caught to check on Tom. Realizing that Tom is near death for the beating he received protecting her, she is moved to tears. She weeps and prays for Tom. George Shelby tells Tom he has come to take him home, but Tom tells his young white friend it is too late. He comforts the boy, telling him not to think Tom a "a poor fellow," since "Heaven has come." He asks young George not to tell Chloe how his life ended, only to tell her he has achieved "glory".

Tom dies and George takes his body. He offers to pay Legree, then threatens to accuse him of murder. Legree points out the futility of trying to prove anything. "What a fuss, for a dead nigger!" After Tom is buried, George vows to "do what one man can to drive out this curse of slavery from my land!"

Notes

Stowe likens Tom to a Christian martyr. Martyrdom is "the slow, daily bleeding away of the inward life, drop by drop, hour after hour" which Tom experiences. Face to face with his persecutor, Legree, Tom feels he can tolerate anything knowing Jesus and Heaven are just a step away. Left alone, however, he experiences the sense of utter dejection and aching loneliness, much as Christ did on the cross. When Tom is at his lowest he has a vision of Christ crowned with thorns, "buffeted and bleeding". Tom's faith is restored and his "soul crisis" has passed. The analogy between Tom and Christ is clearly drawn.

Tom does not leave the plantation with Cassy because he feels he has a mission there. He is not perturbed by Legree's threat to kill him. Tom's strength is stronger even when Legree's fury descends on him. His words, "Into thy hands I commend my spirit! Thou hast redeemed me, oh Lord God of truth!" convey his acceptance of God's will. Tom is concerned about Legree's soul. He is a true Christian who harbors no ill will towards his tormentor. Even Sambo and Quimbo are converted by Tom's faith. Cassy regains her ability to pray. Thankfully Stowe does not go into details about Legree's final tortures toward poor Tom. Instead, she focuses on Tom's profound faith and his eventual victory.

Thus, Tom becomes a Christ-like figure while Legree takes on the persona of evil. He does not understand Tom's resistance, nor is he moved to pity by the strong expression of faith. Though Tom's death might seem a victory for Legree, it is a hollow one; he has lost three slaves, some money, and his soul.

George Shelby comes too late to redeem Tom. If George had arrived earlier Tom might have been spared his sufferings, but he would not have achieved martyrdom and glory. He asks George to tell the Shelbys that he loves them, " 'Pears I loves 'em all! I loves every creature, everywhar! -- its nothing but love! O Mas'r George! What a thing 'tis to be a Christian!" The similarity between this scene and Eva's death scene is hard to miss. George's solemn oath to do what one man can to abolish slavery speaks of positive action on his part. In this he is different to St. Clare, who had felt the utter futility of one man fighting against the injustices of slavery. Tom's death is responsible for George's hopes and dreams that slavery will be abolished.

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