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Free Study Guide-Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe-Free Notes
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

Uncle Tom's Cabin is a novel of particular structural significance, in that its structure reflects a sort of inner theme. There is unity in beginning, when all the characters are content and surrounded by the ones they love. Structurally, there is one setting where all the characters live in close proximity to each other. Slavery rears its ugly head and the families are split in two. Structurally, the plot diverges into two storylines and the characters are separated from their loved ones. In the end, some of the characters have been destroyed by the separation (slavery). But slavery is defeated when the white man (George Shelby) vows to fight it; the remaining characters are brought back together. The divergent plots and characters are united and order is restored.

In the beginning of the novel, all of the main characters are together in their homes. There is some comfort and familiarity on the Shelby plantation. Though there are slaves and masters, the lines between the two groups are not easily drawn. Young George Shelby eats with the slaves though he is white. Uncle Tom travels unescorted with Shelby's money and does not escape, though he is a slave. Mrs. Shelby is devoted to Eliza, and plans her wedding as a woman might plan her daughter's wedding. Mr. Shelby is proud of little Harry and shows him off the way an excessive father might do. The feeling, however, that all the characters make up one big happy family is quickly destroyed when Mr. Shelby is forced to sell some of his slaves. The reminder that slavery exists is shocking and painful for the Shelbys and for their slaves.


With the intrusion of slavery comes the divergence of the plot. Eliza and Harry set off in search of Canada and George. Tom is ripped from Chloe's loving arms. Each of these storylines will develop independent of one another. George and Eliza's plot comes to its resolution first when they make it to Canada and are free and together. Tom's story, however, lacks both the expediency and the happy ending. He suffers often, finally dying. Though he cannot be restored to his original position of comfort and familiarity, however, his legacy (the need for the abolition of slavery) does restore the characters. As well, some of the characters exclusively introduced in Tom's story turn out to be related to characters in the George and Eliza plot. They are family members the readers have had no expectation of ever reuniting with one another. This extra resolution of conflicts outside the main plots of the novel offers thematic hope that the end of slavery will restore more families than one can even begin to imagine.

In short, the plot is linear. In the beginning, the storylines diverge. After a time, the storylines are reunited. There is a strong narrative voice keeping both stories together, the voice of a master storyteller/commentator who sees all and has the wisdom to make judgments and give advice for her readers.

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Free Study Guide-Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe-Free Summary
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