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Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe



In the opening scene of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Mr. Shelby and Haley, a slave-trader, discuss which of Mr. Shelby's slaves Haley will buy. Because Haley holds notes Mr. Shelby has signed, Mr. Shelby is in Haley's debt.

Mr. Shelby wants to pay off his obligations by selling a pious slave named Tom, who manages his farm. Haley acknowledges that religion can be "a valeyable thing in a nigger," meaning that it raises a slave's price, but he insists he wants another slave as well as Tom. Just then a beautiful, light- skinned, four-year-old slave boy bursts into the room. At Shelby's request, he sings and dances for the men.

NOTE: This is your first introduction to Uncle Tom. Mr. Shelby calls him "steady, honest, capable." Tom is a Christian, he tells Haley, who got religion at a camp meeting- an open-air revival. Since then, he has trusted Tom with large sums of money. Once he sent Tom on business to Cincinnati, across the Ohio River in the free state of Ohio. Tom could have used Shelby's money to continue north to Canada- part of the British Empire, where slavery was abolished in 1833. But Tom, proud of his master's trust, returned home. Remember this episode when you read the last chapter of the novel, where Tom has a chance to escape from Simon Legree's plantation.

Haley asks for the boy in addition to Tom to complete the deal.

Stowe lets you know from the start that Haley, the slave-trader, is a villain. He can't be called a gentleman, she announces in the second paragraph, and she doesn't give him the title of "Mr." He has coarse features, dresses gaudily, wears too many rings, and speaks ungrammatically. Yet the worst thing about him is what Stowe shows you rather than tells you- he puts a cash value on the most important human qualities. Although he boasts of his humanity- the source of the chapter's title- he only means that it's more profitable not to be totally cruel.

Although Mr. Shelby seems to be a better man than Haley (at least, Stowe tells you, "he had the appearances of a gentleman"- which may mean that he really isn't one either), you can see that he has many failings. For one thing, he speculated himself into debt. For another, he is willing to sell a trusted slave like Tom to Haley, despite his poor opinion of the slave-trader. People like Haley couldn't continue in business unless gentlemen like Mr. Shelby sold them slaves. And although Mr. Shelby's values are not quite the same as Haley's- Mr. Shelby, you'll see, believes that blacks have feelings- he does treat little Harry like a pet, calling him "Jim Crow" and encouraging him to do tricks. In addition, Mr. Shelby seems to measure Tom's piety in dollars, just as Haley does- it's Shelby who first suggests that Tom is more valuable because he's a Christian.

Eliza, one of the house servants, comes looking for little Harry, who is her son. Having overheard part of the conversation between Mr. Shelby and Haley, she tearfully begs Mrs. Shelby not to sell the child. Mrs. Shelby, a kind-hearted and religious woman who knows nothing of her husband's business, assures Eliza that the boy will never be sold.

In her first chapter, Stowe points to some of the worst aspects of slavery. She acknowledges that slaves in Kentucky were not so badly off- this balanced view angered the abolitionists. Kentucky farmers planted a variety of crops rather than just cotton, resulting in easier work in the fields. And Kentucky masters tended to be kinder to their slaves (Mr. Shelby says he spoils his) than were masters further south. Nevertheless, it is clear that slaves are never safe, even in Kentucky. For slaves there and in the rest of the upper South (including Virginia and Maryland) being sold down the river- south along the Mississippi- was a constant fear. Even good masters like Mr. Shelby could fall into debt and have to sell their slaves to a trader. All that protected slaves was chance and the character of their owners.

This chapter also reveals some of the dreadful things that can happen to slaves. Little children like Harry can be sold away from their mothers. Haley explains to Mr. Shelby that slave mothers sometimes fuss when their children are taken from them, but that they can easily be distracted. He doesn't believe black mothers have the same feelings for their babies as their white counterparts.

In addition, Haley's response to Eliza suggests another evil of slavery. He looks her up and down so openly that she blushes. Light-skinned women like Eliza, who were considered pretty by white men, were frequently sold for large sums of money to white men who used them sexually. Little Harry, Haley explains, would go to a dealer who raised young, handsome, light-skinned black boys to be waiters and butlers. The young male slaves, like the young women, were seen as a commodity- like pedigreed dogs- rather than as people.

Notice that Mrs. Shelby is more high-minded and religious than her husband. Shelby is an average man, not especially pious, who leaves questions of morality to his wife. He also leaves her most of the responsibility for taking care of the slaves. How much power does Mrs. Shelby really have, and how will she use it? You'll find out in the next few chapters. As the novel unfolds, you'll also discover whether the relationship between the Shelbys is typical of a Southern slaveowner and his wife.


Mrs. Shelby had made sure that Eliza had not been sexually exploited, as so many pretty slave girls were. Eliza had married George Harris, an intelligent and light-skinned man from a neighboring plantation.

Some black readers have criticized Stowe for making two of her main characters, Eliza and George, light-skinned. Doing so, they say, reveals a racist preference for blacks who have some white parentage. Stowe remarks that light-skinned women like Eliza are often especially pretty and refined. This is one stereotype that white people have often held about blacks. As you read Uncle Tom's Cabin, watch for others.

The lightness of Eliza's and George's skin eventually contributes to the plot. Because they are light enough to pass for white, it is easier for them to escape. Do you think that's the only reason Stowe described them that way?

George Harris was "hired out" by his owner to a nearby factory. Under the hiring-out system- more common in Southern cities than in the countryside- a slave worked, usually as a skilled craftsperson, for the owner of a business. His or her wages belonged to his master. Thus, in some cities, slaves worked as carpenters or unloaded boats. Later in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Tom's wife, Aunt Chloe, takes a job with a baker in Louisville. By hiring out slaves, a master could sometimes make more money from an especially capable slave than he could by keeping him or her in the fields.

George worked hard and the factory owner thought highly of him. George even invented a machine that made the work go more quickly. On a visit to the factory, George's owner was furious to see George so successful and proud- it made him conscious, Stowe says, of his own inferiority. He decided to return George to the fields.

Stowe takes pains in this chapter, and throughout the novel, to assure you that her story is true. Living for years in Cincinnati, just across the Ohio River from Kentucky, Stowe met many former slaves. She also read former slaves' descriptions of their experiences. She tells you that she based Eliza on a young woman she had met in Kentucky. In a footnote she adds that a Kentucky slave really did invent a machine like the one she credits to George Harris. The last chapter of Uncle Tom's Cabin is filled with such assurances.

Some Southerners claimed that Uncle Tom's Cabin presented an inaccurate picture of slavery. In response, Stowe published The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (1853)- a collection of stories and documents to prove the novel's accuracy.

This is Stowe's first indication that a character is based on a real person or that a practice really is common, but it certainly won't be her last.


George Harris visits his wife, Eliza, to tell her that he has decided to attempt to escape to Canada, where he will work to buy Eliza's and little Harry's freedom from the Shelbys. George's description of how his master torments him shows you more about the evils of slavery. Not only has the master taken George out of the factory, but he piles on so much work that George has no time to himself, even at night. The master also drowned the dog Eliza gave George for a present. Worst of all, he ordered George to move in with another slave woman, and threatened to sell him down the river if he refused. Eliza protests that she and George were married by a minister, "as much as if you'd been a white man." But George reminds her- and you- that slave marriages are not protected by law.

The discussion between George and Eliza reveals two views of slavery. George sees slavery as wrong because it denies the equality of all men. "What right has he to me?" George asks. "I'm a man as much as he is." Most abolitionists, who thought slavery should be ended immediately, shared this view.

Eliza, however, takes a different approach. "I always thought that I must obey my master and mistress, or I couldn't be a Christian," she tells George. Eliza sees slaves and masters as part of the same family. She owes the same obedience to her master as a child does to its father, as part of her religious duty. Some slaves, as well as slaveholders, shared Eliza's view. The other half of this equation was that masters had responsibilities to their slaves.

George and Eliza's differing perspectives on slavery represent two distinct ways of looking at the world. George sees people as equal, free to move about and to enter into relationships with anyone they choose. In Eliza's view, people are born into relationships with each other. Some will always have more power, some less. Eliza is a Christian, and George seems not to be. But you could also say that George's vision of life is more modern and Eliza's more old-fashioned.

Rather than betray their marriage, George plans to escape, and he tells Eliza that he will not be taken alive. "The husband and wife were parted," Stowe recounts, letting you know that she considers George and Eliza as husband and wife, even if the law doesn't. Here is another sin of slavery- it tears husbands and wives from each other.


Uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Chloe, live with their small sons, Mose and Pete, and their baby daughter, Polly, in a log cabin not far from the Shelbys' "big house." After Aunt Chloe prepares the Shelbys' evening meal, she returns home to cook for her own family.

George, the Shelbys' thirteen-year-old son, comes to Uncle Tom's cabin for supper. He likes Aunt Chloe's cooking and the way both Chloe and Tom fuss over him. While Aunt Chloe fixes the meal, boasting about her skills, George teaches Tom how to write. The scene is extremely domestic, with Aunt Chloe baking pound cake, the little boys wrestling with each other, and Uncle Tom carrying the baby around on his shoulders while she buries her hands in his hair. Stowe wants you to recognize them as a happy family.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was extremely interested in the way people lived. With her sister, Catharine Beecher, she would later write The American Woman's Home, or Principles of Domestic Science (1869). Uncle Tom's Cabin is filled with careful descriptions of home and family life. Read them carefully, and watch for the connection between how people manage their kitchens and how they manage their souls.

The description of Uncle Tom's home is the first extended description of domestic life in the book. It's especially important because this chapter is one source of the novel's title. What is there in Uncle Tom's cabin that is so central to the book's meaning?

The cabin, clean and well-organized, is surrounded by flowers and a garden full of fruits and vegetables. Although the furnishings are not elegant- the table legs are shaky and the pattern on the teacups is too gaudy- they are comfortable. Aunt Chloe is a superb cook and manager. She is easy and affectionate with her husband and children. Uncle Tom, too, loves his family. He is full of "kindness and benevolence." But more than Aunt Chloe, he has another interest, religion. The cabin is also the site of prayer-meetings for the slaves.

Uncle Tom's cabin, then, celebrates Christian family life. It is filled with good cooking and housekeeping, the love of husband, wife, and children- as well as the love of learning and of God.

After serving dinner to George and Tom, Chloe feeds herself and her children (whom she and Tom seem to ignore in favor of George for most of the evening). Following the meal, slaves from the Shelbys' and several neighboring plantations arrive for a "meeting." The slaves exchange news, listen while George reads the Bible, and sing hymns. Uncle Tom is the "patriarch" and "a sort of minister," the spiritual center of the group.

While the meeting progresses, Mr. Shelby and Haley draw up the final payments for Tom's sale. The peace of Uncle Tom's cabin will soon be shattered.

Unlike George and Eliza, who are light-skinned enough to pass for white, Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe are described as quite black, "truly African." But the two couples differ in more than the color of their skin. While George is proud and fierce, Uncle Tom displays a "humble simplicity" along with his self-respect. While Eliza is delicate and sensitive, Aunt Chloe is fat, warm, and jolly. Chloe and Tom speak in dialect, while Eliza and George use standard English. Stowe's light-skinned blacks, in other words, resemble white people, while the darker ones resemble racial stereotypes of blacks.

Stowe pokes gentle fun at Aunt Chloe and her surroundings. She seems to be amused by Aunt Chloe's pride in her excellence as a cook, and most readers are amused by her description here. The picture of George Washington hanging on the wall "would certainly have astonished that hero," and the pattern of the cups is "brilliant."

Although Aunt Chloe and Uncle Tom are extremely good people, they are also childlike. When Aunt Chloe comments admiringly on George's reading ability- "How easy white folks al'us does things!", she is not currying favor with the master's son. She really means it. Describing the religious singing in the cabin, Stowe explains that "the negro mind, impassioned and imaginative, always attaches itself to hymns and expressions of a vivid and pictorial nature." In the 1850s, people who opposed slavery didn't necessarily see blacks and whites as equals. Stowe's views were not uncommon among Northern antislavery men and women.


Mrs. Shelby is horrified to learn that her husband has sold Tom and little Harry. She pleads with him to keep them, but Mr. Shelby, somewhat self-righteously, explains that he has no other choice.

Mrs. Shelby's response to the news of the sale echoes the theme that slavery destroys the family:

"I have taught them the duties of the family, of parent and child, and husband and wife; and how can I bear to have this open acknowledgment that we care for no tie, no duty, no relation, however sacred, compared with money?"

Stowe asks you to identify with the slaves on the basis of your own family feelings. Uncle Tom's tears on hearing the news are "just such tears, sir, as you dropped into the coffin where lay your first- born son; such tears, woman, as you shed when you heard the cries of your dying babe."

Mrs. Shelby is a good woman, one who never really approved of slavery but tried to make the best of it that she could. As you read Uncle Tom's Cabin, you'll meet other such slaveholders. What is Stowe's attitude toward Southerners in general? What does she think of Northerners- particularly abolitionists? This scene offers several important clues.

Eliza, overhearing the Shelbys' conversation, decides to take Harry away. Picking up her sleeping son, she leaves the Shelbys' house, and makes her way to Uncle Tom's cabin. Aunt Chloe urges Tom to flee with Eliza, but he refuses. According to Eliza's account of what she heard, Mr. Shelby claimed that he had a choice between selling two slaves to Haley or losing the entire plantation. Tom sees his sale as protecting the rest of the slaves, and he's willing to make the sacrifice. Eliza disappears into the darkness.


The next morning the Shelbys discover that Eliza is gone. Mr. Shelby sees her escape as a blight on his honor, but Mrs. Shelby is delighted to think that Eliza may save her child.

When Haley arrives to collect his property, Mr. Shelby offers to aid him in catching Eliza and Harry. But Sam and Andy, the two slaves sent to saddle Mr. Shelby's horses, have figured out that Mrs. Shelby wants Eliza to escape. While pretending to help, they arrange for everything to go wrong. Sam slips a beechnut under the saddle of Haley's horse, so the animal bucks when he is mounted. Sam and Andy manage to drive all the animals into a frenzy under the pretext of attempting to catch the runaway. The horses cannot be ridden until they have cooled down- and the hunt for Eliza has been delayed for a few precious hours.

Slaves usually knew a great deal about what their masters were up to. In this chapter, Mr. and Mrs. Shelby are surrounded by a slave communications network. Andy brings Mr. Shelby his shaving water and overhears their conversation about Eliza's escape. Slave children watch Haley's approach from the front porch. Eliza herself was able to rescue her son from Haley because she listened in on the Shelbys. By closely observing what happened in the big house, and by communicating this intelligence to one another, slaves were often able to protect themselves.

This episode also reveals another feature of slave life. Sam and Andy demonstrate what was sometimes called "puttin' on ol' Massa." While pretending to do what they were told, they actually did just the opposite. In this case, Sam and Andy realized that Mrs. Shelby, if not her husband, wanted to buy time for Eliza's escape. But this method could be used to achieve the slaves' ends as well as the masters'. Working slowly, breaking equipment, having "accidents"- slaves could exercise some control over what happened on the plantation.

Sam and Andy's escapades offer some comic relief in the dramatic story of Eliza's flight to freedom. They are familiar characters in literature- think of such Shakespearean comedies as A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like it, for example- simple country people whose pretensions amuse us, but who nevertheless express important truths.

What is unusual here is that these characters are black slaves. Stowe explicitly compares Sam's self- interested posturing to that of white politicians in Washington. When Sam tells Andy that "bobservation makes all de difference in niggers," he is ignoring the fact that Andy told him how Mrs. Shelby really felt. Yet Sam is right- slaves constantly observed their masters.


Carrying Harry in her arms, Eliza hurries through the night toward the Ohio River. Because she and the child were both light-skinned, people who saw them did not immediately conclude that they were runaway slaves. In the late afternoon, Eliza arrives in a river town, only to learn that the ferry is not running. Because it is early spring, the ice is beginning to break up. She and Harry stop to rest in a tavern.

The force that drives Eliza, Stowe tells you, is "maternal love." The women she meets along the way- the farm woman from whom she buys dinner, or the woman at the tavern- help her because they are mothers, too. For example, Eliza tells the woman at the river that she needs to cross immediately because her child is sick, and the other's "motherly sympathies were much aroused." Stowe also appeals to the reader's parental feelings: "If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader... how fast could you walk?"

Eliza is helped up the bank on the Ohio side of the river by a man whom she recognizes and to whom she appeals in the same way: "Oh, Mr. Symmes, you've got a little boy!" But the people who most reliably help Eliza are women. They do so because motherhood has taught them compassion for other mothers and their children. As Stowe wrote to her youngest son, twenty-five years later, "I well remember the winter you were a baby and I was writing Uncle Tom's Cabin... I remember many a night weeping over you as you lay sleeping beside me and I thought of the slave mothers whose babes were torn from them."

How do the men and women in Uncle Tom's Cabin differ in their approach to slavery and to conduct in general? How do men in the novel learn to be good? Which characters are sympathetic and which villainous? You'll need to deal with all of these questions as you continue to read Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Back at the Shelbys', the kitchen staff prepares the noon meal for Haley in the same spirit that Sam and Andy readied the horses. Accidents keep happening, Aunt Chloe refuses to be rushed, and the meal proceeds extremely slowly. When the search party finally sets off, Sam and Andy cleverly steer Haley down a dead-end dirt road, gaining a few more hours for Eliza. As they arrive at the tavern in which Eliza is waiting, Sam spies her and causes a commotion that alerts Eliza to the danger.

With Harry in her arms, Eliza runs desperately to the river. As Haley, Sam, and Andy watch, she jumps from cake to cake of ice until she finally reaches the Ohio shore. The man who helps her up the bank is a neighbor of the Shelbys' who admires Eliza's courage. He feels- as many people did after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law- that "I don't see no kind of 'casion for me to be hunter and catcher for other folks, neither." Stowe cannot help emphasizing the point: "So spoke this poor, heathenish Kentuckian, who had not been instructed in his constitutional relations, and consequently was betrayed into acting in a sort of Christianized manner." The Fugitive Slave Law, in other words, violates fundamental Christian impulses.

As Eliza makes her way toward freedom, Uncle Tom prepares himself to move deeper into slavery. When Aunt Chloe curses slave-traders, Uncle Tom instructs her to "Pray for them that 'spitefully use you." Tom claims a spiritual superiority over Haley, telling Chloe that he would rather be sold ten thousand times over than to have to answer to God for Haley's sins. Mr. Shelby, calling him "boy," gives Tom the rest of the day off before he must leave with Haley. His wife promises to buy Tom back as soon as possible.


In the tavern on the Kentucky side of the river, Haley encounters Tom Loker and Marks. Drinking, smoking, and conversing in a rough river dialect, Loker and Marks agree to chase Eliza and Harry. They will return the boy to Haley and sell the woman themselves in New Orleans. Discussing Haley's experience, the men complain that slave women cause great inconvenience by caring so much about their children. Haley tells the story of a young woman who drowned herself and the child in her arms rather than give the baby to Haley, who had traded him for a barrel of whiskey. The men's conversation reminds you of what is obvious- slavery tears babies from their mothers, and slave-traders are profoundly evil. In another swipe at the Fugitive Slave Law, Stowe suggests sardonically that if the whole country has become a slave market, the trader and catcher may form a new aristocracy.

Sam and Andy return to the Shelby plantation with news of Eliza's escape. After a mock scolding from Mr. Shelby and a good dinner from Aunt Chloe, Sam entertains the other slaves with the story of Eliza's feat. Once again, Sam's comic behavior breaks the tension of Eliza's life-and-death struggle.

Sam's remark to Mrs. Shelby that Eliza's "clar 'cross Jordan... in the land o' Canaan" supports his claim that God supervised her escape and may remind you of the singing at the prayer-meeting in Uncle Tom's cabin in chapter 4. Stowe, in her best schoolmarm manner, announced that "the Negro mind, impassioned and imaginative, always attaches itself to hymns and expressions of a vivid and pictorial nature." But despite herself, she recognized the power of the image in the spiritual (or, as slaves sometimes called this type of hymn, sorrow song), when she described Eliza's first glance at the Ohio River, "which lay, like Jordan, between her and the Canaan of her liberty...."

Stowe tells you that Tom sings "about the New Jerusalem and bright angels, and the land of Canaan" to little Eva; one of the first signs of Eva's impending death is that she tells Tom that she's seen the sights he sings about.

Many of the songs Tom sings later in the book are standard Methodist hymns (which, despite his usual dialect speech, he sings in standard English). In his last days on the Legree plantation, he tortures his master with lines like "Let cares like a wild deluge come, / And storms of sorrow fall" and sings, with perfect diction, a hymn recognized as "Amazing Grace."

Stowe shows you almost nothing of life in the slave quarters. Because her knowledge of that life, and of the music that grew out of it, must have been limited, slave songs play only a small role in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Nevertheless, they give you some sense of the power of black religion and its role in humanizing the slaves' lives.


Senator and Mrs. Bird take tea in their cozy parlor as their children play around them. Like Uncle Tom's cabin, the Birds' home is a well-kept domestic haven. But the Senator and his wife are arguing about the Fugitive Slave Law, for which he has just voted. Tiny and gentle, focused on her family, Mrs. Bird is the "true woman" of the nineteenth-century women's magazines. But Mrs. Bird cannot imagine turning "homeless, houseless creatures" away from her door. "I don't know anything about politics," she tells her husband, "but I can read my Bible and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate." The Senator insists that Christian duty lies in substituting public for private concerns and obeying the law.

The Fugitive Slave Law that Senator and Mrs. Bird are discussing is an Ohio version of the national law that prompted Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom's Cabin. It was part of a package of legislation known as the Compromise of 1850. At the close of the Mexican War in 1848, the United States seized an enormous amount of land, stretching from the Great Plains to the Pacific. But Congress had to decide whether the states and territories carved out of it would be admitted to the Union as slave or free. Southerners, led by Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, claimed that the people of the new territories ought to make up their own minds. Northerners insisted that slavery should be banned in all former Mexican territories. That debate, ten years before the start of the Civil War, almost tore the country apart.

Then Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky stepped forward with a compromise. California would be admitted as a free state, while New Mexico and Utah, which also included the current states of Colorado and Arizona, would be organized as territories without restrictions on slavery. Texas would give up claims to some land in New Mexico, and in return the United States would assume Texas' debt. The slave trade- although not slavery itself- would be abolished in the District of Columbia. Finally, the Fugitive Slave Law of 1790, which was almost never enforced, would be greatly strengthened. If someone swore that another person was his escaped slave, this would be sufficient to establish ownership. Fugitive slaves would be returned to their masters, and those who helped the runaway slaves would be liable for fines of up to $1,000 and six months in prison.

Nobody really liked the Compromise of 1850. Southerners thought it didn't give them enough in return for allowing another vote against them (California's) in Congress; Northerners, as you have seen, hated the Fugitive Slave Law. But the Compromise passed.

In the end, the Compromise of 1850 may have made it harder instead of easier to save the Union. The Fugitive Slave Law did more to rouse Northerners' anger than it did to return blacks to the South. By 1854, when Kansas and Nebraska applied for territorial status, the question of slavery in the West had to be decided all over again.

The Birds' argument is interrupted by Eliza's appearance. For all his political argument, Senator Bird's heart goes out to her. Eliza enlists their sympathy by asking if they have ever lost a child. In fact they have, recently, and the entire family dissolves in tears. Senator Bird even suggests that his wife give Harry the dead boy's clothing, and he himself brings Eliza, in the middle of the night, to the home of John Van Trompe- a former slaveholder who now shelters fugitives. "Your heart is better than your head," Mrs. Bird tells her husband.

Stowe has frequently urged her readers to identify with Eliza on the basis of their feelings for their own children. In this chapter, she intensifies the theme: mothers whose children have died should see Eliza, as Mrs. Bird does, as a mother "more heartbroken and sorrowful than I am."

Senator Bird's responses when he sees little Harry wearing "his lost boy's little well-known cap" or to "a closet, the opening of which has been to you like the opening again of a little grave" sound silly to us as modern readers. But nineteenth-century America was a dangerous place for children, and many of Stowe's readers knew firsthand what she was talking about. Stowe herself lost her infant son Charley during a cholera epidemic in 1849. The strong feelings of maternal loss that appear again and again in Uncle Tom's Cabin may originate in Stowe's own experience.


As Chloe tearfully packs Tom's clothing and Mrs. Shelby sobs in the corner, Haley comes to take Tom away. Young George, who has been away from home for several days, catches up with them on the road and promises to redeem Tom as soon as he can. Speaking in a voice "as tender as a woman's," Tom urges George to "keep close to yer mother." Driving the point home, Stowe says that black people "are not naturally daring and enterprising, but home-loving and affectionate." Uncle Tom has "the full, the gentle, domestic heart" typical of "his unhappy race."


A "Spanish-looking gentleman" appears at a Kentucky tavern and takes a room. Of course, it is George Harris in disguise. Recognizing Mr. Wilson, the owner of the factory where he worked, George invites him in for a private talk. Mr. Wilson sympathizes with George, but warns him that he is breaking the law of his country. "Mr. Wilson, you have a country," George cries, "but what country have I...? What laws are there for us?" He recalls listening to Fourth-of- July speeches that quote the Declaration of Independence. "Can't a fellow think, that hears such things?" he demands.

George's story, as he tells it to Mr. Wilson, is familiar. His father was a white slaveholder; his mother and sisters were sold at auction after his father's death. He speaks of them, and of his wife, with great affection and respect. He tells Mr. Wilson that he intends to go to Canada. Like Senator Bird, Mr. Wilson's feelings prove stronger than his beliefs, and he promises to send a message to Eliza.


Haley takes Tom to Washington, Kentucky, where he buys more slaves. At an auction, Tom sees more families being torn apart. Then Haley, Tom, and the newly bought slaves- grieving for their wives, mothers, sisters, and children- board a steamboat for the journey south.

The white passengers on the boat argue about the human cargo. One woman claims that slavery commits "outrages on the feelings and affections" like separating families. Another responds that blacks do not have the same feelings as whites. Two ministers enter the quarrel. One cites the biblical verse, "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be," in defense of slavery. The other states that the relevant biblical citation is the golden rule- treat others the way you would be treated- and that it argues against slavery.

American religious denominations were torn by the struggle over slavery. Some, like the Baptists, eventually split into two denominations, North and South. Harriet Beecher Stowe knew firsthand the religious debate over slavery, since some of it had been conducted in her own home. Lyman Beecher, Stowe's father, opposed slavery. But unlike some other Congregational ministers, he did not support immediate abolition. In 1834, most of the students became abolitionists and withdrew in protest from Lane Theological Seminary, which Beecher ran.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was not a thoroughgoing abolitionist like Theodore Weld, one of the ministers who left Lane but she strongly believed that slavery was un-Christian. Uncle Tom's Cabin contains many statements to that effect: from Mrs. Bird and Mrs. Shelby, among others, as well as in Stowe's own voice. Partly at issue, for her, was the nature of Christianity. Is feeling worth more than doctrine? Are people saved through fear or through love? Is the church as an institution more important than personal religious belief?

As the daughter, sister, and wife of ministers, Stowe struggled all her life with these questions. Eventually she embraced a set of beliefs very different from her father's. Toward the end of her life, she became an Episcopalian. As you read Uncle Tom's Cabin, ask yourself what Christianity means to the various characters. What are Christian values? How should a Christian behave?

In this chapter, for example, Tom comforts another slave by telling her about "a heart of love in the skies, of a pitying Jesus, and an eternal home." However, Stowe remarks sarcastically, if Tom had "only been instructed by certain ministers of Christianity," he might have seen the slave trade as "the vital support of an institution which some American divines tell us has no evils...."

In one of the river towns, Haley buys a young woman and her infant son. Haley sells the baby when the young woman leaves him for a moment to try to catch sight of her husband as they dock in Louisville. Heartbroken, she then drowns herself. This echoes the story Haley told Marks and Loker in the tavern the day Eliza escaped. It proves that the white passenger who asserted that slave mothers have no feelings for their children was totally mistaken.

The last paragraph of this chapter refers to the opposition of "our great men" to the foreign slave trade. Congress ended the foreign slave trade in 1808. After that, it was illegal to sell slaves from Africa. In the prosperous years following the War of 1812, however, many slaves were sold from the upper South (Virginia, Maryland, and Kentucky) to the rapidly growing lower South (Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana). Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) and William Wilberforce (1759-1833) were British antislavery activists who helped bring about the abolition of slavery in the British colonies in 1833. Stowe's point is that the "lawful" domestic slave trade is pretty awful.


Eliza has reached a Quaker village. Here, as at the Birds', goodness is equated with domestic order. The tablecloth glistens, the tea kettle hums, and Rachel Halliday passes the cake with "motherliness." Ruth Stedman, another of the Quaker women who cares for Eliza, explains that "If I didn't love John [her husband] and the baby, I should not know how to feel for her." George Harris arrives at the settlement, and the family is reunited.

In the past, George has viewed Christianity as submission to slavery. In this domestic heaven, however, he begins to feel the love of God. "This indeed was a home,- home,- a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God... began to encircle his heart."

Because George and Eliza are being pursued by Marks and Loker, the Quakers lead them to the next settlement.

Members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, arrived in Boston in 1656. Their belief in God as an Inner Light in every man and woman and their democratic lack of ministers or church government made them as threatening to the Puritans of Massachusetts as they had been to their English counterparts. In 1681, a Quaker named William Penn established a meeting (as the Quaker worship service is called) in Philadelphia. In Pennsylvania and the other mid-Atlantic colonies, the Quakers began to thrive.

Because they believed that everyone, regardless of sex or race, shared the Inner Light, it was natural that Quakers would oppose slavery. In fact, the very first protest against slavery in America was organized by Germantown, Pennsylvania, Quakers in 1688. Many wealthy Quakers, however, were slaveholders. Throughout the eighteenth century, Quaker meetings in Pennsylvania, as well as in New York and New England, struggled with the issue. By the 1770s, Quakers in North Carolina and Virginia had vowed not to buy more slaves, and Northern Quakers had given up slaveholding. (Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1780.) Quakers started the first antislavery society in America, in 1775, and they dominated the early antislavery movement. Quaker Anthony Benezet started a school for black children in Philadelphia in the 1780s, and on his death his entire estate went to fund black education.

During the nineteenth century, Quakers, like other opponents of slavery, had to choose between abolitionism and milder forms of protest. A few Quaker radicals became prominent, among them Isaac Hopper of New York; Lucretia Mott of Massachusetts; Levi Coffin of Indiana; poet John Greenleaf Whittier; Elias Hicks, who led a Quaker boycott of crops and goods produced by slave labor; and Thomas Garrett of Wilmington, Delaware, who helped 2700 slaves escape and was claimed by Stowe as one of her models for Simeon Halliday. Although Quakers were more inclined to favor a gradual end to slavery than immediate abolition, almost all were ready to help an escaped slave with money, clothing, and shelter.

Philadelphia Quakers defied the Society's ban on reading novels in order to devour Uncle Tom's Cabin. But their newspaper, the Philadelphia Friend, gave the book a bad review. It called the book inflammatory and likely to stir up Southern resistance; it was necessary, the reviewer said, to appeal to the South with love. Still, many Quakers were proud to identify themselves as the "real" Rachel or Simeon Halliday.


One of the passengers on the trip down the Mississippi is an ethereal six-year-old girl, dressed all in white and resembling "a sunbeam or a summer breeze." The beautiful and sensitive child brings fruit and candy to the slaves on board, and Tom charms her by making her toys. Tom "who had the soft, impressible nature of his kindly race, ever yearning toward the simple and childlike" thought that Evangeline St. Clare, called Eva, was "something almost divine."

When Eva falls overboard, Tom rescues her; in gratitude, her father buys him. Handsome, charming, worldly Mr. St. Clare mocks Haley's attempt to raise the price because Tom is so pious. St. Clare jokes that he may make Tom the family chaplain, since there's not much religion in their home. In the end, Tom becomes his coachman.


Augustine St. Clare's family originated in Canada. His father married a French Huguenot (Protestant) named Evangeline, and they settled in Louisiana. His father's brother settled in Vermont, where Augustine lived with him for many years. Augustine had a "sensitiveness of character, more akin to the softness of woman than the ordinary hardness of his own sex." Disappointed in love with a Northern woman, Augustine married the vain, insensitive, and spoiled Marie. After the birth of their daughter, named Evangeline for Augustine's mother, Marie became a hypochondriac, constantly bedridden with "sick headaches."

Augustine had traveled to Vermont to persuade his cousin, Ophelia, to return to New Orleans and take charge of his household. A strong-minded, capable spinster of forty-five, Ophelia loves order and hates what she calls shiftlessness. Although she is the opposite of the lazy, carefree Augustine, she loves her cousin dearly.

Stowe presents the St. Clare mansion through both Ophelia's and Tom's eyes. Tom finds it beautiful ("The Negro, it must be remembered... has a passion for all that is splendid, rich, and fanciful"), while Ophelia thinks it's "rather old and heathenish."

The St. Clare family servants are, for the most part, elegant and spoiled. Adolphe, the butler, borrows St. Clare's sophistication as well as most of his clothing. But Mammy embraces Eva warmly, unlike Eva's mother, who claims the girl is giving her a headache. Ophelia tells Augustine that she is disgusted by the way Eva kisses the slaves.

By placing a branch of the St. Clare family in Vermont- and having Augustine spend part of his boyhood there- Stowe points out that Northerners and Southerners are literally brothers. Augustine's experience enables him to compare Northern and Southern attitudes toward slavery. In addition, Ophelia displays both the strengths and limitations of Northerners in the way they view the South.

Stowe, who grew up in Connecticut, writes about New England villages with love. Of all the domestic settings she has praised, this is the finest:

The large farm-house, with its clean-swept grassy yard, shaded by the dense and massive foliage of the sugar-maple:... the air of order and stillness... Nothing lost, or out of order... There are no servants in the house, but the lady in the snowy cap, with the spectacles, who sits sewing every afternoon among her daughters....


Selfish Marie St. Clare acts as if slaves have no feelings. She criticizes Mammy for sleeping soundly at night- Mammy should wake up more readily to care for her. She also faults Mammy for objecting to her separation from her own children, who live on Marie's parents' plantation.

Pitted against Marie's selfish view of slavery are the views of Ophelia, Augustine, and Eva. Ophelia objects to slavery on principle. "Don't you believe that the Lord made them one of blood with us?" she asks Marie. Later she announces her belief that "You ought to educate your slaves, and treat them like reasonable creatures."

But, as Augustine points out, for all her principles Ophelia doesn't like black people. She cringes when she sees Eva playing with Tom. "You [Northerners] would not have them abused; but you don't want to have anything to do with them yourselves," Augustine tells his cousin. She admits that he has a point.

Augustine explains that he respects the argument that slavery is economically necessary to the South, but that he distrusts religious justifications for slavery. He refuses to worship with Marie, because the church "can bend and turn... to fit every crooked phase of selfish, worldly society."

Eva, however, has the last word. She tells her father that she likes slavery because "it makes so many more round you to love." Eva, like Tom, is instinctively religious.

Marie St. Clare tells cousin Ophelia that "it's we, mistresses, that are the slaves, down here." Marie expresses enormous self-pity, but her sentiments were sometimes shared by real Southern women. In November 1861- some ten years after Uncle Tom's Cabin appeared- Mary Boykin Chesnut contrasted the experience of Southern women with that of Northerners like Harriet Beecher Stowe. Chesnut, the wife of a U.S. Senator who resigned to become a Confederate general, uses language that echoes Stowe's description of the typical New England village. And some of her ideas resemble Marie St. Clare's:

On one side Mrs. Stowe [and other antislavery writers]... live in nice New England homes, clean, sweet-smelling, shut up in libraries, writing books which ease their hearts of their bitterness against us... Now consider what I have seen of my mother's life, my grandmother's, my mother-in-law's.... They have the same ideas of right and wrong, and high-bred, lovely, good, pious, doing their duty as they conceive it. They live in Negro villages.... Bookmaking which leads you to a round of visits among crowned heads is an easier way to be a saint than martyrdom down here, doing unpleasant duty among the Negroes....

THE STORY, continued


ECC [Uncle Tom's Cabin Contents] []

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