Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers

Help / FAQ

printable study guide online download notes summary

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe

THE STORY, continued


George, Eliza, and Harry, accompanied by another former slave, Jim Selden, who returned to Kentucky to rescue his mother, prepare to leave the Quaker settlement. The kindly Quakers provide them with food, warm clothing for Canada, and the faith in God by which they live their daily lives.

The Hallidays and their friends are conductors on what was called the Underground Railroad or Liberty Line, an informal network of Northerners who helped escaped slaves reach Canada. Quakers had been assisting slaves in this way as early as the 1780s, and by the 1830s the activity had become more common. Southerners saw the Underground Railroad as a vast conspiracy, and some estimated that as many as 100,000 slaves were spirited off. In fact, modern historians think that fewer than 1000 slaves a year "followed the drinking gourd" (the North Star) to freedom. But the Underground Railroad affected the morale of slaves and masters out of proportion to the numbers who actually traveled it.

Conducting on the Underground Railroad took enormous courage, especially after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Participating in the rescue of fugitive slaves was one of the few ways citizens could actively oppose slavery; it was more satisfying and seemed more effective than signing endless antislavery petitions. John Rankin, a native of Tennessee, moved to Ripley, Ohio, on the banks of the Ohio River, in the 1830s. His Underground Railroad station was probably known to Harriet Beecher Stowe in nearby Cincinnati. Some historians believe that when the "real" Eliza crossed the ice, it was Rankin (not "Mr. Symmes," the Shelbys' neighbor) who helped her onto the Ohio shore.

The bravest Underground Railroad conductors, however, were the black men and women who themselves risked capture to help escaping slaves. The character Jim Selden, who returns from Canada to rescue his mother, had real-life counterparts. One of them was Harriet Tubman, who fled to Pennsylvania from Maryland in 1849. Starting in 1850, she made nineteen trips into the deep South to rescue slaves.

Their pursuers follow them closely. George, who has a pistol, resolves that Eliza will be returned to slavery over his dead body. Phineas, the Quaker driver, is nonviolent but willing to allow George and Jim to defend themselves and their families.

Everyone hides behind the large rock at the summit of a hill to await Marks, Tom Loker, and the rest of the drunken band of slave-catchers. George makes his stand: "We stand here as free, under God's sky, as you are," he challenges them. (Stowe remarks that a Hungarian youth defending freedom as George did would be considered a hero by most Americans; a fugitive slave doing the same thing was not.)

George shoots Tom Loker, and Phineas pushes him into a crevice between the rocks, while the other slave-hunters run off. The others begin to pity Loker (who in his pain calls out his mother's name) and decide to take him to the Quaker settlement for medical treatment.


Dinah, like Aunt Chloe, is an excellent cook. But while Chloe is orderly and methodical, Dinah is totally chaotic. Ophelia's attempt to impose order on Dinah's kitchen is comically defeated by the cook's systematic confusion.

Ophelia is appalled by the waste and disorder in the St. Clare household, but Augustine doesn't mind. Why save time or money, he asks, when there's plenty of both? He believes that slavery makes black people dishonest ("Cunning and deception become necessary, inevitable habits") and that they shouldn't be punished for it. Dinah, he believes, should be judged for her delicious dishes.

St. Clare's theory is illustrated by most of the members of his household. Adolphe, Rosa, Jane, and several of the other household servants are frivolous and spoiled. They are preparing for a ball for the light-skinned, house-servant slave aristocracy of New Orleans. They ridicule dark-skinned Dinah, who has no use for them.

Legend has it that house slaves and field slaves were very different from each other. House slaves were light-skinned, sometimes educated, close to their masters, whose values they shared, and contemptuous of the field slaves. Field hands were supposed to be dark-skinned, illiterate, and lazy.

Like most legends, this one contains some truth. But like most generalizations about areas as varied as the American South and institutions as complicated as American black slavery, it also contains many inaccuracies. The legend comes closest to fact in describing slavery in the cities, and in particular in the Sea Island cotton, rice, and sugar-growing areas (off the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida). Thus, the St. Clare family slaves seem to fit this pattern.

There's only one problem with applying the house servant-field hand distinction to Uncle Tom's Cabin- virtually all the slaves in the novel are house servants. Although Stowe fusses about the comparative skin color of slaves, even the darker characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin- Chloe and Tom, Sam and Andy, Dinah and Mammy- work inside the house. You practically never meet anyone in the novel who works in the fields. On Legree's plantation, of course, everyone but the current mistress picks cotton. But the characters Stowe focuses on- Tom, Cassy, Emmeline, and Lucy- formerly worked in houses, and all but Tom are city-bred. Thus the differences between Dinah and Adolphe, for example, resemble the house-field distinction, but aren't really part of it.

As Eugene D. Genovese shows in Roll, Jordan, Roll, working in the Big House had its costs as well as its rewards. House servants had better food and quarters than field workers. Their physical and often emotional closeness to their masters sometimes made them feel more secure, although neither Tom nor the St. Clare servants are protected by that intimacy. Field hands, however, had more leisure time than house servants, who were always at the beck and call (and always in the sight) of whites. Field hands also enjoyed a greater sense of community. For these reasons some slaves, according to Genovese, preferred working in the fields.

House servants and field hands usually saw themselves as part of the same family. First, they often were literally brothers and sisters. In addition, house servants often married field hands. And house servants, who often overheard conversations among the whites, frequently warned field hands of an impending sale so that they could escape. (Eliza does this in Uncle Tom's Cabin, although Tom is not a field hand.)

The former slaves whom Harriet Beecher Stowe met had probably been house servants. More skilled and privileged than field hands, they had more opportunities to flee. Closer to whites in manners and sometimes in appearance, house servants were probably easier for her to identify with.

If Adolphe and the others illustrate one possible effect of slavery, old Prue represents another. Prue delivers baked goods for her master, but often uses the proceeds to get drunk. Ophelia, who always knows what's right and wrong, scolds her. But Tom, more compassionate, discovers why Prue drinks. All her children were sold away from her except one, who died because her mistress wouldn't let her take care of it. Tom assures Prue that Jesus loves her and that she'll find rest in heaven.

This chapter examines the fundamental values of the major characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Augustine St. Clare wastes money and time. One night when he comes in drunk, Tom chides him for not taking better care of himself. Ophelia, his opposite, saves time and money. She puts good management above human feelings. For Tom and Eva, however, the most important consideration is love.


The news of Prue's death leads Ophelia and Augustine into another round of their continuing debate about slavery. This time Augustine talks more openly and more seriously than he ever has.

Much to his cousin's surprise, Augustine tells her that slavery "comes from the devil." It is based on the power of the strong over the weak:

"Why, because my brother Quashy is ignorant and weak, and I am intelligent and strong- because I know how, and can do it,- therefore, I may steal all he has, keep it, and give him only such and so much as suits my fancy. Whatever is too hard, too dirty, too disagreeable, for me, I may set Quashy to doing.... Talk of the abuses of slavery!... The thing itself is the essence of all abuse!"

Does Augustine St. Clare's description of slavery surprise you? Is it consistent with his character? Do you think he speaks for the author? How do his views differ from Ophelia's?

Augustine unfolds a bit of family history for Ophelia. In so doing, he describes two sets of brothers- Ophelia's father and his own; and his twin brother, Alfred, and himself. The two pairs of brothers illustrate two distinct facts about slavery.

As Augustine tells his cousin, Ophelia's father and his own were very similar men, "upright, energetic, and noble minded." One settled in Vermont, the other in Louisiana. Augustine's father was a "born aristocrat," who drove his slaves hard and believed them less than human. His overseer- another Vermonter- treated the slaves cruelly. Augustine and his mother often pleaded with his father to show mercy to the slaves.

Ophelia's father, on the other hand, settled in Vermont and joined the church and the Abolition Society. But, Augustine argues, the Vermonter has the same "overbearing, dominant spirit as his Southern brother." He owns no slaves, but everyone in the village knows that he looks down on them. "Though he has fallen on democratic times, and embraced a democratic theory, he is to the heart an aristocrat, as much as my father."

Augustine's brother, Alfred, resembled his father and uncle. But Augustine was more like his mother. ("She was divine!" he oozes. "Oh, mother! mother!") Alfred had dark eyes and hair, and an active temperament, while Augustine was blond, blue-eyed, and dreamy.

Harriet Beecher was only four years old when her mother died. Although her father remarried, his first wife, Roxanna, remained his favorite, and her memory lived on in the household. Henry Ward Beecher, Harriet's younger brother, once wrote- in a phrase that Augustine St. Clare would recognize- "My mother is to me what the Virgin Mary is to a devout Catholic."

When their father died, Augustine and Alfred divided the property, but Augustine hated running a plantation. Augustine, whom Alfred called a "womanish sentimentalist," moved to New Orleans and lived off the family's stocks. He took with him only the old family house servants, whom he treated kindly and did not overwork. But Alfred, Augustine notes, takes care of his slaves even though he drives them hard. Augustine upholds his brother's claim that he treats his slaves better than English factory owners treat their workers (although that, he adds, does not justify slavery). However, he foresees a day of reckoning that will end the evil of slavery forever.


In order to test his cousin's theories about education, Augustine buys Ophelia a slave child to raise. The little girl, Topsy, is bright and energetic, but she has been badly treated and frequently whipped by her masters. Stowe's description of Topsy fits the racial stereotype. The child is extremely black, filthy and ragged, and her hair is worked into many braids. She has a cunning expression, and sings and dances wildly.

Ophelia doesn't want to take the child on, but Augustine convinces her that it will be missionary work. And Ophelia is shocked by Topsy's answers to her questions. She doesn't remember her mother or father, and she denies that she was created by God- "I spect I grow'd." Ophelia finds that Topsy cannot tell right from wrong.

Topsy challenges Ophelia, who cannot figure out how to teach her. Ophelia tries whipping, but Topsy has been whipped before, and Ophelia soon finds that whipping is like a drug- more and more is needed to achieve the same effect. Eva's kindness to Topsy makes more of an impression. Eventually Topsy learns to make beds and not to steal, but she requires Ophelia's constant attention.

Topsy serves a number of functions in Uncle Tom's Cabin. First, as Augustine intended, she shows Northern readers that it is harder to educate a child born into slavery than they would like to think. Ophelia learns, as Stowe intends you to also, that many theories may not be workable in reality. Topsy also provides comic relief; this chapter is one of the funniest in the novel. Finally, Topsy provides a comparison with Eva.

Have you ever known a child like Topsy? How did you treat him or her? Were you able to get through to the child?


Mrs. Shelby, on learning that Chloe had heard from Tom (Augustine wrote a letter for him), wants Mr. Shelby to buy him back. She offers to give music lessons to raise the money, but Mr. Shelby won't hear of it. Chloe asks that she be hired out to a baker- or as she calls it, a "perfectioner" (confectioner)- in Louisville, and that her wages be used to redeem Tom. The Shelbys agree to this plan. Two years have passed since Tom left Kentucky.


Tom's friendship with Eva deepens. She helps him to read the letter George Shelby sends in response to his, full of news of his family. Tom and Eva also read the Bible together, especially Revelations and Prophecies. But Tom and Miss Ophelia are aware that Eva is becoming weaker. Augustine refuses to acknowledge it, though, and Marie is too self-absorbed to care. Eva claims to see the new Jerusalem Tom sings about in the clouds. "I'm going there," she tells Tom, pointing heavenward.

"Has there ever been a child like Eva?" Stowe asks. "Yes... but their names are always on gravestones." She claims that there are certain spiritual children who are not long for this world.

You may wonder, too, whether there has ever been a child like Eva. Eva seems too religious, too good, to be real. She never fights or misbehaves or dirties her white dresses. To many readers, Eva seems to be a symbol rather than a real character. Compare Stowe's description of Eva to those of other children- Topsy, for example, or Tom's sons Mose and Pete, or the children in the Quaker settlement. Do the other children in the novel seem more realistic than Eva? Have you ever known anyone like her?


The visit of Augustine's brother Alfred with his son, Henrique, to the St. Clare summer home on Lake Pontchartrain provides an occasion for more contrasts and further debates. Henrique, dark and handsome like his father, rides a black pony; Eva, fair and blonde like her father, rides a white one. Henrique bullies his slave, Dodo, and accuses him of lying; Eva is kind to him. (The slave boy had been taken from his mother only weeks before.)

While Eva lectures her cousin about how to treat servants (the Bible tells us to love everyone, she tells him), the two brothers continue their discussion about slavery. Augustine maintains that having slaves around hurts the character of Southern children. Alfred tends to agree and says that he will have Henrique educated in the North. Augustine anticipates an eventual slave uprising, while Alfred maintains that Anglo-Saxons will always rule the world (although as Augustine points out, most slaves have some white ancestry).

In August 1791, in the aftermath of the French Revolution, black slaves and mulattoes (persons of mixed ancestry) in the French West Indian colony of Haiti rose against their masters. There were abuses on both sides, and thousands of whites were killed or forced into exile. The example of Haiti frightened white Southerners, and made them, some historians believe, less likely to consider freeing their own slaves. Slaveowners also used the example of Haiti to prove that slaves were inherently violent. Augustine St. Clare makes a different point- that people are only as good as their rulers make them. What practical measure is he advocating, therefore? (San Domingo, to which Augustine refers, is an earlier name for Haiti.)


Foreseeing her death, Eva begs her father to free their slaves, and especially Tom. Marie refuses to acknowledge Eva's sickness, because she is too absorbed by her own imagined pain.


Topsy has misbehaved once too often and Ophelia wants to be rid of her. Marie tells her that she should have whipped the child. Eva takes a different approach, asking Topsy whether she's ever loved anyone. She hasn't, Topsy replies, and no one has loved her. Ophelia would love her if she were good, Eva explains. But Topsy answers that Ophelia can't stand to touch her. Eva tells Topsy that she loves her and that Jesus does, too. She says that she is about to die and would be pleased if Topsy behaved for her sake. Topsy cries and promises to try.

Watching her, Ophelia admits her prejudice, but says she hadn't known that Topsy was aware of it. She calls Eva "Christ-like"- the source of the chapter's title, for, like Christ, little Evangeline is an evangelist.


Sensing that death is near, Eva bids good-bye to the family servants. She gives each a lock of hair, saying she loves them and has prayed for them, and that they must try to be Christians. Augustine asks his daughter what it means to be a Christian. "Loving Christ most of all," Eva responds. On her deathbed, with Ophelia, Augustine, and Tom around her, Eva cries, "Oh love,- joy,- peace!"

Eva's definition of being Christian might not be everyone's, but it does not sound strange to us. However, such ideas were just beginning to be heard at the time that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. The New England Calvinism that dominated the country's religious life during its first two centuries- and that Stowe's father, Lyman Beecher, still preached in its third century- imposed more rigorous standards than simply "loving Christ most of all." For old-fashioned Calvinists, becoming Christian was a life-long struggle, requiring prayer, good works, and constant self-examination.

The kind of Christianity that Eva and Uncle Tom embody was a rejection of Lyman Beecher's creed. American Protestantism was changing in the nineteenth century, becoming more accepting, forgiving, and accessible. Harriet Beecher Stowe was part of that shift.


The members of the St. Clare household react to Eva's death. The slaves weep over her, and Topsy feels especially bad because, as she says, Eva was the only one who ever loved her. Ophelia promises that she will try to love Topsy, because she has learned something of Christ's love from Eva.

Tom tries to comfort his master, assuring Augustine that there is a God and that Jesus loves him. Although Augustine is touched by Tom's faith, he himself is not yet ready to believe.


Everybody in the St. Clare household becomes better and more religious as a result of Eva's death. Topsy stops misbehaving and Ophelia is softer and more generous. She presses Augustine to make her Topsy's legal owner, so that she can bring the girl north and free her. Augustine is making arrangements to free Tom as well. He is somewhat hurt by Tom's eager anticipation of freedom. You could never live as comfortably as you do here, Augustine argues. No, Tom replies, but I would be free. Augustine spends more and more time with Tom, praying, reading, and talking about Christianity. Tom believes that taking care of God's "critturs" is doing His work.

Augustine's increasing interest in religion naturally leads him to think of slavery. A true Christian, he tells Ophelia, must fight against it. However, he is not sure how to go about it. He mentions that Hungarian nobles voluntarily freed their serfs; perhaps American masters can be persuaded to do the same. But Augustine wonders who will educate the newly freed blacks, and points to the prejudice of Northerners as being as oppressive as slavery itself.

Augustine goes to a cafe, where he is gravely wounded trying to separate two quarreling men. When the doctor announces that his mind is wandering, Augustine disputes him: "it is coming HOME, at last!" With a final cry of "Mother!" he dies.

The dictionary defines sentimental as "indulging the sensibilities for their own sake, artificially or affectedly tender, mawkishly or superficially emotional... addressed to easily swayed emotions." Would you say, by this definition, that the death of Augustine St. Clare is sentimental? Is that an accurate description of the death of little Eva? Actually, Eva has two death scenes, if you count the giving away of the locks of her hair. (Stowe claimed that writing little Eva's death scene so exhausted her that she spent the next two days in bed.) How can you tell when Stowe is writing sentimentally? Does she use language differently at these points? Is her treatment of certain subjects or certain characters more sentimental than others? When you use the word "sentimental" to describe something, do you mean it as a criticism?


Marie plans to sell the house and auction off the furniture and slaves. Ophelia, after trying unsuccessfully to convince her to free Tom, writes to Mrs. Shelby about what has happened.


The slaves belonging to the St. Clare family, including Tom, are sold at auction. Also sold are Susan and Emmeline, a mother and daughter, respectively, who belonged to a good Christian woman. The man who buys Susan is unable to afford the daughter, who is sold to the man who has bought Tom- Simon Legree. The money from the sale of Susan and Emmeline goes to a New York firm to whom the son of their owner was in debt. Despite their uneasiness at selling slaves; the Christian gentlemen in New York could not pass up the opportunity to make money. Thus, as Stowe continually points out, the North as well as the South profits from slavery.


Legree begins the trip up the Red River to his plantation by showing his slaves that he's the boss. He sells Tom's clothing and trunk to the boatmen, leaving Tom only one ragged suit. Finding Tom's hymnbook, Legree tells him, "I'm your church now!" Legree shows Tom his fist, which, he claims, has become hard as a rock through "knocking down niggers." He explains that he's found it cheaper to use his slaves until they wear out.

NOTE: One of Stowe's brothers worked for a time in New Orleans, where he heard a slaveowner boast, as Legree does, that his fist had become rock-hard from knocking down his slaves. Stowe repeats this story in the novel's final chapter.

A passenger who overhears Legree tells his companion, evidently a Northerner, that Legree isn't typical of Southern slaveowners- most of them are decent and humane. But it's decent ones who are responsible for slavery, his friend responds. If the slaveholders were all like Legree, the system could not survive. Do you agree with this analysis?


Legree's plantation is a dark place, indeed. Even the road approaching it sounds, as Stowe describes it, as if it leads to hell. The wind blows "mournfully," the trees are "doleful," hung with "funereal black" moss. The stumps of trees rot in the water. Legree bought his once- beautiful plantation from a man who had gone bankrupt. But he uses it the way he uses his slave- only to make money. Thus, the plantation, too, has a tragic air.

Although Legree acts as the plantation's overseer, he has two slave managers, Sambo and Quimbo. He has trained them to be vicious, and he keeps them fighting with each other so that they will not turn on him. Lucy, one of the slaves he has just bought, will be Sambo's woman, although she left a husband and children in New Orleans. Legree himself has designs on Emmeline.

Tom hopes for a little shack where he can be alone, but he must sleep on the floor of a cabin with several other slaves. Reading the Bible by the fire after dinner, Tom tells some slave women that God is "here, he's everywhere," but even Tom finds it hard to believe in this bleak place.


On his first day of work in the fields, Tom notices the women. Lucy is finding it hard to pick fast enough, so Tom puts some cotton from his bag into hers. Apparently people don't help each other this way on Legree's plantation; several slaves, including Sambo, warn Tom that he will be whipped. But Cassy- described as a beautiful and light-skinned woman, who picks better and faster than anyone- puts cotton into Tom's bag. The other slaves seem surprised to see Cassy in the field. They are a little in awe of her- and she won't allow Sambo or Quimbo to lay a hand on her.

Although Legree bought Tom expecting to make him an overseer, he recognizes that Tom isn't mean enough to handle the job. Because Tom had helped Lucy, he orders him to whip her. Tom refuses because it isn't right. Legree is furious that a slave dare tell him about right and wrong. Don't I own you, body and soul? he cries. Tom replies that his soul belongs to God, not Legree. Then Sambo and Quimbo whip him.


After the whipping, Cassy tries to make Tom comfortable. She reads the Bible to him, as he requests, but tries to convince him that there is no point in struggling against Legree. The plantation is isolated, she argues, and there are no white people around to testify against Legree in court. (The word of blacks was not accepted as testimony.) "There's no law here, of God or man," Cassy explains. But Tom tells her that he's lost everything that matters to him, and "I can't lose heaven, too."

Cassy tells Tom how she came to be Legree's mistress. The daughter of a wealthy white man in New Orleans and a slave woman, she was educated in a convent. When her father died suddenly, however, she was sold. She loved the man who bought her, and they had two children, although he would not marry her. But he contracted gambling debts and sold the three of them. When Butler, her new master, refused to help her rescue her son from his new owners, she stabbed him and he sold her again. Her next owner treated her kindly and tried to find her son and daughter; however, the son had vanished and the daughter's owners would not part with her. Cassy had a child with this man, Captain Stuart, but she resolved not to raise another child and gave her little boy an overdose of opium. Captain Stuart later died in a cholera epidemic, and Cassy was sold yet again. Eventually she ended up with Legree.

At the end of Cassy's story, Tom tries to speak to her of God, but Cassy cries, "He isn't here!"

Cassy's story of being bought by a white man who made her his mistress may sound familiar to you, for many of the slave women in Uncle Tom's Cabin- especially young, pretty, light- skinned ones- report the same experience. Did white men frequently take sexual advantage of slave girls, or is this melodrama and exaggeration?

Certainly many of Harriet Beecher Stowe's contemporaries believed that such relationships constituted one of the worst abuses of slavery. Abolitionist Sarah Grimke, who came from a wealthy slave-holding South Carolina family, wrote that "women are bought and sold in our slave markets, to gratify the brutal lust of those who bear the name of Christians." Slave narratives- accounts written by escaped slaves, usually with the help of abolitionist editors- told similar stories. "Lydia Brent" explained in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl:

For years, my master has done his utmost to pollute my mind with foul images, and to destroy the pure principles inculcated by my grandmother, and the good mistress of my childhood. The influences of slavery had had the same effect on me that they had on other young girls; they had made me prematurely knowing, concerning the evil ways of the world.

In the last chapter of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe cites similar evidence.

Was this just abolitionist propaganda? Not according to Mary Boykin Chesnut, the wife of a Confederate general, who noted with anger in her diary:

Like the patriarchs of old, our men live all in one house with their wives and their concubines; and the mulattoes one sees in every family partly resemble the white children. Any lady is ready to tell you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody's household but her own. Those, she seems to think, drop from the clouds.

Later Chesnut wrote: "You see, Mrs. Stowe did not hit the sorest spot. She makes Legree a bachelor."


Cassy scolds Legree for beating Tom, one of his most capable slaves, so that he won't be able to work during a busy season. Although Legree owns Cassy, she has some power over him. He believes that she "has the devil in her," and Cassy encourages this fear.

Sambo brings Legree a charm, which he calls "a witch thing" that he's found around Tom's neck. You recognize the silver dollar that George Shelby gave Tom when they parted, and the lock of little Eva's hair. As the hair winds around Legree's fingers, he screams and throws it into the fireplace.

Why is Legree so frightened? Stowe explains by telling you his life story. In New England, Legree has been raised by a loving, religious mother. (It's interesting that the most evil man in Uncle Tom's Cabin is a Northerner, not a Southerner, by birth.) He has become evil because of his father's influence, fallen in with bad company, and run away to sea. One night, while partying with his friends, he received a letter telling him his mother was dead. It contained a lock of her hair, which frightened him because he felt reproached by her from beyond the grave and feared he was going to hell. Eva's hair has the same effect on him. Pale and sweating, Legree tells himself that he's bewitched. He calls for Sambo and Quimbo, although it is late at night, and the three drink and dance.

Uncle Tom's Cabin is filled with good mothers- like Eliza Harris and Rachel Halliday- and with grieving mothers, mostly slave women like Cassy, Prue, and Mammy. The influence of mothers is strong, too. George Harris remembers his mother and sisters, and Augustine St. Clare dies with his mother's name on his lips. It's not only the novel's good characters, however, who are shaped by maternal love. Tom Loker, the slave-catcher, calls out his mother's name when he is injured, and the Quakers take pity on him. Now you see that even the cruel Simon Legree had a loving and pious mother.

Why does Harriet Beecher Stowe make so much of mothers? Some modern readers view this as part of her sentimentality. They point to scenes like the one in which young Legree, eager to return to the wild life on his ship, throws his mother to the ground. They laugh at the way Stowe uses the image of the fair- haired woman (Mrs. Legree) leading her little boy (Simon) to church as a picture of all that is good.

Other readers see Stowe's emphasis on mothers in terms of the role of women in mid-nineteenth- century America. At that time, women had few options and very little power. They could not hold property- including their own wages- or gain custody of their children if they divorced. Although all of Harriet Beecher's brothers became ministers like their father, that career was not open to her. Neither could women become doctors or lawyers. When Uncle Tom's Cabin was written, only two colleges admitted women- Oberlin and Antioch, both in Ohio. Twenty years would pass before higher education would be generally available for women, and seventy before they would win the right to vote.

For women in mid-nineteenth-century America- especially for white middle-class urban women like Harriet Beecher Stowe- the one place they had power was the home. Their husbands made the important family decisions and supplied the income, but women had enormous influence over their children. Writers of the day urged women to shape their children's values and exert a Christian influence over their husbands. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, you've seen two "good women"- Mrs. Shelby and Mrs. Bird- who behave according to these principles.

At the time Uncle Tom's Cabin was written, the movement for full equality for American women was just beginning. Many women were drawn to the abolitionist movement, but they soon discovered that their hard work and courage did not gain them an equal place with male abolitionists. The antislavery women increasingly came to the conclusion that they, as well as slaves, were entitled to all the rights of free men. At the first women's rights convention, in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848, they expressed their beliefs in language that echoed the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men and women are created equal."

The women of Seneca Falls called for political and economic rights like voting and holding property. But while the women's rights advocates wanted women to have influence in the world outside the home, other reformers concentrated on women's power within it. Writers like Catharine Beecher argued that motherhood was a profession like any other, requiring special education and training. (It may not sound like feminism to you, but at the time, this line of thinking was seen as a way of improving the position of women.)

So when, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe goes on and on about the cheery parlors and the love of mothers, she is not only being sentimental. She is stating a political position, and showing that women can be powerful. Do you agree with her?


Emmeline, who has been resisting Legree, asks for Cassy's help in escaping. Cassy, however, sees no hope. She thinks it's impossible to escape. All the slaves can do is endure.

Although Cassy warns him that he will never break Tom's spirit, Legree is determined to try. He commands Tom to fall on his knees and beg forgiveness. Tom tells Legree that as his master, Legree is entitled to all his time and all his work, but that Tom's soul is his own. Legree knocks him to the ground.

NOTE: According to some historians of slavery, religion helped many other slaves the way it helped Tom. It enabled them to feel that they were not entirely owned by their masters- even though they and their children could be sold. It gave them something that was their own.


As Tom sinks deeper into bondage on Legree's plantation, George and Eliza continue their journey north toward freedom. Tom Loker, the slave-catcher, tells their Quaker friends that George and Eliza's descriptions have been posted in Sandusky, the town on the Ohio shore of Lake Erie where they will catch the ferry for Canada. Therefore, Eliza cuts her hair and wears men's clothing. Little Harry, dressed as a girl, is entrusted to the care of a Canadian woman returning home.

What does it mean to be free, Stowe asks you, as George and Eliza embark on the last leg of their journey. "To your fathers, freedom was the right of a nation to be a nation. To [George], it is the right of a man to be a man... to call the wife of his bosom his wife... to protect and educate his child... to have a home of his own, a religion of his own, a character of his own...." To Stowe, the most important fruits of freedom are faith and home.


Constant back-breaking work, with never a spare moment to read his Bible, has worn Tom's spirit. The Shelbys have not responded to Ophelia's letter about Tom's sale, and he begins to feel abandoned by them and by God. Legree gloats to Tom that religion hasn't gotten him anywhere, and he urges him to "join my church." Somehow, that's the last straw: Tom regains his faith.

One night Cassy asks Tom's help. She has drugged Legree and wants Tom to kill him with an axe so that the slaves can escape. Tom refuses, saying that no good can come of evil, and that God's way is to love our enemies. Cassy says that's impossible when you have such enemies, and Tom replies that God's love makes it possible, and "that's the victory." Stowe generalizes the significance of Tom's remark:

And this, O Africa!... called to the crown of thorns, the scourge, the bloody sweat, the cross of agony- this is to be thy victory; by this shalt thou reign with Christ when his kingdom shall come on earth.

In other words, the slaves' willingness to suffer and to forgive their enslavers rather than rising violently against them will ensure their ultimate triumph in heaven. In words that recall his refusal to flee the Shelby plantation to avoid being sold, Tom tells Cassy that it's all right for her to escape, but that he has a responsibility to the other slaves.


Cassy plans an escape for herself and Emmeline. Some years before, a slave woman had been tortured in the attic, where she eventually died. Since then, slave- and Legree himself- have believed the place to be haunted. Cassy embarks on a campaign to reinforce that belief in Legree's superstitious mind. Then she carries some food, candles, books, and clothing upstairs so that she and Emmeline could live there.

On the day of the escape, Cassy and Emmeline run into a nearby swamp. Legree offers five dollars to whomever catches the women. Meanwhile, Cassy and Emmeline reenter the empty house, where Cassy steals money from Legree's jacket pocket. The beauty of the plan is that Legree is too frightened to search the attic, and that any noise they make will only convince him that the place is haunted.


Unable to find Cassy and Emmeline, Legree takes his anger out on Tom. He threatens to kill Tom unless the slave reveals where the two women are. Tom refuses, and the furious Legree knocks Tom down. Watching him, Sambo and Quimbo begin to wonder who Jesus is, and Tom, near death, tells them while they weep. Tom prays to God to "give me those two more souls," and his prayer is answered. Like little Eva, the dying Tom converts those around him.


Two days after Legree's final attack on Tom, George Shelby appears at the plantation. George finds Tom dying in a dirty shed, cared for by the other slaves. When Cassy stole out of hiding to see him, Tom reached her hardened heart, and for the first time in years she cried and prayed. George tells Tom he has come to buy him and take him home, and Tom replies that the Lord has already bought him and is taking him home to a better place than Kentucky. Urging George to tell Chloe and the children to "follow me," Tom tells George that "I loves every creatur' everywhar!- it's nothing but love! Oh, Mas'r George, what a thing it is to be a Christian!"

Harriet Beecher Stowe claimed that after she had decided to write a book about slavery, the first scene she imagined was Uncle Tom's death. According to her son Charles, she was taking communion in the church at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, when she suddenly saw the death of Uncle Tom, "like the unrolling of a picture." It was all she could do to keep from bursting into tears. Returning home, she immediately wrote the scene and read it to her family. Her ten-year-old and twelve-year-old began to cry, and said, Charles Stowe relates, "'Oh, mama! Slavery is the most cruel thing in the world.'" "Thus," her son continues, "Uncle Tom was ushered into the world, and it was... a cry, an immediate, an involuntary expression of deep, impassioned feeling." Four months later, Harriet Beecher Stowe submitted the first episode of her novel to the National Era.

When George threatens to charge Legree with murder, the plantation owner points out that black people can't testify in court. What's the fuss over one "dead nigger," Legree asks- and in response, George knocks him down. He takes Tom's body away and buries it, wrapped in his own cloak. Kneeling at Tom's grave, George swears to "do what one man can to drive out this curse of slavery from my land!"


Dressed in a white sheet, Cassy prowls the Legree house at night, leading to rumors of ghosts. Legree, rattled, drinks more and more. One night, Cassy and Emmeline leave the house and make their way to the Red River, disguised as a lady and her servant. They board a steamer, where they meet George Shelby, returning to Kentucky after burying Tom. Cassy shares her secret with him, and the sympathetic George promises to help.

In the adjoining stateroom is a French woman named Madame de Thoux. It develops that she is George Harris' sister, who was sold to a man who married her, freed her, and took her to the West Indies. Now she is a widow, traveling with her daughter to Kentucky to buy her brother. She is delighted to hear that he has escaped to Canada.

As George Shelby tells Madame de Thoux about the woman George Harris married, Cassy faints, for she has reason to believe that Eliza Harris is her long-lost daughter.

Many readers criticize Stowe's handling of subplots in Uncle Tom's Cabin. The coincidences that arise in this chapter strike them as silly: George Harris' sister, Madame de Thoux, happens to meet George Shelby, who happens to be traveling with Cassy, who turns out to be Eliza's mother. However, this kind of tying up of loose ends was not unusual in some nineteenth-century novels, as readers of Dickens will recognize. In addition, the efforts of Stowe's characters to locate their relatives have some basis in reality. Modern historians, such as Herbert Gutman in The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925, have discovered that slaves made great efforts to keep in touch with, and after the Civil War, to rejoin family members who had been sold away from them.

William Still, a black Philadelphia abolitionist, had an experience as unusual as the ones created by Harriet Beecher Stowe. A man approached Still in August 1850 and asked for help in finding his own mother and father. This was a familiar request for Still, who was active in the Underground Railroad. As the man spoke, however, Still realized that the parents he was seeking were Still's own- the man was his long-lost older brother.


Madame de Thoux and Cassy trace George and Eliza to Montreal. There George works for a machinist, Harry attends school, and Eliza has given birth to a daughter, little Eliza. Their neat little apartment includes Stowe's regulation cheery fire and white tablecloth. Madame de Thoux offers to share the fortune left her by her husband with George, and the whole family moves to France so that George can attend the university. (Emmeline marries one of the sailors on the ship that takes them there.)

Stowe describes George's future plans through a letter to one of his friends. In it, George says that he has no desire "to pass for an American." Instead, he wants to help build a black republic in Africa. He recognizes that the attempt to do that in Liberia has not been entirely successful. Still, he thinks an entire nation can have more of an effect on American slavery than an individual acting alone. Echoing Stowe's own sentiments, George writes, "If not a dominant and commanding race, [blacks] are, at least, an affectionate, magnanimous, and forgiving one. Having been called in the furnace of injustice and oppression, they have need to bind closer to their hearts that sublime doctrine of love and forgiveness, through which alone they are to conquer...." George confesses that- because he is half white- he is not always able to forgive. But "I have an eloquent preacher of the Gospel ever by my side, in the person of my beautiful wife."

George, Eliza, their children, Cassy, and Madame de Thoux and her daughter leave for Africa. Cassy's son, discovered at last, moves there as well. Ophelia returns to Vermont, bringing Topsy with her. Eventually, Topsy joins the church and becomes a missionary to Africa.

Many regard George Harris' plan to settle in Africa as one of the least realistic episodes in Uncle Tom's Cabin. George's bitterness about the United States was not unusual among former slaves. His impassioned speech to Mr. Wilson, the factory owner, in the Kentucky tavern, bears some resemblance to "What to the slave is the Fourth of July," an oration by the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. But George's feeling that "I have no wish to pass for an American" would have surprised most free blacks in the North. They insisted that they were Americans, and they fought hard for their rights.

By the time Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, colonization- the idea that the solution to the problem of slavery was to send blacks back to Africa- was an idea whose time had come and gone. The American Colonization Society was founded by a number of prominent politicians in 1817 to buy slaves from their owners and pay their transportation to Africa. The society bought land in West Africa and founded the country of Liberia. Although Liberia became an independent republic in 1847, only about four thousand American blacks eventually settled there. The American Colonization Society failed, in large part because free blacks had no desire to go to Africa. After the 1830s, abolitionists attacked the colonizers for believing that blacks were inferior to whites.

One well-known supporter of colonization was Harriet Beecher Stowe's father, Lyman Beecher. In 1834, Cincinnati's Lane Theological Seminary, which he headed, was rocked by debates among students and faculty about abolition vs. colonization. The entire student body became abolitionists, and many withdrew from the school and enrolled at Oberlin College. Neither Lane Seminary nor Lyman Beecher ever fully recovered from this action.

Abolitionists, both black and white, had mixed feelings about Uncle Tom's Cabin because of the chapter about George Harris' future. One wrote in a black weekly: "Uncle Tom must be killed, George Harris exiled! Heaven for dead Negroes! Liberia for living mulattoes. Neither can live on the American continent. Death or banishment is our doom...." A New England Congregationalist minister announced that Stowe had told him that if she had it to do over again, "she would not send George Harris to Liberia." But Stowe herself never made that statement.


George Shelby returns to Kentucky, bringing the sad news of Tom's death. A month later, he frees his slaves. He expects them to stay on the plantation, but he will now pay them wages so that they cannot be sold if he falls into debt or dies. George also promises to teach them how to use their rights as free people- which, he says, may take time. George tells his new employees that he had sworn on Uncle Tom's grave never to own another slave. "Think of your freedom every time you see UNCLE TOM'S CABIN," he admonishes them, "and... follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful and Christian as he was."


In the last pages of her novel, Stowe addresses you in her own voice, assuring you that Uncle Tom's Cabin is based mostly on fact. She tells you stories she has heard and quotes letters she has read. In addition, she explains the crux of her disagreement with slavery: all that protects a slave's life is the master's character. It doesn't matter that most masters are decent people, and not Legrees; even if abuses occur only occasionally, the whole system is wrong.

Stowe appeals once again to mothers, who have learned through their love for their children to sympathize with others.

What, Stowe asks, can one person do about slavery? Her answer is that "they can see to it that they feel right," because a person whose feelings "are in harmony with the sympathies of Christ" is "a constant benefactor to the human race." In addition, "you can pray," for the slaveholders as well as the slaves. She suggests that Northern churches receive and educate former slaves, and then help them resettle in Liberia.

Stowe's final vision is apocalyptic: "Both North and South have been guilty before God," she writes. The only way they can be saved is by "repentance, justice, and mercy," for "injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!" This seems to predict the Civil War- or even the end of the world.

In this last chapter of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe explains that she wrote the book so that Northerners- especially those who supported the Fugitive Slave Law- would understand what slavery really was. She wanted to show it, she said, in its "living dramatic reality."

Presumably, Stowe believed that once Northerners finished her novel, they would do something about slavery. But Stowe's suggestions for action strike most modern readers as rather feeble. Feeling right and praying, they point out, don't accomplish very much. Why doesn't Stowe urge her readers to join the local abolitionist chapter? Vote for the antislavery Free Soil party? Attack Southern plantations and free the slaves? Do something?

Part of the answer lies in Stowe's religious beliefs and in her domestic feminism. Stowe really believed that in dying for his faith, Uncle Tom achieved much more than he would have had he murdered Simon Legree or escaped with Cassy and Emmeline. For her the essence of Christianity was loving everyone and forgiving your enemies. That was the essence of her femininity, too- loving those around you and effecting change by persuasion and example, not force.

Therefore, the only end to slavery Stowe can envision is the mass conversion of slaveowners who, like George Shelby, voluntarily free their slaves. (Augustine St. Clare suggests something like this in chapter 28.) Any political or military solution that forces Southerners to free their slaves is unacceptable.

These attitudes may also explain why Stowe sends George Harris to Liberia, and why she recommends colonization in the novel's last chapter. George Harris is angry at America, and he admits that he has trouble working up much love and forgiveness. Like a good man, however, he submits to the influence of his wife, "an eloquent preacher of the Gospel ever by my side." If he can't forgive America for enslaving him, Christianity, as Stowe conceives it, requires him to withdraw. Stowe makes George passive- like a woman and a Christian- in his fight against slavery.

Stowe backs herself into a corner. Slavery is horrendously wrong, but there's nothing to do about it but pray for a miracle or wait until Liberia becomes a world power. Thus, the only end to slavery she can imagine is the end of the world, at which time God will turn his wrath on America.

Luckily, other Northerners found more positive ways of opposing slavery. To many modern readers, their position makes more sense than Harriet Beecher Stowe's. In the end, though, it took a bloody war to abolish slavery. "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord / He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored," wrote Julia Ward Howe in "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," in words that echo the last sentences of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The fact that Stowe's imagination was religious, not political, may weaken Uncle Tom's Cabin as an argument or as a guide to action. But it does not destroy its power to move readers, then or now.



ECC [Uncle Tom's Cabin Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.

  Web Search Our Message Boards   

All Contents Copyright © 1997-2004
All rights reserved. Further Distribution Is Strictly Prohibited.

About Us
 | Advertising | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Home Page
This page was last updated: 10/18/2019 3:25:35 PM