Study Guide

Uncle Tom's Cabin

by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin Summary

Overview

Summary of the Novel
Several stories intertwine throughout Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but they all center on two main plots. One plot focuses on the Harris family, the other on Uncle Tom.

Mr. Shelby is a considerate master, but he must sell Tom to Haley, the slave trader, to pay off some debts. Eliza, Mrs. Shelby’s servant, rightly fears that her son Harry will also be sold to Haley. She escapes to Ohio, taking Harry with her. Along the way, Eliza is assisted by Senator and Mrs. Bird, as well as a Quaker community. George Harris, Eliza’s husband, runs away too after learning that his master refuses to lend him any longer to Mr. Wilson, a generous factory owner. The Harris family eventually reaches the safety of Canada, after being pursued unsuccessfully by slave catchers.

Meanwhile, St. Clare purchases Tom from Haley after Little Eva befriends the pious slave. Miss Ophelia, St. Clare’s cousin from New England, visits and manages the St. Clare household in New Orleans. She also takes in Topsy as her ward. Eva dies after a prolonged illness, and a mournful St. Clare decides to free Tom. St. Clare is murdered, however, before he can draw up the papers. Tom is sold to Simon Legree, who runs a plantation in Louisiana. Legree beats Tom to death when the slave refuses to confess the whereabouts of Cassy and Emmeline, two of Legree’s slaves who have run away. Cassy joins the Harrises in Canada, and they relocate to Africa.

Estimated Reading Time
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is 451 pages long, and should take approximately 15-18 hours to read. The book consists of 45 chapters, and reading breaks can be taken after every two or three chapters.

The Life and Work of Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was raised in a family of ministers, two of them quite famous in their time: her father, Lyman Beecher, and her brother, Henry Ward Beecher. In fact, six of her seven brothers were ministers and she even married a clergyman, Calvin Stowe. Two of her sisters, Catharine and Isabella, became actively involved in reform movements, including education and women’s rights.

Stowe herself became known as the celebrated author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Written in 1852, nine years prior to the Civil War, the book stirred up much controversy among both Southerners and Northerners for its attack on slavery. Even then, the book quickly became a best-seller, with one million copies sold within the first year of its publication. Afterwards, upon meeting Stowe at the White House in 1862, Abraham Lincoln supposedly quipped: “So this is the little lady who wrote the book that made this great war.”

Prior to this renown, Stowe aided her sister Catharine at the Hartford Female Seminary from 1824 to 1832. The family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1832 when Lyman Beecher became the director of the Lane Theological Seminary. Here, Stowe came into contact with such abolitionists, or anti-slavery people, as Theodore Weld and Salmon Chase. She also met her husband Calvin, who was a professor of religion at the school. They married in 1836.

Stowe developed an early interest in writing and began to publish her work in 1833. Ten years later, a collection of her short stories entitled The Mayflower appeared. The task of writing, however, was never easy for her. She constantly had to find a balance between her life as an author and as a wife and a mother to seven children. As she put it: “I mean to have money enough to have my house kept in the best manner and yet to have time for reflection and that preparation for the education of my children which every mother needs.”

The Stowes moved and traveled a great deal. In 1850, they returned from the Midwest to New England, where Calvin taught at Bowdoin College in Maine. The family relocated to Andover, Massachusetts in 1852, and then to Hartford, Connecticut in 1864. They also maintained a summer residence in Florida from 1868 to 1884. At three intervals during the 1850s, Stowe journeyed to Europe.

Much of these experiences contributed to Stowe’s prolific writing. She published four novels about the New England region: The Minister’s Wooing (1859), The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862), Oldtown Folks (1869), and Poganuc People (1878). Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands (1854) was gleaned from her European travels, and Palmetto-Leaves (1873) from her insights on Florida. Stowe also wrote for several magazines, such as the Atlantic Monthly, as well as other volumes of essays, novels, and histories. None of these projects, however, received the widespread notice that made Uncle Tom’s Cabin one of the most popular novels in the nineteenth century. Harriet Beecher Stowe died on July 1, 1896.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was Stowe’s first novel. Initially printed by installments in the National Era, an antislavery weekly published in Washington, D.C., from June 5, 1851, to April 1, 1852, it was a best-selling book of previously unheard of proportions. It was an instant success and soon acquired fame in many parts of the world.

It is not easy, however, to make a clear judgment of the merits of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Those who exclude works that cater to the taste of the masses from the realm of high culture have difficulty describing its artistry in positive terms. Moreover, Stowe has been criticized for her depiction and characterization of black people, which led to numerous stereotypical and trivial imitations on the stage, in almanacs, in songs and poems, and even in paintings.

Stowe’s depiction of women has often been objectionable to modern sensibilities, because her women seem to be restricted to moral issues as they play themselves out in the domestic sphere. Underlying her portrayal of black people and women is an acceptance of the power of Christianity that is alien to modern readers. These three interwoven issues, the place of women and black people and the role of Christianity, are at the core of the novel and make it a central literary and political document of the American experience in the 1850’s.

If one accepts the standards set by male writers of the American tradition, which depicted masculine confrontation with nature, as exemplified in the frontier myth of the American male, Stowe’s novel seems naïvely visionary, lacking in complex philosophical content, overly melodramatic, and awkwardly plotted. It was earmarked as a book for women and children. It was not until critics such as Jane Tompkins reexamined the novel that Stowe’s efforts to reorganize society from a woman’s point of view came to be recognized.

The book appeared amid a growing controversy over race and religion. The author wrote in reaction to the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California to the Union as a free state, abolished the slave trade in Washington, D.C., organized the New Mexico and Utah territories without prohibiting slavery, and enacted the Fugitive Slave Law, which forced Northerners to assist in returning fugitive slaves to their owners. Although Stowe was hardly the first to point to slavery’s destruction of both black and white families, her novel presented a very effective fusion of the sentimental novel with the rhetoric of an antislavery polemic.

Tom, a broad-chested, strong slave who lives with his wife and children in a small hut near the house of his master in Kentucky, is sold by his master (against the will of the master’s wife) in order to pay off debts. Tom is sold “down the river” and expects the worst: to work on a Southern plantation. On the boat, he meets Evangelina (Eva), a perfect, angelic child. In her character, the tradition of children in sentimental literature and the ministerial leader of evangelical social reform are combined into a childlike female Christ figure. She persuades her father, Augustine St. Clare, to buy Tom, who is bought as Evangelina’s playmate and keeper. Evangelina dies and makes her father promise to free his slaves, but before he signs the papers, St. Clare dies and thus inadvertently sets in motion Tom’s demise.

Tom is sold to Simon Legree, who tortures and finally kills Tom because he is unwilling to betray two fellow slaves, Cassey and Emmelina, who fled from their brutal, sexually abusive master. Tom’s death is a direct result of his aggressive nonviolence and makes him a black Christ figure. Numerous subplots and their respective characters depict various aspects and views of slavery and miscegenation.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly is a sentimental novel that exaggerates the goodness of Eva, the loyalty of Uncle Tom, and the viciousness of Simon Legree. Despite the sentimentality, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abhorrence of slavery resonates throughout.

The story is about the sufferings of kindly old Uncle Tom, who originally belongs to a humane slaveholder named Shelby, and the delightfully talented little black boy named Harry. Eliza, Harry’s mother, overhearing the plan to sell her, Harry, and Uncle Tom, flees with her son. Uncle Tom remains behind as a sign of loyalty to his “mas’r.” He is sold to a vicious slave trader named Haley, who is determined to capture Eliza and her son.

Closely pursued by slave hunters, Eliza and Harry cross the icy Ohio River and luckily fall into the hands of abolitionist Senator Bird. Eliza is introduced to Quakers who help her escape via the Underground Railroad to join her fugitive husband in Canada.

On a steamboat headed for New Orleans, Tom befriends an angelic white child named Eva St. Clair and ends up saving her from drowning. She asks her father to buy Tom for their plantation. Tom leads a comfortable life on the St. Clare plantation, spending much time with his beloved Eva, until she becomes ill. Before her death she asks her father to free Tom. St. Clare also dies before he can fulfill his daughter’s request. His wife sells Tom to Simon Legree, a notorious slave trader.

In one of his bouts of heavy drinking, Legree beats Tom and other slaves mercilessly. Tom is near death when Shelby’s son comes to the Legree plantation to buy Tom. Tom dies before the transaction can take place. The last chapter contains Stowe’s passionate essay about the inhumanity and unchristian nature of the institution of slavery.

The inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin came to Stowe in a dream in which she saw herself as an “instrument of the Holy Spirit.” The novel, written a few years before the Civil War, was originally serialized in The Nationalist Era, an abolitionist magazine. It was translated into twenty languages. Its success was partly due to timing; the nation was headed for war. Despite the novel’s success, many abolitionists criticized her for not going far enough in dramatizing the terrible truth. Some modern critics have suggested that, despite good intentions, she reinforced negative stereotypes of blacks. In fact, the servility of Uncle Tom has transformed the term “Uncle Tom” into a pejorative epithet. James Baldwin believed that “its sentimentality, ostentatious parading of excessive and spurious emotion, is a mark of dishonesty.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin remains an important work because of its influence on social attitudes and on American history.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Because his Kentucky plantation is encumbered by debt, Mr. Shelby makes plans to sell one of his slaves to his chief creditor, a New Orleans slave dealer named Haley. The dealer shrewdly selects Uncle Tom as partial payment on Shelby’s debt. While Haley and Shelby are discussing the transaction, Harry, the son of another slave, Eliza, comes into the room. Haley wants to buy Harry too, but at first Shelby is unwilling to part with the child. Eliza hears enough of the conversation to be frightened. She confides her fears to George Harris, her husband, a slave on an adjoining plantation. George, who is already bitter because his master has put him to work in the fields when he is capable of doing better work, promises that someday he will have his revenge on his hard masters. Eliza has been brought up more indulgently by the Shelbys, and she begs George not to try anything rash.

After supper, the Shelby slaves gather for a meeting in the cabin of Uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Chloe. They sing songs, and young George Shelby, who has eaten his supper there, reads from the Bible. In the big house, Mr. Shelby signs the papers making Uncle Tom and little Harry the property of Haley. Eliza, upon learning her child’s fate from some remarks made by Mr. Shelby to his wife, flees with Harry, hoping to reach Canada and safety. Uncle Tom, hearing that he has been sold, resigns himself to the wisdom of Providence.

The next day, after Haley discovers his loss, he sets out to capture Eliza. She has a good head start, however, and Mrs. Shelby purposely delays Haley’s pursuit by serving a late breakfast. When Eliza catches sight of her pursuers, she escapes across the partially frozen Ohio River by jumping from one piece of floating ice to another, with young Harry in her arms. Haley hires two slave catchers, Marks and Loker, to track Eliza and Harry through Ohio. If they catch her and her son, they are to be given Eliza as payment for their work. They set off that night.

Eliza and Harry, on the run, find shelter in the home of Senator and Mrs. Bird. The senator takes them to the house of a man known to aid fugitive slaves. Uncle Tom, however, is not so lucky. Haley makes sure that Tom will not escape by shackling his ankles before taking him to the boat bound for New Orleans. When young George Shelby hears that Tom has been sold, he follows Haley on his horse. George gives Tom a dollar as a token of his sympathy and tells the slave that he will buy him back one day.

At the same time, George Harris begins his escape. Light-skinned enough to pass as a Spaniard, he appears at a tavern as a gentleman and takes a room there, hoping to find help through the Underground Railroad before too long. Eliza is resting at the home of Rachel and Simeon Halliday when George Harris arrives in the same Quaker settlement.

On board the boat bound for New Orleans, Uncle Tom saves the life of young Eva St. Clare, and in gratitude Eva’s father purchases the slave from Haley. Eva tells Tom that he will now have a happy life, for her father is kind to everyone. Augustine St. Clare is married to a woman who imagines herself sick and therefore takes no interest in her daughter, Eva. St. Clare had gone north to bring his cousin, Miss Ophelia, back to the South to provide care for the neglected and delicate Eva. When they arrive at the St. Clare plantation, Tom is made head coachman.

Meanwhile, Loker and Marks are on the trail of Eliza, George, and Harry. They catch up with the fugitives, and in a fight George wounds Loker. Marks flees, and the Quakers who have been protecting the runaways take Loker along with them and give him medical treatment.

Unused to lavish southern customs, Miss Ophelia tries to understand the South. Shocked at the extravagance of St. Clare’s household, she attempts to bring order out of the chaos, but she receives no encouragement. Indulgent in all things, St. Clare is indifferent to the affairs of his family and his property. Uncle Tom lives an easy life in the loft over the stable. He and little Eva become close friends, with St. Clare’s approval. Sometimes St. Clare has doubts regarding the morality of the institution of slavery, and, in one of these moods, he buys an odd, pixielike slave child, named Topsy, for his prim and proper New England cousin to educate.

Eva grows increasingly frail. Knowing that she is about to die, she asks her father to free his slaves, as he has so often promised he will one day do. After Eva’s death, St. Clare begins to read his Bible and to make plans to free all his slaves. He gives Topsy to Miss Ophelia legally, so that the spinster might rear the child as she wishes. Then, one evening, while trying to separate two quarreling men, he receives a knife wound in the side and dies shortly afterward. Mrs. St. Clare, who inherits all his property, has no intention of freeing the slaves, and she orders that Tom be sent to the slave market. At a public auction, Tom is sold to a brutal plantation owner named Simon Legree.

Legree drinks heavily, and his plantation house has fallen into ruin. He keeps dogs for the purpose of tracking runaway slaves. At the plantation’s slave quarters, Tom is given a sack of corn for the week; he is told to grind it himself and bake the meal into cakes for his supper. At the mill where he goes to grind the corn, Tom aids two women, and in return, they bake his cakes for him. He read selections from the Bible to them.

For a few weeks, Tom quietly tries to please his harsh master. One day, while picking cotton, he helps another slave, a woman who is sick, by putting cotton into her basket. For this act, Legree orders him to flog the woman. When Tom refuses, Legree has him flogged until he faints. A slave named Cassy comes to Tom’s aid. She tells Tom the story of her life with Legree and of a young daughter who had been sold years before. Then she goes to Legree’s apartment and torments him. She hates her master, and she has power over him. Legree is superstitious, and when Cassy talks, flashing her eyes at him, he feels as though she is casting an evil spell. Haunted by the secrets of his guilty past, he drinks until he falls asleep. By the next morning, however, he has forgotten his fears, and he knocks Tom to the ground with his fist. Meanwhile, far to the north, George and Eliza and young Harry are making their way slowly through the stations on the Underground Railroad toward Canada.

Cassy and Emmeline, another slave, are determined to make their escape. Knowing the consequences if they should be caught, they trick Legree into thinking they are hiding in the swamp. When Legree sends dogs and men after them, they sneak back into the house and hide in the garret. Legree suspects that Tom knows where the women have gone and decides to beat the truth out of him. He has Tom beaten until the slave can neither speak nor stand. Two days later, George Shelby arrives to buy Tom back, but he is too late—Tom is dying. When George threatens to have Legree tried for murder, Legree mocks him. George strikes Legree in the face and knocks him down.

Still hiding in the attic, Cassy and Emmeline masquerade as ghosts. Frightened, Legree drinks harder than ever, and George Shelby is able to help them escape. Later, on a riverboat headed north, the two women meet a lady named Madame de Thoux, who says that she is George Harris’s sister. With this disclosure, Cassy learns also that Eliza, her daughter who had been sold years before, is the Eliza who married George and, with him and her child, has escaped safely to Canada. These relatives are reunited in Canada after many years. In Kentucky, George Shelby frees all of his slaves in the name of Uncle Tom.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Summary (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly (1852) is a romance that protests the Fugitive Slave Act (1850). As part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act made the federal government, via federal commissioners, responsible for apprehending runaway slaves and returning them to their alleged owners in the South. The federal commissioners were allowed to deputize citizens and force them to seize and report fugitive slaves, even against their wills, or face fines and imprisonment. This act galvanized opinions in the North against slavery and fueled the movement for abolition. Stowe’s novel uses abolitionist rhetoric to criticize Christian churches, particularly the Presbyterian Church, for failing to condemn slavery in the North and South. Stowe’s representation of slavery and of fugitive slaves calls on readers to respond to the question of slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act with an ethics rooted in Christian love and civil disobedience.

Arthur Shelby, in debt and facing dispossession and bankruptcy, decides to pay his mortgage by selling two slaves, Uncle Tom and Harry, to a trader named Mr. Haley. When Mr. Shelby tells his wife, Emily, about his agreement with Mr. Haley, she is angry and refuses to be her husband’s accomplice. Mrs. Shelby despises the institution of slavery because it is incompatible with her Christian values. She is upset by her husband’s business deal with Mr. Haley because two families will be divided. Through Mrs. Shelby’s voice, which condemns complicity with slavery as hypocritical, Stowe appeals to Christian mothers who, like Mrs. Shelby, thought that they could “gild” slavery, cover it over with “kindness, and care, and instruction.” Mrs. Shelby’s conscience and sympathies are moved by the emotional devastation caused by the separation of families. She represents Stowe’s notion that mothers have the ability “to love and feel for all mankind” because of the love they “learned” to feel for their own children.

By representing the slaves’ responses to the violation of their families under the institution of slavery, Stowe humanizes slaves by showing their familial bonds. Eliza, Mrs. Shelby’s maid, tells Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe of Mr. Shelby’s plans and explains that she will flee with her son, hoping to prevent a separation she cannot bear. She is heading north to find her husband, George Harris, also a fugitive slave. While Uncle Tom’s wife encourages him to flee with Eliza rather than be sold down the river, he tells her: “It’s better for me alone to go, than to break up the place and sell all.” Putting the good of the slave community ahead of his own desires, Tom leaves his family to go to a Mississippi slave market with Haley.

Haley chases after Eliza, but forewarned, she miraculously escapes Haley when she crosses the Ohio River. Haley, refusing to accept the loss, hires Tom Loker to bring Eliza and her son back to him under the statutes of the Fugitive Slave Act. Eliza and Harry eventually make their way to a Quaker settlement where George and Eliza find each other but are still being hunted by Loker. While George eventually shoots Loker to avoid being captured, Eliza convinces George and the Quakers to give Loker medical attention at another settlement.

On a steamboat headed for Mississippi, Tom befriends a young, white girl named Evangeline, called Little Eva, whose father, Augustine St. Clare, buys Tom from Haley. Now, Tom is in New Orleans and a slave in the St. Clare household. Two years later, Eva becomes very ill and dies. After her death, St. Clare decides to set Tom free; however, St. Clare dies before completing the legal paperwork. Tom is sold by Marie Clare, Augustine St. Clare’s wife, to Simon Legree, who takes Tom to rural Louisiana. Legree abuses Tom, especially after Tom refuses to beat fellow slaves when Legree commands him to do so. Cassy and Emmeline, also slaves on Legree’s plantation, devise a plan to escape. When they hide in Legree’s house, Legree assumes that they have fled and thinks Tom knows where they are. Tom prays and refuses to reveal Cassy and Emmeline’s stratagem. Legree orders his overseers to beat Tom. Rather than listen to the sneering words of hate, Tom hears “a higher voice” saying, “Fear not them that kill the body, and, after that, have no more that they can do,” which is an allusion to Christ’s words to the Apostles in Matthew 11:28. Legree threatens Tom’s life and demands to know where Cassy and Emmeline are. When Tom refuses to reveal their location, Legree strikes him. Tom, near death, forgives Legree and the overseers. The suffering black slave extends forgiveness to his murderers, bestowing the gift of love on his tormentors and becoming a Christlike figure of absolute good. George Shelby arrives at Legree’s plantation hoping to buy Tom’s freedom, but he is too late. Tom tells George, “O, Mas’r George, ye’re too late. The Lord’s bought me, and is going to take me home.” Tom’s martyrdom convinces George to free his slaves and pay them for their work.

Heading toward freedom, Cassy and Emmeline travel to Canada. The Harris family is further reunited when Cassy realizes and reveals that Eliza is her long-lost daughter. After going to France, the Harrises adopt the idea of African colonization and decide to emigrate to Liberia. George hopes to strengthen the nation of Liberia, “which shall have a voice in the council of nations,” in hopes of gaining visibility and a voice in the public sphere.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter Summary and Analysis

Chapter 1: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mr. Shelby: benevolent owner of a Kentucky plantation

Mrs. Shelby: Mr. Shelby’s religious wife

Haley: a slave trader

Eliza: Mrs. Shelby’s servant, Harry’s mother

Harry: four- or five-year-old son of Eliza

Summary
The book opens with a scene in which Mr. Shelby and Haley the slave trader are discussing business matters on Shelby’s plantation in Kentucky. Mr. Shelby, a gentleman planter described as “a fair average kind of man, good-natured and kindly,” has fallen into debt and must sell Uncle Tom, a trustworthy servant. Mr. Shelby vouches for Tom’s good working habits and Christian character. Haley, however, desires...

(The entire section is 793 words.)

Chapters 2-3: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
George Harris: Eliza’s husband and Harry’s father

Mr. Harris: George’s hard plantation master

A kind manufacturer: George’s employer at a factory, as yet unnamed

Summary
The two chapters here include the personal histories of George and Eliza Harris. The reader learns that Eliza had been raised from childhood by Mrs. Shelby. Eliza then met and married George, a slave on a nearby plantation. Hired out by his master, Mr. Harris, George works at a factory, in which he invents a hemp-cleaning machine. Because of George’s diligence and handiness, he becomes a favorite among his employer and fellow laborers. During this period of their lives, George...

(The entire section is 712 words.)

Chapters 4-5: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Uncle Tom: Shelby’s devout and trusted slave

Aunt Chloe: Tom’s wife, a cook for the Shelbys

Master George: thirteen-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Shelby

Mose, Pete, and the baby: Tom’s and Chloe’s children

Summary
Chapter 4 opens with a description of Uncle Tom’s cabin, “a small log building” near the plantation house. Inside, Aunt Chloe prepares dinner, fixing a variety of dishes. She is the head cook on the Shelby plantation, and her talents are known throughout the neighborhood. Also in the cabin are the three children of Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe. Here the reader is introduced to Uncle Tom, the main character. He is described...

(The entire section is 1309 words.)

Chapter 6: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Sam and Andy: slaves on the Shelby plantation

Summary
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby are brought news the following morning of Eliza’s escape. Mrs. Shelby reacts gratefully while her husband is less than thankful. The surprising report spreads throughout the house as the servants tell one another about the event.

Haley arrives at the plantation to pick up Uncle Tom and Harry. Much to his annoyance, he too learns of Eliza’s and Harry’s escape. He tells Mr. Shelby about the unfairness of the situation. Mr. Shelby responds angrily that he will not be accused of helping the fugitives run away. He then invites Haley in for breakfast to discuss what can be done.

Sam...

(The entire section is 570 words.)

Chapters 7-8: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mr. Symmes: a man who helps Eliza and Harry escape

Tom Loker: a slave catcher and acquaintance of Haley’s

Marks: a lawyer, Tom Loker’s partner

Summary
Eliza and Harry walk past the Shelby plantation’s boundaries as the mother thinks about the life she is leaving behind. Eliza plans to head toward the Ohio River and cross it from Kentucky into Ohio, a free state. She assures a frightened Harry that she will not let anyone harm him. They eventually stop at a tavern to rest. Nearby, the river is clogged by ice, and the water is turbulent. Eliza asks the tavernkeeper if a ferryboat will come to take them across. She receives an uncertain answer since...

(The entire section is 1413 words.)

Chapter 9: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Senator Bird: a politician who supports the Fugitive Slave Law

Mrs. Bird: the Senator’s pious wife

John Van Trompe: a neighbor of the Birds

Summary
The scene changes to Senator and Mrs. Bird’s home in Ohio. The Senator, a man who possesses “a particularly humane and accessible nature,” has just returned from Washington, D.C. after a period of legislating. Mrs. Bird, a religious woman, questions her husband on the morals of passing the Fugitive Slave Law. She wonders how a supposedly Christian legislature could make laws that forbid assisting runaways. Her own Christian sense of morality leads Mrs. Bird to declare that she will break the law if she...

(The entire section is 728 words.)

Chapter 10: Summary and Analysis

Summary
The scene returns to Uncle Tom’s cabin. Tom gets ready to be taken and sold by Haley. Tom accepts his fate, saying, “I’m in the Lord’s hands.” Aunt Chloe, however, expresses her anguish at the injustice of the situation and finds little comfort in religion. Mrs. Shelby stops by the cabin to let Tom know that she will try to buy him back as soon as possible.

Haley then arrives to seize Tom. As they leave the plantation, Master George rides up to say his goodbyes to Tom. Knowing how their son is attached to Tom, the Shelbys decide not to tell Master George of the trade while he is visiting friends. Master George, however, rides back to the plantation in time and gives Tom a dollar coin. The...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Chapter 11: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mr. Wilson: George Harris’s former employer at the factory

A drover: a cattle driver who converses with Mr. Wilson

Jim: a slave who escapes with George Harris

Summary
Mr. Wilson, who is now identified as the manufacturer who employed George Harris from Chapter 2, appears at a hotel bar room in Kentucky. An “honest drover,” or cattle driver, converses with Mr. Wilson, showing him an advertisement notifying its readers that George Harris has escaped. The notice gives a description of George, offering a four hundred dollar reward for his capture or death. The drover recounts how he had freed his own slaves, noting that if treated humanely, they would...

(The entire section is 641 words.)

Chapter 12: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Lucy: a slave whom Haley buys

Aunt Hagar and Albert: mother and son separated when Haley buys the boy

Summary
As Haley and Uncle Tom head toward Washington, D.C., Haley notices an advertisement for a slave auction and plans on buying more laborers to sell south. Haley examines several of the slaves before the auction begins and buys a boy, Albert, away from his mother, Aunt Hagar. Aunt Hagar pleads with Haley to buy her too, so that she can be with her son. But Haley refuses because he would lose money on the deal, growling that Hagar is “an old rack o’ bones,—not worth her salt.” The trader then takes his gang of slaves onto a riverboat, heading further...

(The entire section is 548 words.)

Chapter 13: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Simeon and Rachel Halliday: a Quaker couple who aid the Harris family

Ruth Stedman: a Quaker friend of the Hallidays’

Summary
Eliza and Harry rest at the Quaker home of Simeon and Rachel Halliday, having been directed there by Van Trompe. A neighbor in the Quaker settlement, Ruth Stedman, visits the Hallidays and chats about the happenings in their community. Later, Simeon arrives with news that several other Quakers are bringing fugitives to the settlement, one of whom is Eliza’s husband, George Harris. Eliza faints when she receives this information, waking later to find George at her bedside. The next day, the Quakers help the Harrises make plans to escape to...

(The entire section is 392 words.)

Chapters 14-15: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Augustine St. Clare: a slave owner in New Orleans who buys Uncle Tom

Marie: St. Clare’s selfish wife

Eva: the St. Clares’ angelic daughter

Miss Ophelia: St. Clare’s cousin from Vermont

Adolph: St. Clare’s haughty servant

Mammy: another family servant

Summary
Chapters 14 and 15 return to the plight of Uncle Tom. As the riverboat continues down the Mississippi River, Tom’s goodwill wins the confidence of Haley. The slave trader unchains Tom, leaving him free to walk around. Occasionally, Tom even helps the boat crew with its chores. The pious slave also thinks of his family, trying to find comfort in his Bible....

(The entire section is 931 words.)

Chapter 16: Summary and Analysis

Summary
St. Clare, Marie, and Miss Ophelia discuss the nature of slavery and religion in this chapter. At first, Marie complains about how people, especially her servants, are inattentive to her concerns. She also believes that her husband fits this uncaring category and calls Eva “peculiar” for wanting to help others, including the servants.

St. Clare states that servants sometimes cannot help their behavior, given the circumstances that they face in slavery. When Miss Ophelia says that slave owners have a responsibility to their servants, St. Clare cites Northerners’ prejudice against blacks despite denouncing the Southerners’ ill treatment of slaves. When Marie enjoys a church sermon that defends...

(The entire section is 566 words.)

Chapter 17: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Phineas Fletcher: a Quaker neighbor of the Hallidays’ who helps the Harris family escape

Summary
This chapter returns to the Hallidays’ home, with George and Eliza Harris making plans on what they might do once they reach Canada. Simeon Halliday introduces them to his friend Phineas Fletcher, a “hearty, two-fisted backwoodsman” who married a Quaker woman and joined the settlement. Phineas brings news that slave catchers are nearby, and with his guidance, the escaped slaves head out. Included in their party is Jim, who earlier had run away with George, and Jim’s mother.

As the group travels along during the night, Tom Loker and his gang spot it, and a chase...

(The entire section is 638 words.)

Chapters 18-19: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Old Dinah: the St. Clares’ cook

Prue: an old slave at a neighboring house

Jane and Rosa: some other of St. Clare’s haughty servants

Summary
As time passes at the St. Clare house, Uncle Tom earns St. Clare’s trust and confidence. Since St. Clare is described as “indolent and careless of money,” he begins to rely on Tom to take charge of everyday business matters such as marketing. Adolph, St. Clare’s personal servant, is just as heedless as his master, and he grows jealous of Tom’s success within the household. When St. Clare comes home drunk late one evening, Tom tearfully implores him the next morning to look after his own soul. St. Clare...

(The entire section is 1721 words.)

Chapter 20: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Topsy: eight or nine-year-old slave girl whom St. Clare purchases

Summary
St. Clare decides to put his and Miss Ophelia’s ideas about slavery to the test. He buys Topsy, a slave girl, for Ophelia to raise and educate. Topsy’s expression is “an odd mixture of shrewdness and cunning” and “the most doleful gravity and solemnity.” At first, Ophelia protests that she has no use for Topsy, being also repulsed by the slave girl. St. Clare, however, is quick to point out the hypocrisy of Christians like Ophelia, who willingly send missionaries overseas, but refuse to help and reform blacks in their own homes. St. Clare also recounts some of Topsy’s past, in which she had...

(The entire section is 938 words.)

Chapter 21: Summary and Analysis

Summary
This chapter returns to the Shelby plantation. Aunt Chloe has received Uncle Tom’s letter that St. Clare had written for him. Mrs. Shelby in the mean time brings up the subject to her husband of buying back Tom. Mr. Shelby, however, is still financially troubled and cannot spare the money for purchasing his former servant. When Mrs. Shelby offers to help with the debts, Mr. Shelby retorts: “You don’t know anything about business.” But as the author points out, Mrs. Shelby possessed “a clear, energetic, practical mind, and a force of character every way superior to that of her husband.” She offers to give music lessons to raise money, but Mr. Shelby refuses to dishonor the family in this way by...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

Chapters 22-24: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Alfred St. Clare: Augustine St. Clare’s twin brother

Henrique: Alfred’s arrogant, twelve-year-old son

Dodo: Henrique’s thirteen-year-old servant

Summary
These chapters focus primarily on Eva and her influence on other characters. Two years pass, and Uncle Tom still looks forward to the day when he can return to his family on the Shelby plantation. When the summer arrives, the entire St. Clare household moves to a villa near Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. Tom and Eva have become even closer friends than before, and as they sit by the lake, Eva has a vision of heaven. She prophesies her own early death, pointing to the sky and declaring: “I’m...

(The entire section is 1143 words.)

Chapters 25-27: Summary and Analysis

Summary
These chapters continue with a focus on Eva and her influence on the St. Clare household, especially on Topsy. In Chapter 25, Miss Ophelia discovers that one of her bonnets has been destroyed by Topsy. When St. Clare questions Topsy about her mischief, she answers: “Spects it’s my wicked heart.” Ophelia decides that she can no longer tolerate Topsy’s antics and wants to give up on her. St. Clare forces Ophelia to reconsider, however, when he again raises the issue of her supposed Christian endurance.

Eva draws Topsy aside to find out why the servant girl misbehaves. Topsy repeats her history of having no family and no one to love her. She also knows that Ophelia personally dislikes her,...

(The entire section is 962 words.)

Chapters 28-29: Summary and Analysis

Summary
After returning from the lake villa to the New Orleans mansion, St. Clare tries to make sense of Eva’s death. Although refraining from spiritual considerations, he reads Eva’s Bible and thinks more seriously about his role as slave holder. St. Clare then decides to free Tom.

Miss Ophelia also changes in character, becoming more lenient and understanding toward Topsy. Ophelia approaches St. Clare to have him make out papers of Topsy’s ownership to her so that she can bring Topsy north to freedom. St. Clare jokes with Ophelia at this suggestion, asking her: “What will the Abolition Society think…if you become a slave-holder!” Ophelia, however, is well-intentioned toward Topsy’s future...

(The entire section is 1225 words.)

Chapters 30-32: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mr. Skeggs: keeper of a slave warehouse

Sambo: slave in Skeggs’s warehouse

Susan and Emmeline: mother and daughter auctioned off separately

Simon Legree: brutal master who buys Tom and Emmeline

Sambo and Quimbo: Legree’s drivers, slaves themselves

Lucy: slave whom Legree purchased for Sambo

Summary
Chapter 30 depicts the slave warehouse owned by Mr. Skeggs, at which Tom and the other St. Clare servants arrive. The slaves are kept “well fed, well cleaned, tended, and looked after” to bring the highest prices from bidders at the upcoming auction. Sambo, a large and tough slave whom Mr. Skeggs keeps to entertain...

(The entire section is 1393 words.)

Chapters 33-34: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Cassy: Simon Legree’s defiant slave mistress

Summary
As time passes, Tom still works diligently on the Legree plantation. Simon Legree thinks of making Tom into an overseer because of the slave’s intelligence and hard work. But Legree is ultimately dissatisfied with Tom’s upright character and seeks to make him more hardhearted like Sambo and Quimbo.

While Tom is working in the cotton fields, Cassy, Legree’s slave mistress, labors next to him. Lucy also picks cotton, but is slower than the rest; Tom tries to help her by putting some of his cotton into her bag. Sambo sees this act and hits them both with his whip. Tom continues his aid despite Lucy’s protest....

(The entire section is 969 words.)

Chapters 35-36: Summary and Analysis

Summary
In Chapter 35, Cassy confronts Legree about Tom’s beating. She calls Legree’s attention to his wastefulness of harming a good slave, especially at the height of the picking season. Earlier, he had threatened to put Cassy to work in the fields, which she actually did to show him the emptiness of his threats. Cassy knows that Legree keeps his distance from her. As she says to him: “You’re afraid of me, Simon...and you’ve reason to be! But be careful, for I’ve got the devil in me!”

Sambo brings to Legree some of Tom’s possessions: the dollar coin that Master George had given him, and Eva’s lock of hair. Legree throws a fit of alarm at the sight of Eva’s curls, throwing them into the...

(The entire section is 1093 words.)

Chapter 37: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Aunt Dorcas: Quaker woman who nurses Tom Loker

Mrs. Smyth: Quaker woman who helps the Harris family escape to Canada

Summary
Chapter 37 returns to the Harris family in Ohio. After turning away the slave catchers, they journey to another Quaker settlement and bring the wounded Tom Loker with them. Aunt Dorcas, a “tall, dignified, spiritual woman,” nurses Tom Loker, who for three weeks is bedridden from his wounds and a fever. Although he grunts and curses, Aunt Dorcas patiently reminds him to watch his language. To show his appreciation for the Quakers’ hospitality, Tom warns them that his slave catching companions are waiting for the Harrises at Sandusky, a...

(The entire section is 662 words.)

Chapters 38-40: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Chapter 38 centers on Uncle Tom’s plight at the Legree plantation. As days and weeks pass, Tom begins to feel his physical and spiritual health declining. He derives little comfort from his Bible, being too weary from heavy labor, and even begins to question whether God had forgotten him.

Simon Legree still torments Tom, telling him: “This yer religion is all a mess of lying trumpery, Tom.” Legree’s taunts send Tom deeper into despair. Suddenly Tom has a vision of Christ that appears before him. A voice tells Tom that overcoming earthly sufferings will be rewarded in the heavenly kingdom. From then on, Tom starts to strengthen spiritually and becomes more cheerful. Everyone on the plantation...

(The entire section is 1376 words.)

Chapters 41-42: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Madame de Thoux (Emily): woman whom Master George Shelby meets while heading home, also George Harris’s long-lost sister

Summary
The scene changes to the Shelby plantation, several days after Tom’s beating. Mr. Shelby had taken ill and leaves the management of his estate to his wife. After Mr. Shelby dies, Mrs. Shelby settles the accounts and also receives Miss Ophelia’s letter about Uncle Tom. The letter, however, had been delayed for several months, and Tom had already been sold south by the time the Shelbys get the news. Master George, the Shelby’s son, travels to New Orleans on some business and decides to also look for Tom. He discovers that Simon Legree had...

(The entire section is 1053 words.)

Chapters 43-44: Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Little Eliza: Eliza and George Harris’s daughter

Summary
Because of their related circumstances, Madame de Thoux and Cassy travel together to Canada to search for their family members. They track the Harris family to Montreal where for the past five years, Eliza and George have lived in freedom. Their son Harry has grown, and the daughter, Little Eliza, is their newest addition to the family. Through the help of a missionary, Madame de Thoux and Cassy are joyfully reunited with the Harrises.

Cassy’s character softens once she sees her daughter Eliza and granddaughter Little Eliza. Eliza converts her mother, convincing Cassy of Christianity’s moral power. Madame...

(The entire section is 658 words.)

Chapter 45: Summary and Analysis

Summary
In this final chapter, Harriet Beecher Stowe provides incidents and observations that led her to the writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The characters of Eliza Harris and Uncle Tom, she notes, were drawn from her own personal knowledge. One of Stowe’s brothers supplied the anecdotes on which she based Old Prue and Simon Legree. A slave mother’s crossing of the ice-packed Ohio River had also been taken from a real-life occurrence. Stowe points out that Uncle Tom’s experience of being legally unprotected was a common one among slaves. The sale of mulatto women as slave mistresses was also a well-known practice among Southerners.

The greatest factor that led the author to write her book was the...

(The entire section is 457 words.)