Uncle Tom's Cabin Questions and Answers
by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin book cover
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Describe and compare the three slave owners in Uncle Tom's Cabin. Is there a moral hierarchy among them?

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There is a moral hierarchy among the three slave owners.

The middling master is Tom's first, Arthur Shelby. He treats Tom and the other slaves kindly, but Shelby is also selfish and mismanages his finances and eventually has to sell Tom to settle his debts. His wife, a morally upright woman, would rather economize and do without luxuries in order to keep Tom, as his sale will separate him from his wife and young children. However, her husband is not willing to sacrifice his own pleasures for the sake of a slave. He is not the worst of the three slave owners, but he doesn't question the system in which he lives. Shelby feels badly about selling Tom, but he puts his own needs first. 

The best of the lot is Augustine St. Claire, the master in New Orleans to whom Tom is sold to settle Shelby's debts. St. Claire understands that slavery is a corrupt system that brutalizes both masters and slaves. He treats his slaves kindly, if carelessly, and agrees to free Tom, but then dies suddenly. His...

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