Chapter 21: Summary and Analysis
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 having his wife work.
Aunt Chloe proposes to hire herself out to a baker and earn the extra dollars needed to buy back her husband. Mrs. Shelby agrees to this arrangement and promises to contribute what she can too. The chapter closes with Master George planning to write back to Tom and reporting what will be done to reunite him with his family.
Here Mr. and Mrs. Shelby once again delve into the practical and moral aspects of slavery. Mrs. Shelby addresses the theme of family, believing that Tom should be with his own kin, even though he is with a humane master, St. Clare. She declares to Mr. Shelby: “I have taught my people that their marriages are as sacred as ours.” Mrs. Shelby includes Christian principles in her teachings, believing that slaves are humans with souls that require salvation.
Mr. Shelby responds that he lacks the funds to buy Tom, and that Tom will form other familial attachments under his new owner. Mr. Shelby also dismisses his wife’s efforts at incorporating religion into the servants’ lives. As he states: “It’s a pity, wife, that you have burdened them with a morality above their condition and prospects.” He thinks that his wife sets unrealistic educational and moral goals because she raises the slaves’ expectations for a better life....
(The entire section is 517 words.)