Chapter 9: Summary and Analysis
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
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 must. Senator Bird, who had supported the law while in Congress, explains that the statute had been passed to calm slave holders in Kentucky who feared losing their slaves to the North.
At this point, Eliza and Harry show up at the Birds’ door. Tired and hungry from fleeing, Eliza tells the Birds of how she had crossed the ice-jammed river to escape from slave catchers. She also details some of her past situation: Mr. Shelby’s debts, the threat of being separated from Harry, how her husband George also fled from his master.
Because of his humanity, Senator Bird decides to help Eliza and Harry on their journey to Canada. He takes them to his neighbor John Van Trompe, a former slave owner who now shelters fugitive slaves. Van Trompe promises to look after Eliza and Harry in the meantime.
When Senator and Mrs. Bird discuss the Fugitive Slave Law, several important issues arise. One is the role of Mrs. Bird as a religious wife and mother influencing her husband. The Birds’ conversation is similar to Mr. and Mrs. Shelby’s earlier in the novel. Both talks between husband and wife focus on the women’s argument against slavery on moral grounds. The husbands, however, can only see the practical sides of compromising on the topic. Mr. Shelby must sell his slaves to avoid financial disaster; Senator Bird has to support the law against fugitives to appease his fellow politicians. Both of their wives are defiant against the evils of slavery. In fact, Mrs. Bird declares about the law, “I’ll break it…the first time I get a chance; and I hope I shall have a chance, I do!”
Stowe uses the theme of family to clarify the issue of slavery. At first, Senator Bird uses symbolic language. He explains to his wife, “we mustn’t suffer our feelings to run away with our judgment.” To the Senator, practical logic is only good if it metaphorically does not “run away,” as slaves literally do. He argues that “public interests” must take priority over “private feelings.” As a politician, he feels that he must take more into consideration than his wife thinks.
Mrs. Bird, however,...
(The entire section is 728 words.)