Chapters 18-19: Summary and Analysis
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
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 is touched by Tom’s concern and swears not to indulge in drunken revelries again.
Chapter 18 then turns to Miss Ophelia and her daunting task of putting the St. Clare mansion in order. Going through cabinets, cupboards, and closets, Ophelia organizes the place, much to the shock and curiosity of the servants. One who protests this “vigorous onslaught” is Old Dinah, the head cook for the St. Clares. She resents Ophelia’s intrusion upon her realm of influence, the kitchen. In frustration, St. Clare’s cousin can only respond, “Such shiftless management, such waste, such confusion, I never saw!” St. Clare defends Dinah’s methods because she makes delicious meals in spite of the disorder.
When Ophelia complains of the waste and dishonesty of the servants, St. Clare remains unfazed. He notes that under the conditions of slavery, servants understandingly have no use for honesty. To them, the concept of stealing does not exist since they themselves are considered property. St. Clare is also unconcerned with their spiritual state or their education, despite Ophelia’s admonition that he should be more responsible toward his servants.
Prue, a downhearted slave from nearby, stops to talk to Old Dinah. Prue wishes that she were dead to escape from her misery. Some of St. Clare’s haughty slaves like Adolph, Jane, and Rosa tease her, emphasizing that Prue gets drunk too much. Uncle Tom tries to tell Prue about Christianity and wishes that she would stop drinking. Prue explains how she once had a child, but it had died from starvation, and now only sadness and alcohol remain for her.
In Chapter 19, Miss Ophelia and St. Clare continue their discussion on slavery when they learn about the death of Prue. The news spreads throughout the house when Prue fails to show in Dinah’s kitchen. The St. Clare servants later hear that Prue had been put in a cellar and whipped to death because of her drunkenness.
St. Clare reacts nonchalantly, saying, “I thought it would come to that, some time.” To Miss Ophelia’s horror, he explains that because slaves are considered property in the eyes of the law, no protection exists for them. “Irresponsible despots,” St. Clare notes, “have absolute control,” and nothing he could do would change the situation. If masters choose to treat their possessions in this manner, he asks Ophelia, “what can a man of honorable and humane feelings do, but shut his eyes all he can, and harden his heart?” St. Clare also points out that slavery is defended by the clergy, his fellow planters, and politicians, who all can quote the Bible or some other source to justify the system.
St. Clare then delves into more of his family history, explaining to Ophelia how he had become enmeshed in the slavery business. He had inherited his servants from his father, who had moved from New England to Louisiana to become a planter. At his father’s death, St. Clare and his twin brother Alfred divided the estate. Since St. Clare had no talent for running the family plantation, Albert took it over and St. Clare received the New Orleans mansion. He had thought earlier about doing something to reform society, “more than to float and drift.” However, St. Clare lost any initiative other than to live life easily. He did not free his slaves because he was used to...
(The entire section is 1,721 words.)