Chapters 2-3: Summary and Analysis
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
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 is allowed great freedom in his work, and Eliza has given birth to Harry.
Mr. Harris, however, is envious of his slave’s success and popularity. George is taken back to the plantation, where he is “put to the meanest drudgery of the farm.” In the meantime, George keeps his anger from showing. George’s former employer visits the plantation, and tries to persuade Mr. Harris to let George return to work at the factory, but to no avail.
When George visits Eliza at the Shelby plantation, he recounts the hardships of laboring on his master’s farm and the unfair treatment he receives. Beaten and tired, he exclaims: “I wish I were dead!” His attitude frightens Eliza, and she tells him to trust in God. George, however, confesses that his troubles appear too overwhelming; he cannot find comfort in religion. He resolves to escape to Canada, and then buy Eliza’s and Harry’s freedom. He concludes that despite the risks involved, he would rather die than be captured and returned to his present state of servility.
Several incidents occur that threaten the Harris family, all because of its slave status. Earlier, in Chapter 1, Eliza worries that her son will be taken from her and sold. Chapters 2 and 3 depict the whims of George’s tyrannical master, Mr. Harris (slaves took the surname of their masters). Although George works well in the factory, his owner is resentful of his accomplishments. By taking George away from the factory, Mr. Harris asserts his authority on his own property, despite others’ protests.
The theme of maintaining a family in the face of slavery also concerns Mrs. Shelby, who has a long developed fondness for Eliza, having raised her almost like a daughter. Mrs. Shelby had even encouraged the marriage between Eliza and George, and had taken an active part in the festivities. She displays a maternal concern for them. Eliza and George in turn feel that their relationship is sanctified by the marriage ceremony, and their son Harry makes the family whole.
The benevolent factory owner is never...
(The entire section is 712 words.)