Chapters 28-29: Summary and Analysis
After returning from the lake villa to the New Orleans mansion, St. Clare tries to make sense of Eva’s death. Although refraining from spiritual considerations, he reads Eva’s Bible and thinks more seriously about his role as slave holder. St. Clare then decides to free Tom.
Miss Ophelia also changes in character, becoming more lenient and understanding toward Topsy. Ophelia approaches St. Clare to have him make out papers of Topsy’s ownership to her so that she can bring Topsy north to freedom. St. Clare jokes with Ophelia at this suggestion, asking her: “What will the Abolition Society think…if you become a slave-holder!” Ophelia, however, is well-intentioned toward Topsy’s future and well aware of the “fiction of law” that made Topsy a piece of property. Ophelia also brings up the future of St. Clare’s other servants in case something should happen to their master, but St. Clare shrugs off his cousin’s concern.
St. Clare moves to a discussion with Ophelia regarding emancipation, or freeing the slaves. He announces that he is now willing to emancipate his servants. “I am braver that I was,” he says, “because I have lost all.” But St. Clare remains skeptical about the future of freed slaves because of many whites’ reluctance to educate or socialize with blacks. As he asks his cousin, “If we emancipate, will you educate?” Ophelia replies that she is ready and willing.
Later in the evening, St. Clare goes out for a stroll. Soon afterwards, however, he is brought back into the house, mortally wounded. Several people explain that St. Clare had come across a fight at a cafe and had tried to stop it. He received a knife wound for his efforts. St. Clare asks Tom to pray, but then expires without having written Tom’s or the other servants’ free papers.
After St. Clare’s death, the future of his servants comes into question. Since he had left no written instructions as to what he desired for the slaves, Marie St. Clare takes possession of them. The servants realize the uncertainty of their situation, and it frightens them because of Marie’s supportive views on slavery. St. Clare had been an indulgent master, but such is not the case with his wife.
Two situations occur that only confirm the servants’ worst fears. Rosa, one of Marie’s personal servants, is ordered by her mistress to be whipped for talking back to Marie. Rosa appeals to Miss Ophelia to intervene. Ophelia does so, but is rebuked by Marie, who says of Rosa, “I’ll give her one lesson that will bring her down, I fancy!” The threat is then carried out. Later Uncle Tom asks for Ophelia’s help when he reminds her that St. Clare had promised Tom his freedom. Ophelia agrees, but again her pleas are rejected by Marie. The St. Clare widow knows that Tom is “one of the most valuable servants on the place,” and seeks to profit by him. Marie shows no concern for the servants’ well-being, standing firm against emancipating any of them.
(The entire section is 1,225 words.)