Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapters 38-40: Summary and Analysis
by Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Chapters 38-40: Summary and Analysis

Chapter 38 centers on Uncle Tom’s plight at the Legree plantation. As days and weeks pass, Tom begins to feel his physical and spiritual health declining. He derives little comfort from his Bible, being too weary from heavy labor, and even begins to question whether God had forgotten him.

Simon Legree still torments Tom, telling him: “This yer religion is all a mess of lying trumpery, Tom.” Legree’s taunts send Tom deeper into despair. Suddenly Tom has a vision of Christ that appears before him. A voice tells Tom that overcoming earthly sufferings will be rewarded in the heavenly kingdom. From then on, Tom starts to strengthen spiritually and becomes more cheerful. Everyone on the plantation notices this change in Tom’s demeanor. Sambo and Legree misinterpret Tom’s mood, thinking that he is planning to escape the plantation. Legree becomes angered again and beats Tom, but the slave continues to be at peace with himself. Tom even helps other slaves in the field and preaches to them about his religious faith.

One night, Cassy visits Tom in his cabin. She tells him that Legree has fallen into a drunken sleep. Giving Tom an ax, Cassy states that he could easily murder Legree at this moment. But Tom refuses, saying that killing Legree would be evil and resolve nothing. When Cassy decides to murder Legree herself, Tom dissuades her and advises instead that she should run away.

Chapters 39 and 40 focus on the garret, or attic, of Legree’s house and its role in Cassy’s escape plans. The garret is a “great, desolate space, dusty, hung with cobwebs, and littered with cast-off lumber.” Legree’s house servants believe that the place is haunted and are afraid to enter it. A story circulates that one slave woman had once been locked up in the garret for weeks. After she had died and been removed, people continued to hear ghostly moanings and other strange noises.

Cassy decides to use this fear of the garret to her advantage. One day, Cassy moves her furniture out of her bedroom, which is directly beneath the garret. She tells Legree that she cannot sleep because of the banging and groaning upstairs and is moving to another room. Cassy’s hints and actions arouse Legree’s anxieties. Being very superstitious, Legree struggles with his oncoming fright, sensing that the garret may indeed be haunted.

Cassy stores provisions in the garret, and she tells Emmeline about the escape plans. They will head toward the swamp and lead the search after them, but then circle back to the house and hide in the attic for a while. In the evening, they pretend to run to the swamp. When Legree spots the two fleeing, however, Emmeline almost faints from terror. Cassy pulls a knife on Emmeline, threatening to kill her if she collapses. The two then head for the swamp and double back to the house. Cassy takes some money out of Legree’s desk and the two go up to the garret. Since Legree and the servants are superstitious about the place, Cassy knows that they will not search it or think that the fugitives are hiding up there.

Meanwhile, Legree heads out toward the swamp with a search party, only to return defeated. He repeats the search the next day with the same results. Cassy and Emmeline observe the action from a knothole in the garret wall. After Legree comes back from his second search, he interrogates Tom about the missing women. Tom refuses to tell the whereabouts of his friends, and Legree fatally beats him with the help of Sambo and Quimbo. Later Sambo and Quimbo come to respect and admire Tom’s courage. They plead with him to tell them about his religious faith. Although Tom is nearly dead, he manages to convert them, forgiving their past actions against him.

In Chapter 38, Tom’s faith is sorely tested by Legree’s frequent beatings. Tom begins to wonder about his own religious intensity and feels dejected. Legree reminds Tom that the slave could have been one of the managers, but Tom is not comforted by this...

(The entire section is 1,376 words.)