Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapters 4-5: Summary and Analysis
by Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Chapters 4-5: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Uncle Tom: Shelby’s devout and trusted slave

Aunt Chloe: Tom’s wife, a cook for the Shelbys

Master George: thirteen-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Shelby

Mose, Pete, and the baby: Tom’s and Chloe’s children

Chapter 4 opens with a description of Uncle Tom’s cabin, “a small log building” near the plantation house. Inside, Aunt Chloe prepares dinner, fixing a variety of dishes. She is the head cook on the Shelby plantation, and her talents are known throughout the neighborhood. Also in the cabin are the three children of Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe. Here the reader is introduced to Uncle Tom, the main character. He is described as “Mr. Shelby’s best hand.” Tom’s character is “self-respecting and dignified, yet united with a confiding and humble simplicity.”

At this time, young Master George, the Shelbys’ son, is teaching Tom to write. George stays for dinner and talks to Aunt Chloe about neighborhood gossip. Mose and Pete, the two older children, play with the baby. After dinner, Tom’s cabin is the meeting place in which the plantation’s slaves gather to worship. They sing hymns, and Master George remains to read some Bible passages. Uncle Tom speaks to and prays for the group. He is looked upon as “a sort of patriarch in religious matters.”

The scene lastly shifts to the Shelby house. Mr. Shelby and Haley engage in last minute business, signing the bills of sale for Uncle Tom and Eliza’s son, Harry. Mr. Shelby then reminds Haley to try to find a good owner for Tom.

Chapter 5 begins where the previous chapter had left off. After Haley leaves, Mrs. Shelby asks her husband about his visitor. She explains that Eliza had been upset earlier, having overheard Haley’s offer for Harry. Mr. Shelby hesitantly admits that Haley is a slave trader, and that Uncle Tom and Harry were sold to him.

Mrs. Shelby is astounded by this news. She tells Mr. Shelby that she feels a certain responsibility toward the servants. As she states: “I have cared for them, instructed them, watched over them, and known all their little cares and joys, for years.” Mrs. Shelby also had taught them the benefits of Christianity. She thinks that money should not separate families, and exclaims, “This is God’s curse on slavery!” Mrs. Shelby even offers to contribute whatever is needed to keep Tom and Harry. Mr. Shelby, however, informs his wife that the deal with Haley has already been made.

Eliza overhears the Shelbys’ discussion and immediately decides to run away with Harry. After hurriedly packing their clothes, Eliza stops by Uncle Tom’s cabin late that night. Tom and Chloe are still awake since their prayer meeting had just finished. Eliza tells them about Mr. Shelby’s trade with Haley. Horrified, Chloe advises Tom to flee with Eliza and Harry. Tom declines, saying that he cannot break his master’s trust. The chapter closes with Eliza and Harry heading toward Ohio and hopefully on to Canada.

In Chapter 4, the reader obtains several impressions about Uncle Tom and his family. Tom is kind, self-respecting, and intensely religious. Aunt Chloe cooks and cares for the Shelbys as well as her own family. Master George relates easily with his father’s servants. He teaches Tom how to write, chats with them, and participates in their prayer meeting. Tom’s and Chloe’s children run around playfully. The cabin serves as the family living quarters and as a meeting house for other slaves. Everyone is familiar and friendly with one another. Within this slave community, the reader learns about the daily rituals that hold together the family. People eat, learn, and worship under one roof. These scenes suggest the characters’ close-knit relationships with one another, forming an extended sense of family.

The scene then switches to Mr. Shelby and Haley. Mr. Shelby’s conscience weighs on him because of the “disagreeable business” with Haley. The reader senses that Shelby’s debt is great since he...

(The entire section is 1,309 words.)