“It was on his grave, my friends, that I resolved, before God, that I would never own another slave, while it is possible to free him; that nobody, through me, should ever run the risk of being parted from home and friends, and dying on a lonely plantation, as he died. So, when you rejoice in your freedom, think that you owe it to that good old soul, and pay it back in kindness to his wife and children. Think of your freedom, every time you see uncle tom’s cabin; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful and Christian as he was.”
This quotation from Chapter XLIV is George Shelby’s speech to his slaves as he sets them all free, fulfilling the dramatic vow he made two chapters earlier. The speech explains the novel’s title and establishes the image of Uncle Tom’s cabin as the central metaphor of the novel. When George Shelby sees the house, he remembers that Uncle Tom was taken from it, separating him from his wife and children and tearing apart his family. He therefore tells his former slaves to think of their freedom when they see the cabin and to resolve to lead lives of Christian piety, following Tom’s example. In this way, the cabin becomes a metaphor for the destructive power of slavery, which can split apart a family and break a home. It also comes to stand for the redemptive power of Christianity and love—for Tom’s enactment of these at his death motivated Shelby to set his slaves free. Thus the cabin comes to embody two of the novel’s central themes, uniting the idea of slavery’s vice and Christianity’s redemption in a single image.