Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Summary: Chapter X
Haley has returned to the Shelbys’ home to collect Uncle Tom. Aunt Chloe cooks her husband one last meal before he leaves and laments the evils of slavery. He asks her to trust in God to protect them, and tells her that their master is good. Haley takes Tom away, putting his feet in fetters. Mas’r George, who was visiting a friend the previous day, runs up to the wagon in dismay. Haley goes into the blacksmith’s to fix Tom’s handcuffs, and Tom and Mas’r George converse. George tells Tom that, when he grows older, he will come and save him. For now, he gives Tom a dollar to wear around his neck.
Summary: Chapter XI
In a small country hotel in Kentucky, a sign announces a hunt for a slave named George, who has run away from his master. In the bar room, some men discuss a recently posted sign. The sign reads, “Very light mulatto . . . will probably try to pass for a white man . . . has been branded in his right hand with the letter H . . . I will give four hundred dollars for him alive, and the same sum for satisfactory proof that he has been killed.” Mr. Wilson, the owner of a bagging factory, is in the inn and says that this same George once worked for him. Just then, a tall man with Spanish coloring arrives at the inn. He calls himself Henry Butler and is accompanied by a slave named Jim. He looks at the sign and dismisses it, saying he seems to recall meeting a man of that description near a farm they passed along the way. Mr. Wilson looks at the “Spanish man” and realizes that he is George Harris. George invites Mr. Wilson up to his room and tells him that he is now a free man and is escaping to a place that will recognize his freedom. Mr. Wilson, well-meaning but rather unenlightened, tells George he is sorry to see him “breaking the laws of [his] country.” George protests that the United States is not “his” country, for slaves neither make nor consent to American laws and gain no protection by them. He asks Mr. Wilson to bring a pin to his wife, whom George believes is still a slave; he also asks Wilson to tell her that he is going to Canada and that she should join him if she can.
Summary: Chapter XII
Meanwhile, Haley and Tom continue toward the slave market. When they stop for the night, Tom must stay in a jail. This insults his dignity as a man who has always been honest and upright. At eleven o’clock the next day, the selling begins, and Haley buys several more slaves. He then boards them all on a ship headed for the Deep South, where they will be sold for plantation work. On the ship, a slave woman jumps overboard after her son is taken from her. Tom hears the splash.
Summary: Chapter XIII
Eliza and Harry arrive at a Quaker settlement, where they stay with a woman named Rachel Halliday. After learning that Eliza’s last name is Harris, the Quakers realize that she is the wife of George Harris, who is on his way to the settlement. That night, amid tears, the couple reunites. The next morning, the Quakers and former slaves eat breakfast together, and George and Eliza learn they will have to wait until evening to escape.
Analysis: Chapters X–XIII
Since the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the term “Uncle Tom” has entered into the English language as a generic phrase denoting a black person eager to win the approval of whites. This section of the novel gives us our first insight into the term’s aptness. Especially in contrast to George, Uncle Tom proves a docile and submissive character. He serves his white owners dutifully, never making any attempt to escape, and praises his master’s goodness even as he is forced to part from his wife as a result of Shelby’s actions. In the figure of Tom, we see evidence of Stowe’s “romantic racialism.” Romantic racialism describes an attitude whereby a person regards another race with a paternalistic kindness—a sense of sympathy tainted by condescension. For while Stowe argues for the fair and humane treatment of African Americans, she also frequently idealizes and romanticizes them, portraying them as quaint or charmingly good-hearted rather than as complex, full human beings.
Yet while we may criticize Stowe’s idealized black characters, it is important to note that most of her characters, both white and black, receive rather sentimental treatment. Like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Uncle Tom’s Cabin does not aim to present a realistic vision of the world, but rather to argue for a different one—to persuade a particular audience to adopt a particular political position. In the case of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe sets out to convince her Northern audience of the evil of slavery; she uses the figure of Uncle Tom not to explore the psychology of a slave, but to assist her thematic arguments. Although Uncle Tom’s sense of duty and self-sacrifice have, at times, made Stowe’s book an object of ridicule, it was precisely these qualities of magnanimity and gentle patience that made Tom an admirable and moving figure to Stowe’s white Northern audience in 1852.
Moreover, Uncle Tom’s passivity enables the novel’s most trenchant exploration of the conflict between Christian ideals and the cruel inhumanities of slavery. Tom’s policy of “turning the other cheek” stems from a religious faith, and thus his behavior may be interpreted as owing less to weakness than to principle. Tom believes in a world beyond this one, and he keeps the notion of his afterlife foremost in his mind, trusting that today’s suffering will be tomorrow’s salvation. This attitude contrasts strongly with George’s lack of faith, evident in his argument with Eliza in Chapter III. By juxtaposing George against Tom in this way, Stowe establishes George as a romantic hero—one who involves himself in a determined struggle to defend his passions—while making Tom a martyr, willing to sacrifice his own interests for the good of the greater cause.
In Chapter XIII, the Quakers appear as a happy medium between these two extremes. While they believe in love and goodwill toward all people, they do not flinch from some amount of civil disobedience in order to help escaping slaves. Throughout the book, Stowe depicts her Quaker characters as people who, in their fight against slavery, always find a way to balance their love for God with their love for humanity.