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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Chapters XX–XXIII

Chapters XVII–XIX

Chapters XXIV–XXVIII

Summary: Chapter XX

St. Clare buys a young slave named Topsy, who has never received any education, and gives her to Miss Ophelia to tutor. Miss Ophelia protests, but St. Clare tells her that Topsy’s previous owners have abused her. He notes that the child’s back bears multiple scars. He also points out that, in teaching Topsy, Ophelia would be fulfilling a role akin to that of a missionary. This statement awakens Ophelia’s conscience and she agrees to take on Topsy’s instruction. However, Topsy proves disobedient and wild, unacquainted with the conventions of Christian behavior. After she steals a pair of gloves, Ophelia presses her to confess her other sins, and she confesses falsely to stealing other items. Later, Topsy explains that she had nothing to confess but wanted to oblige the older woman. When Eva speaks a few words of kindness to the girl, Topsy looks at her in bewilderment, having never heard kindness before. Still, the young slave and Eva quickly become friends, and traipse about playing together. But Topsy remains just as unmanageable as before. Ophelia tries to teach Topsy the catechism, but the girl fails to understand even its words, and thus she recites them back mangled and confused, without any comprehension of their meaning.

Summary: Chapter XXI

Back on the farm in Kentucky, Aunt Chloe receives Tom’s letter. Though Mr. Shelby’s business remains fraught with debt, Mrs. Shelby wants to try to raise enough money to buy Tom back. Mr. Shelby begins to shout and tells her not to meddle in his affairs. Chloe calls Mrs. Shelby outside, ostensibly to look at the chickens, and asks to be hired out to make cakes and pies to help earn money for Tom. Mrs. Shelby agrees.

Summary: Chapter XXII

Two years pass while Tom serves the St. Clares. He gets a letter from Mas’r George telling about life in Kentucky and about the studies he has undertaken. Tom and Eva grow increasingly close; he gives her little gifts, and she reads the Bible aloud to him.

The whole family goes out to a villa on Lake Pontchartrain for the summer, hoping to escape the heat of the city. Tom and Eva sit together in the villa’s garden, reading the Prophecies and the Revelation, and Tom sings hymns about the new Jerusalem and angels. Eva says that she has seen angels, and points up to the sky. She declares that she will be joining them in heaven soon. Miss Ophelia calls them inside and reminds them that Eva has been sick and should not spend too long outdoors. Ophelia worries about the child’s cough, and Tom notices that she has grown thinner.

Summary: Chapter XXIII

St. Clare’s brother Alfred visits with his son, Henrique. Eva and Henrique enjoy playing together, but, one day, Henrique strikes his slave, Dodo, because he has allowed Henrique’s horse to get dusty. Eva reacts with sadness, asking Henrique how he could act so wickedly. He responds with incomprehension, and, after Dodo saddles the horse, he gives the slave money so that he may go buy candy for himself. Eva thanks Dodo for his work, and Dodo appreciates Eva’s gesture far more than Henrique’s. The fathers watch what has happened and begin to argue about slavery. St. Clare says that soon the slaves will rise up; Alfred replies that he will keep them down as long as possible. Eva and Henrique return, and she asks him to love Dodo. He says that he will, because he would do anything that she asked.

Analysis: Chapters XX–XXIII

This section emphasizes the importance of love—both Christian and romantic—in eradicating slavery and its mindset. The reader notes the value of Christian love through its absence, as Miss Ophelia teaches Topsy the catechism without conveying the spirit of it. Because Ophelia forces Topsy to memorize the words without any sense of the emotions behind them, it is no surprise when Topsy spews the prayer back in a mangled and confused form. Without love, the words are simply meaningless sounds. As we have seen, Stowe uses Ophelia as a kind of surrogate within the book for her Northern audience. Now she suggests to these readers that for them, as for Ophelia, it is not enough to support abolition out of a sense of duty alone. Their anti-slavery sentiments must stem from a deeper place, from a love for human beings.

Romantic love also comes to play a role in fighting slavery as both Aunt Chloe and Mrs. Shelby demonstrate through their paralleled devotion to their respective husbands. Chloe resolves to work to help buy Tom out of slavery, while Mrs. Shelby endeavors to help her husband with his money matters. Both women try to free their husbands with their love—to free Uncle Tom on a literal level, and to free Mr. Shelby from his financial straights. In portraying the redemptive power of love as embodied in these two women, Stowe mixes love and her feminist theme, once again giving power to her female characters and depicting them as wiser than their male counterparts. Moreover, Stowe’s feminism here may extend beyond a mere indication of the insight and virtue of women to a directly political observation. As the reader sees in this section, although Mrs. Shelby enjoys much freedom relative to her slave, she remains in a similarly subjected state. Like Mrs. Bird in Chapter IX, she must appear to stand behind her husband and pursue her own causes through him, even if she does not support his opinions and actions. Stowe seems to suggest the folly in such a convention.

Yet while Stowe may hint at the oppression of women, she focuses primarily on the oppression of blacks, and the argument between St. Clare and Alfred in Chapter XXIII contains one of the most honest discussions of slavery in the book. Alfred openly admits his desire to keep slaves, as well as their own desire not to be slaves. Logical and upfront about the issue, he does not try to make excuses for himself. Both brothers seem to regard the enslavement of others as a natural human tendency. Stowe suggests that people possess an innate greed and an innate love of power and that the system of slavery results directly from these human failings. Accordingly, Stowe implies that, to abolish slavery, people should not resort to complicated political maneuverings; instead, they must learn to curb innate human impulses on a fundamental level. And in this section she strongly intimates that the agent of that change will be love—the kind of love Eva exhibits toward Dodo in this chapter.

A simple but important instance of foreshadowing occurs in Chapter XXII, when Eva and Tom read the Bible, and Eva says that she will soon be going to heaven to join the angels. Tom notices that Eva does not look well, but the text does not explore the matter further. Stowe uses this scene to foreshadow Eva’s eventual death in Chapter XXVI. The young girl’s apparent foreknowledge of her own death introduces a perhaps unfortunate piece of nineteenth-century melodrama, but it does serve to underscore Eva’s basic saintliness and goodness. The little girl is so pure that she is already in touch with heaven. The fact of Eva’s moral perfection adds authority to her loving actions and puts extra force behind her innocent but political observations.

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Just a comment on the analysis

by mar_vin_kaiser, June 15, 2014

In the analysis of Chapters XXIV–XXVIII of Uncle Tom's Cabin, would it be ok if the reference to Uncle Tom's death was removed? It was really a spoiler for me, reading each analysis after finishing the set of chapters for that analysis, and I think other readers won't like these kinds of spoilers as well. Thanks and

2 Comments

2 out of 9 people found this helpful

Awesome!!

by Ziam_is_bae, December 06, 2014

This really helped with my reading of the book. It made it so much easier!! There wasn't any heavy vocab to go through, and it helped me understand the context easily. I will definitely come to this website first from now on!!

Attitudes

by valdeline, December 13, 2014

Which chapters would you say describes, Simon Legrre, Miss Ophelia and Eva's attitude towards slavery?

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