Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Summary: Chapter XXIV
Alfred and Henrique end their visit. Eva’s health begins to fail. Marie, who has never shown any interest in her child before, now begins to moan in motherly despair, saying that her child is dying, and that the impending tragedy affects her more than anyone else. At one point, Eva appears to recover, but the episode proves only a deceptive lull in her decline. However, she continues to treat the slaves generously, telling Tom that she would die for the slaves of the South if it would alleviate their suffering. She talks to her father and asks him if all the slaves could be set free; she asks him to work for their freedom as she would have if she had lived beyond childhood. He says that he will do what he can but does promise to free Tom if she dies. She tells him she will soon go to the savior’s house and pleads with him to follow her there one day.
Summary: Chapter XXV
On a Sunday afternoon, Marie lounges on the veranda complaining to St. Clare when Miss Ophelia comes in indignantly, saying that she can no longer stand Topsy. St. Clare asks her how, if her Gospel cannot suffice to save one child, she expects missionaries to go out among thousands. Eva, who has been sitting on her father’s lap, now hops down and beckons silently to Topsy to follow her. They enter a little glass room at the corner of the veranda. She asks Topsy if she loves anyone. Topsy replies that she has been deprived of all family, left alone in the world without anyone to love or to love her in return. Eva tells her that Miss Ophelia would love her if she were good. Topsy laughs and says that Miss Ophelia cannot even bear to have Topsy touch her, because Topsy is black. Eva lays her hand on Topsy’s shoulder and tells her that she loves her, and tells her that she should be good for her sake. She adds that Jesus loves her as well. Topsy begins to cry and promises to try to be good.
The adults have overheard the conversation, and Miss Ophelia tells St. Clare that she always has had a prejudice against blacks, and that it is true that she could never bear to have Topsy touch her. She had not realized, however, that Topsy had known this. She says she wishes she could learn to shed some of her prejudices, and suggests that Eva might teach her.
Summary: Chapter XXVI
Eva requests that Miss Ophelia cut some of the curls from her hair; she then asks that all the slaves be convened. Lying weakly in her bed, she addresses the slaves, telling them to be good Christians and love one another. Then she gives each of them a lock of her hair by which to remember her. Later, after the slaves have left the room, Eva asks her father if he is a Christian and tells him of the land she soon will enter. He sees the fervor in her heart but fails to feel it himself. At last, Eva dies as St. Clare, Ophelia, and Marie look on. St. Clare asks her to tell them what she sees, and she replies, “Oh! love,—joy,—peace!”
Summary: Chapter XXVII
After Eva’s funeral, the house enters into mourning, but the slaves are unable to express their grief, because Marie demands all of their attention. Marie screams and carries on, but St. Clare is too deep in mourning to shed a single tear. Tom talks to St. Clare of the glory of heaven, but St. Clare finds himself incapable of believing. He longs to find God, but he feels that when he prays, no one is listening. Uncle Tom prays for him when his master cannot. When St. Clare hears Tom pray, he almost feels the awakening of faith inside himself.
Summary: Chapter XXVIII
Ophelia reports to her cousin that she has managed to reform Topsy’s wild ways. She asks St. Clare to give her legal ownership of Topsy, in order that she might take her to the North and set her free. She has instilled in Topsy the values of Christianity but knows that the experiences of slavery would beat them back out of her. St. Clare writes the deed then and there, at his cousin’s insistence. Ophelia then asks if he has made provision for his other slaves. She reminds him that, in the case of his death, they might go to cruel owners. St. Clare says he will provide for them someday. He then goes off to a café to read the newspaper and is stabbed in a fight between two drunken men. Other men from the café take St. Clare home, who is laid out on a shutter. St. Clare asks Tom to pray for him and then mumbles his own prayers. He says he is coming home at last. Just before he dies, his eyes open and he says with joy, “Mother!”
Analysis: Chapters XXIV–XXVIII
Critics of Uncle Tom’s Cabin often find fault with the novel’s excessive sentimentality and melodrama. These chapters, dealing with the deaths of Eva and St. Clare, figure among the most sentimental in the book; over the scene of Eva’s death in particular, Stowe intones with overbearing force:
Farewell, beloved child! the bright, eternal doors have closed after thee; we shall see thy sweet face no more. Oh, woe for them who watched thy entrance into heaven, when they shall wake and find only the cold gray sky of daily life, and thou gone forever!
Stowe emphasizes repeatedly Eva’s perfection, her exemplary Christianity, her true innocence, her angelic nature. However, Stowe renders Eva in this way not merely for the sake of indulging in the thrill of histrionic grief, or to infuse her book with spectacle. Rather, Stowe idealizes Eva in order to raise issues of religion via the vision of heaven and the immortal soul. Indeed, Eva appears as a Christ figure as she lies dying—a perfect being without sin, she allows others to find salvation through her death. In asking Ophelia to clip her curls, Eva asks to be “sheared,” thus again referencing Jesus Christ. Ophelia even says outright that she hopes to be more like Eva, because Eva is like Christ. The use of Christ figures becomes a minor motif in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, underscoring some of the book’s religious themes. The motif will appear again during the scene of Uncle Tom’s tragic death in Chapter XLI.
After Eva’s death, Stowe briefly explores the conflict surrounding St. Clare’s religious skepticism, as his persistent inability to find God clashes with Tom’s earnest desire to see his master find salvation. And this brief conflict paves the way for another climatic moment of intense sentimentality, this one as overtly religious as the last. As St. Clare lies dying, he finally discovers a religious sign, as he apparently sees his mother, an idealized being like Eva. In this way, Stowe emphasizes the moral power of Christianity to transform and save the soul—a power that Stowe hoped would eventually alter the hearts of the slaveholders and lead to the eradication of slavery.
This section witnesses not only St. Clare’s conversion, but Miss Ophelia’s as well. Ophelia finally acknowledges her prejudices, realizing the truth of Eva’s words. She knows that she must love Topsy as a Christian in order to help her. St. Clare’s comments also contribute to the conversion. When he asks Miss Ophelia what good her faith is if she cannot save one child, she realizes that the love modeled by Eva constitutes the next step in her work with Topsy.