Though St. Clare promised Eva that he would make arrangements for the slaves and that he would free Tom after she died, his own death came so suddenly that he had no time to act on his promise. Thus all of the St. Clare slaves find themselves the property of Marie. The cruel woman sends Rosa out to a whipping, previously unheard of at the St. Clare house, and then agrees to sell all of the slaves. Miss Ophelia pleads on their behalf, but Marie says that it would be worse for the slaves to be set free than to be kept in the system of slavery. She sends them off to the slave warehouse.
The narrator introduces two slave women in the warehouse, Susan and Emmeline, a mother and her beautiful daughter of fifteen. Emmeline has wondrously curly hair, but her mother combs it all out flat, in the hope that she will look less attractive and not be noticed by men who are buying female slaves for their pleasure. Before the women are brought to the selling-block, however, the seller tells Emmeline to go curl her hair—such an enhancement could bring in an extra hundred dollars. Uncle Tom now comes up for sale also. Simon Legree, a crude and evil-looking man who owns a cotton plantation, buys both Uncle Tom and Emmeline, as well as two other men.
Legree chains Tom’s hands and feet and puts the slaves on a boat headed for his plantation. Legree takes all that Tom owns, except for his Bible, which Tom has hidden in his pocket. Legree does find his hymnbook, however, and tells him that his plantation tolerates no religion. He then shakes his fist in the slaves’ faces, declaring it hard as iron and well-suited for “knocking down niggers.”
As they travel, Legree leers at Emmeline, promising that she will have “fine times” with him. Legree lives all alone on the plantation, with only slaves to keep him company. He keeps two black overseers, whom he treats with some familiarity, yet he attempts to make them brutal toward the under-slaves. He also has one slave woman, Cassy, living with him in his quarters. He has bought Emmeline to replace her. The plantation proves a horrific place, where even the slaves treat each other cruelly. Tom’s religious belief falters, but then he sees a vision of Eva, which renews his faith and his strength. He works diligently and tries to help the other slaves.
One day, as Tom works in the cotton fields, Cassy comes and works alongside the other slaves. Tom sees another slave woman struggling to fill her sack, and so Tom helps her, and then Cassy helps him. The overseers see the slaves cooperating and report back to Legree. When Tom and the women bring in their baskets, Legree tells Tom to whip the woman. He refuses, and the two overseers drag him outside, where they beat him nearly to death.
Stowe has spent much of the novel exploring morally ambiguous forms of slavery in order to expose their underlying evil. She has noted the insidious wickedness inherent in even the “benevolent” slavery practiced by otherwise decent men such as Shelby and St. Clare. Now, however, Stowe at last tears the mask of gentility off the slave system and shows what can happen when slaves live with cruel masters. Stowe uses the conversation between Emmeline and her mother to appeal specifically to women with children. Under the slave system, young girls could be purchased to act essentially as prostitutes, and Legree purchases Emmeline with this purpose in mind. In the previous sections, Stowe has approached the theme of slavery with the persuasive niceties of debate. However, in this section, she offers a visceral, emotional appeal against slavery based on the power of shock and moral outrage. If the goodness of Tom has not won the reader over to her position, she hopes that the evil of Legree will have a stronger effect.
In her presentation of Tom’s trials after St. Clare’s death, Stowe makes a point about slavery at large, a point she repeats throughout the book. Namely, a slave’s fate lies at the mercy of his master, and a master’s legal claim on a slave overrides all efforts by others to improve the slave’s welfare. Thus Miss Ophelia can do nothing to stop Marie. Marie can whip the slaves or sell them into further cycles of abuse. Stowe emphasizes the importance of religion and love and their ability to transform the heart, but in this section she does not shy away from the horrific evil that exists in their absence.
Stowe focuses not only on the effect of slavery on slaves but also on its effect on the slaves’ owners. While slavery causes emotional and physical suffering among the slaves that slaveholders can never know, the system also makes human beings lose all sense of right and wrong. This latter effect extends to both the oppressed and the oppressor. Through the story of the Legree plantation, Stowe shows how the system turns slaves against each other—how cruelty makes people crueler. The plantation also lacks all sense of religion. Tom tries to fight against the cruelty, to infuse goodness into this moral void. The only commands he refuses to obey are those that go against his faith; thus in the scene of the beating in Chapter XXXIII, he holds strong. These pages work toward transforming Tom into a martyr-figure. He would rather face a severe beating himself than violate his principles by beating another slave.