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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Chapters XXXIV–XXXVIII

Chapters XXIX–XXXIII

Chapters XXXIX–XLV

Summary: Chapter XXXIV

Cassy comes to Tom and tries to heal him after his flogging, giving him water and cleaning his wounds. She tells him that no hope exists for the slaves and that he should just give up. She explains that there is no God. Tom urges her not to let the wicked acts of others make her wicked herself. He argues that to become evil would constitute the worst punishment possible. Cassy starts to moan and then tells her story.

Cassy is a mulatto, a woman who is one-half black. She grew up in luxury, the daughter of a rich white man, and became the mistress of a lawyer. She had several children and was happy, but then the lawyer fell in love with another woman and sold her and her children to a new master. That master sold her children and then sold her to a third man, by whom she had a child. When the baby was a few weeks old, she poisoned it in order to prevent herself the pain of having her children taken from her again. She continued to be passed from man to man until she came to Legree.

Summary: Chapter XXXV

Legree feels emotional attachment to Cassy, even though she scorns Legree and his ways. As they argue one day, Sambo, one of the overseers, comes into the house with the lock of Eva’s hair that Tom had tied around his neck. It twines around Legree’s finger as if it were alive, and he screams, throwing it off into the fire.

We now learn Legree’s history. Legree grew up with a kind and loving mother but a brutal father. He took after his father and ignored his mother’s advice. His mother nonetheless clung to him, loving him, but he broke away at an early age and sought a life at sea. He later received a letter with a curl of her hair enclosed. His mother wrote that she was dying, but that she blessed and forgave him. The text explains that the lock of Eva’s hair reminded him of this tragic occurrence. He has turned to drink in order to forget his mother, but the image of the hair still haunts him.

Angry, he leaves the house to go to find Emmeline. He can only hear a hymn being sung by the slaves, and thinks he sees some sort of ghost in the fog. He feels a deep fear of Tom’s spiritual power.

Summary: Chapter XXXVI

The next day, Cassy tells Legree to leave Tom alone from now on. Forgetting his fear of the previous night, he ignores her advice and goes to talk to Tom, to tell him to get down on his knees and beg Legree’s pardon. Tom refuses. Legree threatens him, but Tom says that he has a vision of eternity to look forward to, and Legree can do nothing to harm him.

Summary: Chapter XXXVII

George and Eliza have successfully arrived at the next Quaker settlement and leave Tom Loker with the first group of Quakers to be nursed back to health. After he recovers, Tom abandons his evil ways and lives with the Quakers as a changed man, in great admiration of their life. George and Eliza continue on, disguising themselves and eventually reaching freedom in Canada.

Summary: Chapter XXXVIII

Back on the plantation, Uncle Tom once again feels his faith falter. Legree taunts him and leaves him to his doubts. But then Tom sings a hymn and sees Jesus Christ, who comes and speaks to him. His strength is once again renewed, and he sings songs of joy. Even when Legree beats him, he feels filled with the Lord’s spirit.

Cassy comes to him in the night and tells him that she wants to kill Legree. Tom tells her not to, because it is a sin. He pleads with her to try to escape instead. She says that she will, and that she will try to do so without bloodshed.

Analysis: Chapters XXXIV–XXXVIII

In previous chapters, the text has explored the effect of religion on slavery—how Christian values and Christian love can expose the inherent evil of treating a human being as property. Now, however, in the scenes depicting the Legree plantation, the text turns to examine the effect of slavery on religion. While earlier chapters have noted the ways in which slavery may cause moral devastation, these chapters attempt to illustrate the threat of slavery, not only to a person’s belief in Christian morality but to the God behind that morality. The text illustrates this notion through Tom, who struggles to maintain his faith. Indeed, the central conflict of this section of the book takes place within Tom as he endeavors to cling to his beliefs despite the wickedness and suffering that impinges on him.

Tom feels strengthened in his struggle by his vision of Jesus in the fire. The text parallels this vision with the vision seen by Legree, of the ghost in the fog. The motif of supernaturalism effectively serves to emphasize the moral contrast between the wicked slaveholder and the virtuous slave. While Tom’s vision comes as a reward to him for his goodness, soothing and encouraging him, Legree’s vision comes as a punishment, terrifying and warning him. Together, the visions allude to a higher order, evaluating the behavior of mortals and visiting apparitions upon them accordingly. The text thus implies that the basic structure of the universe essentially opposes the evil of slavery, bolstering its victims and seeking revenge on its perpetrators. In some sense, this idea of a fundamentally moral universe plagued with human corruption can explain the few other “supernatural” occurrences in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, such as Eliza’s leap over the river and Eva’s foreknowledge of her own death.

This section also explores morality from the female perspective. Legree’s mother serves as another example of the good mother figure that arises again and again throughout the book. Cassy, in contrast, serves as an example of a good mother turned bad. Under slavery, the very power of maternal love can become violent, and its fierce sense of protection can be perverted to the point that a mother can kill her own child. The compelling contrast illustrates slavery’s destructive influence on morality.

The contrast between these two mother figures joins a number of similarly pointed parallels and contrasts throughout the text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The text repeatedly employs such couplings as a rhetorical tool, showing the superiority of one side of the pair over the other. Thus, it establishes oppositions between slavery and Christian love, or between an idealized girl such as Eva and a vicious woman such as Marie. The novel also uses parallelism and counterpart as a structural device, dividing itself into two main plots, the story of Uncle Tom and the story of George and Eliza. The “slave narrative” of Uncle Tom contrasts with the “escape narrative” of George and Eliza. As George and Eliza grow closer to freedom, Tom finds himself in more oppressive conditions of slavery. The interrelationship between the two serves to highlight the triumphs of George and Eliza and the sorrows of Uncle Tom, endowing both stories with extra force.

As George and Eliza reach Canada and freedom, Tom finds oppression and death in rural Louisiana. In this contrast, the reader begins to see the symbolic function of geography in the novel. As the two plots diverge, one moving to the North and the other to the South, the North becomes synonymous with freedom, and the South with slavery. Obviously, these symbols have roots in historical reality. But it is important to note how Stowe works this geographical contrast into her structural technique, creating increasingly disparate settings in which to portray the increasingly disparate conditions of the novel’s main characters.

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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

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