Uncle Tom’s Cabin

by: Harriet Beecher Stowe

Chapters XXXIV–XXXVIII

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.