Tom slowly raised his head, and looked sorrowfully but quietly around, and said, “No, no—I an’t going. Let Eliza go—it’s her right! I wouldn’t be the one to say no—’tan’t in natur for her to stay; but you heard what she said! If I must be sold, or all the people on the place, and everything go to rack, why, let me be sold. I s’pose I can bar it as well as any on ’em,” he added, while something like a sob and a sigh shook his broad, rough chest convulsively.
Tom, the hero of the novel, has just learned that his owner has sold him. Aunt Chloe, his wife, urges him to run away with Eliza, another slave, whose young son has also been sold. Here, Tom explains why he refuses to run, because his being sold will keep “all the people on the place,” including his wife and children, from being sold. Stowe uses escape as a structural device as well as a theme. Tom gets chances to escape at key turning points in the plot.
A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her, just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throwing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after a deer. In that dizzy moment her feet to her scarce seemed to touch the ground, and a moment brought her to the water’s edge. Right on behind they came and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap—impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it.
In the best-known scene from the novel, a beautiful young runaway slave crosses the frozen Ohio River, escaping her pursuers and carrying her young son to freedom. The story of Eliza and her family presents a parallel and contrasting narrative to the story of Tom. At the start of the novel, Tom and Eliza both belong to the Shelby family. Tom’s sale takes him south, ever deeper into slavery, while Eliza and her family’s escape takes them north to Canada and freedom.
On they came, and in a moment the burly form of Tom appeared in sight, almost at the verge of the chasm. George fired,—the shot entered his side,—but though wounded, he would not retreat, but, with a yell like that of a mad bull, he was leaping right across the chasm into the party. “Friend,” said Phineas, suddenly stepping to the front, and meeting him with a push from his long arms, “thee isn’t wanted here.” Down he fell into the chasm, crackling down among trees, bushes, logs, loose stones, till he lay bruised and groaning thirty feet below.
Tom Loker, a slave catcher, pursues George and Eliza Harris and other slaves fleeing toward Canada. Their guide, Phineas Fletcher, is a rough frontiersman who has converted to Quakerism for his wife’s sake. As a Quaker, Phineas has sworn off violence, but, as he explains things, he allows himself the fun of looking on as George and the others defend themselves. Now, at a critical moment, Phineas forgets his Quaker principles and resorts to a violent act to alter events. The scene reveals Stowe’s gift for creating memorable minor characters and action scenes with surprise outcomes.
“Misse Cassy,” said Tom, in a hesitating tone, after surveying her a moment in silence, “if ye only could get away from here,—if the thing was possible,—I’d ’vise ye and Emmeline to do it; that is, if ye could go without blood-guiltiness,—not otherwise.” “Would you try it with us, Father Tom?” “No,” said Tom; “time was when I would, but the Lord’s given me a work among these yer poor souls, and I’ll stay with ’em and bear my cross with ’em till the end. It’s different with you; it’s a snare to you,—it’s more’n you can stand,—and you’d better go, if you can.”
Tom, now undergoing the cruelest conditions of plantation slavery, urges two female slaves, Cassy and Emmeline, to escape if they can. Simon Legree, their brutal owner, forces Cassy to serve as his mistress and bought the young girl, Emmeline, as Cassy’s replacement. But when Cassy asks Tom to come with them, he refuses, choosing instead to share the suffering of his fellow slaves. Tom will also do the Lord’s work by defying Legree, absorbing Legree’s violence, and keeping the superstitious Legree unsettled enough to allow Cassy and Emmeline to escape.