Uncle Tom’s Cabin

by: Harriet Beecher Stowe

Womanliness

1

Mrs. Bird hastily deposited the various articles she had collected in a small plain trunk, and locking it, desired her husband to see it in the carriage, and then proceeded to call the woman. Soon, arrayed in a cloak, bonnet, and shawl, that had belonged to her benefactress, she appeared at the door with her child in her arms. Mr. Bird hurried her into the carriage, and Mrs. Bird pressed on after her to the carriage steps. Eliza leaned out of the carriage, and put out her hand,—a hand as soft and beautiful as was given in return. She fixed her large, dark eyes, full of earnest meaning, on Mrs. Bird’s face, and seemed going to speak. Her lips moved,—she tried once or twice, but there was no sound,—and pointing upward, with a look never to be forgotten, she fell back in the seat, and covered her face. The door was shut, and the carriage drove on.

Mrs. Bird, wife of an Ohio senator, bids goodbye to Eliza, a young mother escaping from slavery. Mrs. Bird sheltered the fugitive mother and child, and the two women shared their grief over losing their children. Here Mrs. Bird gives her dead son’s clothing to Eliza as the senator prepares to drive Eliza to a safe house. The scene is one of many in the novel in which women transcend race or class barriers and exert their moral force for good.

2

“Don’t you think they’ve got immortal souls?” said Miss Ophelia, with increasing indignation. “O, well,” said Marie, yawning, “that, of course—nobody doubts that. But as to putting them on any sort of equality with us, you know, as if we could be compared, why, it’s impossible! Now, St. Clare really has talked to me as if keeping Mammy from her husband was like keeping me from mine. There’s no comparing in this way. Mammy couldn’t have the feelings that I should. It’s a different thing altogether,—of course, it is,—and yet St. Clare pretends not to see it. And just as if Mammy could love her little dirty babies as I love Eva!”

Ophelia St. Clare, an abolitionist spinster from Vermont, talks to Marie St. Clare, her cousin’s wife. Ophelia now lives with the St. Clares in New Orleans, helping to manage the household. Marie St. Clare, a nasty, petulant, self-absorbed character, represents the antithesis of Stowe’s ideal woman. Marie will not even acknowledge that her slave, Mammy, has ordinary human feelings toward her husband and children. As a cruel, indolent slaveholder, Marie fails every moral standard set up by Stowe. Marie also fails to live up to the Christian principles she claims to hold.

3

Mrs. Shelby went up stairs, and Aunt Chloe, delighted, went out to her cabin, to make her preparation. “Law sakes, Mas’r George! ye didn’t know I’s a gwine to Louisville tomorrow!” she said to George, as entering her cabin, he found her busy in sorting over her baby’s clothes. “I thought I’d jis look over sis’s things, and get ’em straightened up. But I’m gwine, Mas’r George,—gwine to have four dollars a week; and Missis is gwine to lay it all up, to buy back my old man agin!” “Whew!” said George, “here’s a stroke of business, to be sure! How are you going?” “Tomorrow, wid Sam. And now, Mas’r George, I knows you’ll jis sit down and write to my old man, and tell him all about it,—won’t ye?”

At the Shelby plantation, Uncle Tom’s wife, Aunt Chloe, talks with George Shelby, the owner’s son. George’s mother, Mrs. Shelby, feels guilt over Tom’s sale. She approves Aunt Chloe’s plan to hire herself out as a confectioner and use her wages to buy Tom back. As devout Christians devoted to their families, both women act as forces for moral good. Mrs. Shelby has additional moral power because of her positive influence on her son George, who will eventually liberate the Shelby family’s slaves.

4

And, indeed, in two or three days, such a change has passed over Cassy, that our readers would scarcely know her. The despairing, haggard expression of her face had given way to one of gentle trust. She seemed to sink, at once, into the bosom of the family, and take the little ones into her heart, as something for which it long had waited. Indeed, her love seemed to flow more naturally to the little Eliza than to her own daughter; for she was the exact image and body of the child whom she had lost. The little one was a flowery bond between mother and daughter, through whom grew up acquaintanceship and affection. Eliza’s steady, consistent piety, regulated by the constant reading of the sacred word, made her a proper guide for the shattered and wearied mind of her mother. Cassy yielded at once, and with her whole soul, to every good influence, and became a devout and tender Christian.

The author brings readers up to date on the fate of Cassy, a woman who was enslaved with Uncle Tom on the plantation of the evil Simon Legree. After her successful escape, Cassy now lives in Canada with her daughter, Eliza, and Eliza’s children. Under slavery, Cassy had been used for sex, first as a pampered courtesan and later as a rape victim, driven half insane by Legree’s sexual and physical abuse. By escaping, Cassy not only gains her freedom but also attains full status as a respectable Christian mother.