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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Summary Chapters XXXIX–XLV
Summary Chapters XXXIX–XLV

Summary: Chapter XLIV

“. . . Think of your freedom, every time you see UNCLE TOM’S CABIN; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps. . . .”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

When George Shelby returns home he tells Chloe about Tom. He then gives free papers to all of the slaves. They ask him not to send them away, but he tells them that he will pay them wages, and that when he dies they will be free. He relates to them the story of Uncle Tom’s death and asks them to think of their freedom each time they see Tom’s cabin.

Summary: Chapter XLV

Chapter XLV serves more as an epilogue than a chapter proper. Here Stowe offers an author’s note, or set of “concluding remarks,” in which she declares that most of the events of the story actually occurred, not among the characters mentioned, but in the lives of various people at various times. She makes a direct and impassioned appeal to Northerners and Southerners alike to end slavery in the name of Christianity, and of God.

Analysis: Chapters XXXIX–XLV

In this final section, Uncle Tom’s martyrdom shines forth, and in his death he evokes Christ just as Eva did in hers, for he would rather die than betray his Christian principles—or Cassy and Emmeline. Further, Tom dies in the act of forgiving the overseers who beat him to death, just as Christ died forgiving those who crucified him. Moreover, his death indirectly enables the freeing of the Shelby slaves, as George Shelby’s decision to free them stems from his emotional response to Tom’s sacrifice. The former slaveholder declares that it was on Tom’s grave that he resolved never to own another slave, and that when his former slaves look at Uncle Tom’s cabin, they should remember that they owe their liberty to the selfless soul of Uncle Tom. Thus the meaning of the novel’s title becomes clear. The modest cabin symbolizes both the suffering of Uncle Tom and the influence of that Christ-like suffering on the conscience of George Shelby. In this way, it connects directly to two of the main themes of the novel, the evils of slavery and the effectiveness of Christianity in abolishing it.

While the reunions between George Harris and Madame de Thoux and between Cassy and Eliza may seem nothing more than an example of logic-stretching nineteenth-century sentimentalism, they do provide some literary value. While the trope of the family reunion does constitute a trite convention in much of literature, here it symbolically resolves Stowe’s theme of families torn apart by slavery. The book repeatedly condemns slavery for separating parents and children, especially mothers and daughters. Now, after and partly because of Tom’s death, the family is reunited.

The family’s final trip to Africa touches on an issue that sparked much debate during Stowe’s time. This debate centered on whether blacks should belong to a separate nation of their own, a notion that Abraham Lincoln briefly supported. Although Stowe portrays the family’s move to Africa as a positive development, she vehemently emphasizes in Chapter XLV that freed slaves should not be shipped off to Africa without consideration of their individual needs and wishes. Rather, if they choose, they should be able to live in the United States and partake of an American society.

In her final chapter, Stowe articulates as an expository polemic what she has implied throughout the book in her literary narrative. While she has periodically erupted into direct addresses of her reader, now she shifts to a sustained mode of pointed persuasion. Her last paragraphs deliver a charged sermon demanding the freedom of all slaves. She notes that, although Tom’s death offers salvation to many, it cannot end black oppression definitively. At the conclusion of the story, many slaves continue to live in misery under Legree. Such misery will persist, Stowe argues, until slavery is eliminated as an institution.