Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Summary

Chapters XX–XXIII

Summary Chapters XX–XXIII

Romantic love also comes to play a role in fighting slavery as both Aunt Chloe and Mrs. Shelby demonstrate through their paralleled devotion to their respective husbands. Chloe resolves to work to help buy Tom out of slavery, while Mrs. Shelby endeavors to help her husband with his money matters. Both women try to free their husbands with their love—to free Uncle Tom on a literal level, and to free Mr. Shelby from his financial straights. In portraying the redemptive power of love as embodied in these two women, Stowe mixes love and her feminist theme, once again giving power to her female characters and depicting them as wiser than their male counterparts. Moreover, Stowe’s feminism here may extend beyond a mere indication of the insight and virtue of women to a directly political observation. As the reader sees in this section, although Mrs. Shelby enjoys much freedom relative to her slave, she remains in a similarly subjected state. Like Mrs. Bird in Chapter IX, she must appear to stand behind her husband and pursue her own causes through him, even if she does not support his opinions and actions. Stowe seems to suggest the folly in such a convention.

Yet while Stowe may hint at the oppression of women, she focuses primarily on the oppression of blacks, and the argument between St. Clare and Alfred in Chapter XXIII contains one of the most honest discussions of slavery in the book. Alfred openly admits his desire to keep slaves, as well as their own desire not to be slaves. Logical and upfront about the issue, he does not try to make excuses for himself. Both brothers seem to regard the enslavement of others as a natural human tendency. Stowe suggests that people possess an innate greed and an innate love of power and that the system of slavery results directly from these human failings. Accordingly, Stowe implies that, to abolish slavery, people should not resort to complicated political maneuverings; instead, they must learn to curb innate human impulses on a fundamental level. And in this section she strongly intimates that the agent of that change will be love—the kind of love Eva exhibits toward Dodo in this chapter.

A simple but important instance of foreshadowing occurs in Chapter XXII, when Eva and Tom read the Bible, and Eva says that she will soon be going to heaven to join the angels. Tom notices that Eva does not look well, but the text does not explore the matter further. Stowe uses this scene to foreshadow Eva’s eventual death in Chapter XXVI. The young girl’s apparent foreknowledge of her own death introduces a perhaps unfortunate piece of nineteenth-century melodrama, but it does serve to underscore Eva’s basic saintliness and goodness. The little girl is so pure that she is already in touch with heaven. The fact of Eva’s moral perfection adds authority to her loving actions and puts extra force behind her innocent but political observations.