In her presentation of Tom’s trials after St. Clare’s death, Stowe makes a point about slavery at large, a point she repeats throughout the book. Namely, a slave’s fate lies at the mercy of his master, and a master’s legal claim on a slave overrides all efforts by others to improve the slave’s welfare. Thus Miss Ophelia can do nothing to stop Marie. Marie can whip the slaves or sell them into further cycles of abuse. Stowe emphasizes the importance of religion and love and their ability to transform the heart, but in this section she does not shy away from the horrific evil that exists in their absence.
Stowe focuses not only on the effect of slavery on slaves but also on its effect on the slaves’ owners. While slavery causes emotional and physical suffering among the slaves that slaveholders can never know, the system also makes human beings lose all sense of right and wrong. This latter effect extends to both the oppressed and the oppressor. Through the story of the Legree plantation, Stowe shows how the system turns slaves against each other—how cruelty makes people crueler. The plantation also lacks all sense of religion. Tom tries to fight against the cruelty, to infuse goodness into this moral void. The only commands he refuses to obey are those that go against his faith; thus in the scene of the beating in Chapter XXXIII, he holds strong. These pages work toward transforming Tom into a martyr-figure. He would rather face a severe beating himself than violate his principles by beating another slave.