Uncle Tom's Cabin By Harriet Beecher Stowe Summary and Analysis Chapter 10

Summary

The scene shifts to Uncle Tom's cabin, where Tom and Chloe are about to be parted. The children are enjoying the festive meal (Tom's last breakfast at home) until their parents' unhappiness demonstrates that this is an unhappy occasion. Mrs. Shelby appears to tell Tom goodbye and assure him that she will try to buy him back, but she breaks into tears before she can speak, and Chloe joins her, as do the children. Haley comes in and takes Tom to his wagon, shackling his ankles. Shelby is not there, nor is young George; the boy, visiting at a friend's house, doesn't know that Tom has been sold. At a blacksmith shop, where Haley has stopped to have a set of handcuffs enlarged, George Shelby rides up and assures Tom that, if he were a man, this would not have happened. Tom and George make their farewells, and George gives Tom a silver dollar on a cord to wear around his neck, apparently George's cherished possession. George and Haley exchange unfriendly words, and the trader drives off with Tom.

Analysis

With Eliza on her way northward, pursued by Loker and Marks, the novel's main plot gets underway in earnest, as its central character, Tom, is carried southward. His legs are shackled, for Haley has already lost money on one runaway slave, and he disbelieves Tom's assurances that he won't try to escape. Tom's passivity, as he allows himself to be led and shackled (he has no choice; he has made his choice by refusing to run away when Eliza left), is a function of his religion. Tom is a Christian, and to be a Christian is to follow Christ, to attempt to be Christ-like. Modern readers, especially, prefer Eliza's brand of Christianity and Mrs. Bird's, which calls for active resistance to immoral authority. Tom, who never hesitates to advise others on the morality of their actions, approved Eliza's escape and will later suggest that other characters attempt to escape. But his own strength is in passive non-resistance. Tom is a Christ-figure, and readers (probably Stowe's original audience as well as ourselves) are made uncomfortable by the self-sacrifice implied in his behavior.

The theme of Christianity, of the necessity of following Christ no matter how difficult the path (and it will lead Tom very deep into the darkness) is united here as it will be throughout the book with the theme of the great wrong of slavery. Chloe, who is not a believer in passive resistance, would kill Haley if that would do any good; only her realization that she can do nothing keeps her from trying. She rails against Shelby, who has sold Tom, as she puts it, to get out of a scrape, and although Tom chides her for talking against Shelby, she knows there's something wrong somewhere. Of course it is slavery itself that is wrong. Chloe can't put her finger on it, because she is no philosopher and has never known any life but slavery. Nothing so terrible has happened to her; she has minded her own business; she has taken pride in her skill and loved her family and been a good Christian, and now, suddenly, what she never expected to happen has happened. In her own way, Chloe has discovered what will be reiterated again and again in this book: There is no reconciling Christianity and slavery, despite the churches' attempts to do so. This point is made again in a different way when young George Shelby lashes out verbally at Haley, telling him he ought to be ashamed to make his living the way he does. Haley answers that as long as people like George's parents want to buy men and women, the man who sells them is no worse than they are. George has no answer to this; Stowe's point, of course, is that Haley is absolutely correct.

Glossary

"That undiscovered country . . . " Shakespeare, from Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1: "The undiscover'd country from whose bourn / No traveler returns . . . "; Hamlet's line refers to death as "the undiscovered country."

limb i.e., "limb of Satan," a phrase meaning "imp" or "devil" (metaphorically, an arm or leg of Satan, doing the devil's work), commonly used as a euphemism.

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