Uncle Tom's Cabin By Harriet Beecher Stowe Summary and Analysis Chapters 11-14

Summary

In a small-town Kentucky hotel, a stranger inspects a poster advertising a reward for a runaway slave named George, dead or alive. One of the Kentuckians says that if slaves are treated well they won't run away, so he has no sympathy for the man offering this reward. The stranger, who turns out to be the factory owner for whom Eliza's husband once worked, agrees and says he knows this fugitive (it is George Harris).

At that point, another stranger (George Harris disguised as a Latino man) enters, accompanied by an apparent slave whom he calls Jim. He examines the poster, rents a room, and then calls Wilson in for some words in private. He tells Wilson his story: George's older sister was beaten by their master, Harris, and sold to a trader to be taken to New Orleans. George has come back to Kentucky with Jim, another escaped slave who is going to try to free his old mother. Wilson lends George some money and wishes him luck; George is armed with pistols and says the slave-catchers will never take him alive.

Chapter 12 returns to Tom's plight: During their journey southward, Haley attends an estate sale where he buys three slaves, including a boy named Albert whose mother is devastated because Haley refuses to buy her, too. Another purchase is John, a 30-year-old man who must leave his wife without saying goodbye. Haley takes his slaves aboard an Ohio riverboat, where they are kept in chains with the freight. Above them, a group of white travelers discusses slavery. Haley also brings aboard a young woman and her infant, whom he has bought through an agent. That evening, Haley sells her baby to another passenger. Tom tries to comfort the mother, but she is inconsolable, and that night Tom awakens to see her run past him and jump overboard to her death. Haley regards this as bad luck.

In Chapter 13, the scene changes to a cheerful country kitchen in Indiana, where Eliza is sitting with an older white woman, Rachel Halliday, a Quaker. Rachel's husband, Simeon, arrives and tells them that George has arrived in the settlement and will be at their house that evening. Eliza faints. She awakens to find herself in bed, drifts back into sleep, and when she wakes again George and little Harry are both with her. The next morning at breakfast, Simeon Halliday tells George that he and Eliza are being pursued and that they will be taken to their next station that night.

In Chapter 14, a steamboat travels down the Mississippi, loaded with cotton bales. Tom, now unfettered, sits among the bales reading his Bible. He misses his old home and his family but finds comfort in the Scriptures. Also on the boat is a white man named Augustine St. Clare, traveling with an older woman and a little girl of five or six, his daughter Evangeline, called Eva. The girl wanders all over the boat and talks with the slaves. Tom sees her as angelic. She asks Tom where he is going, and when he tells her he will be sold, she says she will ask her father to buy him. Soon afterward, Eva falls into the water, and Tom rescues her. Her father bargains with Haley to buy Tom and soon does so.

Analysis

Chapters 11 through 14 take the novel into its central portion, as the Eliza plot nears its climax and the Uncle Tom plot gets well underway, with three important characters (St. Clare, his cousin Ophelia, and his daughter Eva) making their first appearance, although we have not yet been told Ophelia's name or her relationship to the St. Clares. After Eliza and George's reunion, their plot will be put on hold for several chapters, giving us time to become acquainted with the New Orleans family to which Haley has sold Tom. Also in these chapters, we see the first few of the book's embedded stories, small and often fragmentary sub-plots that involve the histories either of major-plot characters or of minor characters who appear in one or both of the main plots.

As is often the case in this novel, the scene in the Kentucky barroom serves several purposes at once. It begins with another colorful sketch, this one involving several western characters: the Kentucky frontiersman remained, in the 1850s, a figure of some interest to readers in the East and abroad, and here Stowe makes the most of her familiarity with the West and its exotic inhabitants. These westerners, besides looking and acting colorful, argue about the treatment of slaves, which must certainly have been a realistic touch and which gives Stowe the opportunity to state at least two variants of the arguments concerning slavery that her book addresses. The scene presents a broad irony, when the young man wanted dead or alive walks in, looks at his own poster, and is not recognized as an escaped slave; indeed he is taken for a higher class of citizen, because apparently richer than most of the other men in the room. Another argument allows George to state persuasive reasons why he is not obligated, as Wilson begins by saying he is, to return to his lawful master: The laws by which he belongs to Harris are not George's laws, nor is the country his country, since it does not extend to him the rights of a citizen. Finally, in Chapter 11, we learn something about George's background and are given the first of the embedded plots, concerning George's sister Emily who resisted Harris's sexual overtures and was thus sold, apparently into sexual slavery, in New Orleans.

The next embedded plots concern slaves whom Haley buys in Kentucky and on his way south. Young Albert and his mother, Hagar, are both offered in an estate sale. The boy is young, strong, intelligent, and his mother is frightened that he will be sold away from her. Pitifully, she tells people that she still has lots of work left in her, although she obviously does not. Albert is her last child, and her master had promised that he would not sell this one as he has all the rest. But the son is a good investment, the mother a poor one, so Haley rejects her plea that he buy her too. Another man bids on her, seemingly out of kindness, and other slaves gather around and try to console her, but of course she will never be consoled. There is another fragmentary plot concerning "John, aged thirty," and still another concerning the young woman whose ten-month-old child is sold by stealth while she looks over the crowd of slaves at the Louisville docks, trying to get a last glimpse of her husband. The effect of these ultra-short stories, here and throughout the book, is to amplify the reader's horror at the emotional carnage wrought by slavery, which substitutes economic motive in the buyers and sellers for every human consideration. Each embedded plot is tiny and more or less incidental to the main plot in which it appears, but as they accumulate, the reader feels their impact like that of multiple small cuts, growing more sensitive to them rather than less.

Although relatively little use is made of symbolism in the novel (and what there is stands out clearly — for example, Tom as a Christ figure, little Evangeline as an angel or "bringer of good news," as her name suggests), ironies are often presented in contrasting images or situations, such as the appearance of George in the Kentucky hotel, apparently a wealthy young man looking at the description of a desperate slave, but really a brave young man looking at a description of himself. Another ironic contrast is found on the riverboat, where the black slaves sit in irons amidst the freight, mourning the loss of their homes and families, while above them white travelers argue whether slavery is ethical.

This scene (and it is a scene in the dramatic sense) allows Stowe to connect several of the novel's important themes: the devastation of slavery upon slaves' families, the relative lack of feeling among white people who are not directly involved in slavery, the almost pathological illogic of self-justification among those who are directly involved (except for John the drover, who seems to have worked out his feelings about slavery, appearing here as a contrasting figure to the other white Southerners), and the shameful entanglement of the clergy in it all. All of these themes are here on the boat, which slowly and inexorably carries both its passengers and its human freight downstream, south, toward an inevitable climax.

Between the journey down the Ohio and the next phase, down the Mississippi, the book takes us for a refreshing interval to the warm, bustling kitchen of a Quaker farm in the Midwest. If we doubt that the portrayal of the white riverboat passengers is deliberately unflattering, the contrast with the Hallidays and their community convinces us. We find the gentle strength of conviction exhibited by these members of the Society of Friends to be balanced by their plain, direct manner and their refusal to take credit for doing anything but that which is every human being's duty. As humans and as Christians, these characters show up very well against the "Christians" of the riverboat cabin with their dueling scriptural verses.

And finally, on a different boat that takes him more directly southward, surrounded by cotton bales in a foreshadowing of what eventually will befall him, we find Tom visited by the novel's angel of light, little Evangeline St. Clare. The immediate recognition between them is highly ironic, for the contrast between their physical persons and situations could not be greater. Yet Tom and Eva are kindred spirits, and she will now lead him into the series of events that is his fate.

Glossary

beaver a man's high silk hat, originally made of beaver fur.

en passant (French) in passing, by the way.

John Bunyan (1628–88) English writer and preacher who wrote Pilgrim's Progress, an allegory of the soul striving for salvation.

Hagar a woman in the Old Testament, concubine of Abraham and slave of Abraham's wife Sarah; the mother of Ishmael. Hagar's slavery and other specific mentions of slavery in the Bible were sometimes cited as evidence that God approved of the institution.

"Rachel weeping for her children . . . " Matthew II, 18: refers to Herod's killing the boy children as the fulfillment of this prophecy.

"Cursed be Canaan . . . ." Genesis IX, 25: "[H]e [Noah] said: 'Cursed be Canaan; meanest of slaves shall he be to his brethren'"; Noah is cursing his son Ham's child Canaan because Ham looked at his father lying naked and drunk in his tent. One of the justifications cited for slavery was that "Hamites" (supposedly the black African race, a mistaken identification) shared in their ancestor's curse.

brochetelle brocatelle; a heavy, figured cloth like brocade, usually of silk and linen, often used for upholstery.

cestus in ancient times, a woman's belt or waist-band.

Chateaubriand (Vicomte) Francois Rene de Chateaubriand (1768–1848), French statesman and man of letters; he traveled in North America and wrote about his experiences.

"Let not your heart be troubled . . . ." John XIV, 1–2: "Let not your heart be troubled. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."

Cicero (Marcus Tullius) (106–43 B.C.) Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher, writer of a classic text on rhetoric.

morocco a fine, soft leather, made originally in Morocco.

inkhorn a small container, formerly used to hold ink.

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