Uncle Tom's Cabin By Harriet Beecher Stowe Summary and Analysis Chapters 26-28

Summary

Eva lies longer in bed each day, her strength fading. Topsy brings Eva a bouquet of flowers, and when Marie tries to keep Topsy out of the room, Eva challenges her mother and takes the flowers. Eva tries to make her mother see that Topsy and the other slaves are children of God, but Marie isn't interested. Eva then asks Ophelia to cut off some locks of Eva's hair, which she distributes among the servants, telling them she will wait to see them in heaven. Eva speaks to her father, trying to get him to say he is a Christian, but although St. Clare recognizes the saintliness of his child, he has no such feeling in himself. Tom spends as much time as possible with Eva, but Mammy must steal opportunities to see her because of Marie's demands. At last St. Clare becomes resigned to Eva's death. Tom begins to sleep on the verandah outside Eva's room and tells Ophelia that he expects death to come soon. When it does come, Tom says, to such a child, all who are watching will have a glimpse of heaven. That night at midnight, Ophelia sees a change come over Eva and calls for the doctor. Eva speaks once to her father; then, as she is dying, he asks her what she sees, and she answers, "O! love, — joy — , peace!"

When Eva's body lies in state in her bedroom, Topsy tries to come in and Rosa sends her away, but St. Clare corrects this, and Topsy throws herself weeping on the floor beside the bed. Ophelia comes in, tries to comfort Topsy, and at last lifts the little girl up and takes her out. St. Clare, recognizing Eva's influence, thinks his own life of little account. Marie's grief is uncontrolled, and she monopolizes the servants. She believes her husband cold; Tom knows better and stays close to St. Clare. The family and servants go back to New Orleans, and St. Clare spends as much time as he can away from home in the cafes and attending to business.

As the weeks go by, St. Clare struggles to find faith and seeks solace in Eva's Bible. He remembers his promise to Eva and begins the legal proceedings to emancipate Tom. Marie continues to be demanding of her servants; Ophelia has become gentler, especially with Topsy, toward whom she no longer feels aversion. She asks that St. Clare immediately sign Topsy over to her legally, and he agrees and gives the girl to Ophelia, who tells St. Clare that the child no more "belongs" to her than she did before; it is only that now she can protect her. She asks if St. Clare has made provisions for his servants in case of his death, and he says he has not.

In a reflective mood, St. Clare plays a piece of religious music on the piano; this surprises and touches Tom and Ophelia. St. Clare and Ophelia talk about Christianity, which he has shunned in part because he believes that most so-called Christians he has known are hypocrites. They talk again about slavery and the inevitability of emancipation, and St. Clare says that the North as well as the South must participate, when that happens, in educating the free men and women and preparing them for self-sufficiency. At that point St. Clare goes out for a walk, and Tom awaits his return. But St. Clare is carried home; he has been stabbed while trying to stop a fight between two men in a café, and he is bleeding to death. A doctor comes; the family and servants gather around in grief and terror. St. Clare begs Tom to pray, and Tom does so. At last St. Clare opens his eyes, says his mother's name, and dies.

Analysis

Eva's death has been well prepared for; we have seen it coming for four chapters at least (and longer than that, if we recognized the signs of her "specialness"). St. Clare's death, too, has been foreshadowed: Eva has told him, in Chapter 24, that he will "come to her"; even Ophelia may have had a premonition, causing her to insist on Topsy's becoming her property immediately (for, as an unmarried woman, Ophelia can own property — including this human property — in her own name); and surely St. Clare's thoughts of his mother, on his last afternoon, are feelings of foreboding. Yet this second death is a surprise, at least to his wife and to his servants, who now belong to Marie. No wonder they all weep so pitifully!

Augustine St. Clare's unexpected death serves, again, to reinforce the theme of moral wrong. If St. Clare was the most generous of masters, indulgent, kind, and actually (sometimes) respectful of his servants as fellow human beings, still his leaving them in other hands, probably worse hands than his, possibly many, many times worse (and we shall see how some of them fare), makes him as bad as those who will now own them. As Haley told young George Shelby, everyone who participates in the business of slavery is reduced to the same level; ironically, St. Clare, the "man of humanity" who has dominated Tom's life for over two years, was no better than the almost demonic figure who will come to own Tom next.

St. Clare's death serves the novel's plot as well as its theme, allowing Tom to move (as he always moves: by his own Christian will, at the command of others) into a final phase of testing. Always, we have seen Tom's spiritual being and values in tension with the materialism of his masters: Shelby, who sold Tom to pay off debts incurred in market speculation and who benefited from the sale only because Tom elected to fulfill the bargain rather than run away; Haley, to whom any human being is valuable only insofar as he himself can somehow profit and who used Tom's Christian faith as a selling point in his pitch to St. Clare; and then St. Clare himself, whose long materialism, reinforced by his unhappy marriage, is shaken by his daughter's death and then conquered at last by Tom's faith and courageous love. It is ironic that St. Clare was about to free Tom and to send him back to Kentucky when he met his untimely end. Characteristically, Tom's prayer for his master's soul, as the man is dying, contains no hint of bitterness, no consciousness even, that all may be lost now. We know this because his prayer was so pure and powerful that it succeeded.

But if St. Clare's death is necessary both to the forwarding of the plot and to the theme of slavery's deep moral wrong, it is Eva's death that figures in the novel's larger theme, the redemptive power of Christian faith. Without her death, St. Clare would not have been swayed even to curiosity about religion; his experience of Christians is that they are hypocrites (we are reminded of what he told Marie: that if slavery became unprofitable, the churches would turn against it, just as they now find scripture to justify it), and at the same time (he tells Ophelia) he has sensed that real Christianity would demand complete commitment, a commitment he feared he could not give (as of course he could not, at least not believably enough for fiction, given the opposition he would have faced in the person of Marie). But Eva's illness and death leave a great void in St. Clare's life, her Bible comforts him simply because it is her Bible, and Tom (guided by God's grace, as he would say and as Stowe would wish us to believe) takes advantage of the situation to stay close to St. Clare and to attempt to bring his master to salvation.

Just before St. Clare is brought home, Tom has slept and dreamed of Eva; he will see her again, in another moment of crisis, and the vision will strengthen him. Thus Eva continues, after death, not only to contribute to the book's theme but also actually to influence the plot, and it is the dead Eva (or at least the dying Eva, more than the living, healthy child) who becomes a mythic figure. In some of the popular nineteenth-century dramatic productions based on Uncle Tom's Cabin, the figure of Eva, robed and winged as an angel, presided over the climactic scenes following her death, suspended on wires from the flies. Thematically and mythically, Eva is inseparable from her death.

Glossary

"This is the Last of Earth" allusion to John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), sixth president of the United States; reportedly his last words were "This is the last of Earth! . . . I am content."

"the long, sacred rest . . . beloved'" See Psalms 127: 2: "It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, / eating the bread of anxious toil; / for he gives to his beloved sleep."

"Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief" Mark 9: 24.

bark a small sailing boat; figuratively, Eva's life.

ciphers things of no importance; nonentities.

Moore, Byron, Goethe Thomas Moore (1779–1852), Irish poet; George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788–1824), British poet; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), German poet and dramatist; here, these three are examples of writers who understood religious feeling although they were popularly supposed not to be religious.

exactions demands, specific requirements.

"In the midst of life we are in death" line from the Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer.

"When the Son of man . . . . As ye did it not to one of the least of these . . . ." Matthew 25: 31–46.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

What does Eva’s father promise her before she dies?




Quiz