Uncle Tom's Cabin By Harriet Beecher Stowe Summary and Analysis Chapters 29-32

Summary

At St. Clare's death, the servants are all terrified, because they are well acquainted with Marie, who now has complete control over their lives. Their terror is justified, as Rosa soon finds, when she talks back to Marie and is ordered to go to a whipping-establishment. Rosa pleads with Ophelia to intervene with Marie on her behalf, for she and Ophelia both know that young women sent to one of these places will be raped. Ophelia tries to make Marie change her mind, but Marie will not. A few days later, Marie decides to sell the New Orleans house, furniture, and slaves, and return to her parents' house. At Tom's request, Ophelia asks Marie to give him his freedom, as St. Clare had promised, but to no avail. The next day, Tom, Adolph, and several others are taken to a slave warehouse to await their sale.

In Chapter 30, Tom, Adolph, and a number of other slaves await sale in a warehouse. A large slave tries to bully Tom without success; he does better with Adolph, whom he calls a "white nigger." Adolph tries to fight this man, and the white keeper parts them. In the women's quarters, two of the female slaves are Susan and Emmeline, mother and daughter. The mother, Susan, fears that 15-year-old Emmeline will be sold as a sex slave and tells her to comb her hair back and try to look as plain as possible.

The next morning, the sale commences. Adolph is sold to a young man who wants a valet and has said he will teach Adolph his place. Tom and Emmeline (separated from her mother) are sold to a revolting man who had earlier inspected them, as are two other men. They now belong to a Mr. Legree, the owner of a cotton plantation.

In Chapter 31, as they travel to the Legree plantation, Tom realizes that he is in the worst of hands. Legree throws some of Tom's belongings (including his hymnal) into the river and then sells Tom's trunk and its contents to the boat-hands. Legree paws Emmeline, telling her she'd better be pleasant when he talks to her. Then he shows his new slaves his fist, saying it got so hard from knocking down slaves. Later, in the boat's bar, he brags to the other white men about his treatment of slaves, saying he feels it is cheaper in the long run to use them up and buy more than it is to take care of them with good food, medicine, and so on.

In Chapter 32, the journey to Legree's plantation continues, through rough country, in a wagon. Legree orders the slaves to sing, but when Tom starts a hymn, he tells him to shut up. Another man begins a foolish, meaningless song, and the others join in. The narrator tells us that it is the only way these men can express their sorrow or pray, for the master hears only what he thinks is noisy good humor. Legree is drinking, and he paws the frightened Emmeline, obviously anxious to get home with her.

They get to the plantation house, once a fine, well-kept mansion but now a wreck among ruined grounds. Two black men, Sambo and Quimbo, Legree's overseers, come to greet the wagon with several dogs, and Legree tells the newcomers they had better behave, for the dogs would be happy to eat them. Legree presents Sambo with the older woman he has just acquired, saying he has promised to bring him a woman; when Lucy (as her name is) protests that she has a husband, Legree tells her to shut up. He takes Emmeline into the house, and Tom sees a woman's face at the window and hears an angry voice, with Legree responding that he'll do as he likes. Tom is taken to a crude shanty without furniture, and Sambo tells him he may sleep there, not in private, as Tom had hoped, but with many others.

Late in the evening, the slaves return from the fields and must grind, mix, and bake their dried corn over an open fire for their supper. The strongest go first, for these slaves are so desperate that they show no regard for each other. Sambo tries to make Lucy grind his corn and cook his supper, and she says she would rather die than live as his woman. Tom waits until very late to get access to a mill, and then he grinds corn and builds up the fire for two weary women. After their meager meal, the women go to their huts, and Tom sits by the fire; he feels his faith tested by his hardships. He goes back then to his hut and finds that the floor is covered with sleeping men. He is cold and tired, so he wraps himself with a ragged blanket and sleeps. He dreams that Eva is reading to him from the Bible, and he wakes comforted.

Analysis

In Chapter 29, we see the effects of St. Clare's failure to carry out Eva's wishes and free his slaves, for by his death they have passed into the hands of his wife, Marie, who now has complete control over their lives. St. Clare, as he told his cousin Ophelia, had made no will, at least none that decided the fate of the human beings he "owned" — and probably none at all. Now Tom and the rest are at Marie's mercy. We see that St. Clare's "kindness" to his slaves — his indulgence of Adolph's thievery, his refusal to allow Marie to have them whipped — has had an effect opposite what he intended, for Rosa's quick temper (her habit of speaking unguardedly, like a free woman) has allowed Marie to do what she has no doubt always wished to do, for Rosa is a pretty woman and Marie has faded.

Rosa's punishment — sexual abuse by a paid brutalizer of slaves — exemplifies what the narrator has told us, at the opening of Chapter 29, about the corrupting influence of the slaveowner's power. The two women involved here, Rosa and Marie, are both basically thoughtless, shallow, more interested in fashion than anything else. In other words, they are typical products of their culture, unredeemed by real religion or depth of emotion. Slavery has shaped them both, using Rosa as an object, semi-decorative, rather like a household appliance, and convincing Marie that she is the center of the universe. Now slavery has punished Rosa for her thoughtlessness by subjecting her to shameful harm, perhaps ruining her life, certainly changing her already-degraded life for the worse; and it has turned Marie into a monster who can order the rape of a young woman for an ostensible reason even she must recognize as trivial. Marie is now, at the end of our acquaintance with her, capable of doing real evil, and she is totally empowered to do so.

In the slave warehouse, we encounter several bitter ironies. Considering its function, the narrator tells us, this ought to be a hellish place in appearance, but instead it looks much like any other house; slavery makes sin — offenses against God, against the good; against love, in this book's terms — just another business, to be conducted genteelly. Here the slaves are supposed to be having a good time while they await sale, for part of the justification of slavery by those who participate in it is that the condition of slavery is proper for these people, and they are happy to be in their proper place. Potential buyers want to believe this, so those who run the warehouse encourage (and enforce, if necessary) the appearance of carefree happiness in order to increase their own profit. Similarly, the young girl Emmeline, so innocent that she doesn't understand her mother's fears for her (believably so, for a 15-year-old could be protected from sexual experience and knowledge in the 1850s — probably even a 15-year-old slave girl, if her mother was vigilant and her owner compliant), is forced to advertise her own sexual attractiveness in order to increase the warehouse-owner's profit.

Within one of the embedded narratives of this section (the other being the story of Lucy, taken from her husband without his knowledge and sold to Legree), we find another irony — a common one, it is implied. Susan and Emmeline, who belonged to a widow, were part of an estate mismanaged by its inheritor, their former owner's son. Thus they are now in the hands of a New York firm whose lawyers are having them sold. While it is illegal for residents of New York to own slaves, it is of course not illegal for such business to be conducted.

Here, more strongly than in the other instances where the overpowering interests of capital are cited, the narrator pinpoints the reason why slavery continues: Although one of the New York partners is said to be uneasy about allowing this sale of human beings as part of his transaction, his firm would lose $30,000 (in today's figures, perhaps 20 times that much) by refusing the transaction. It is simply too much money for a businessman to sacrifice on principle, and so Emmeline will be sold to a man who intends to use her sexually until he tires of her. The point is this: The business and political decisions of the country (including the continuation of slavery) are made by men who are trained — despite the fact they may nominally be Christian — to ignore what they know to be right (emotional knowledge, which is thus "feminine" and rejected) in favor of what they know to be profitable. The New York businessman, in capitulating to the sale of slaves, makes essentially the same decision that was made by the Ohio senator, Bird: one in favor of "larger interests" than morality.

We see also, in the slave warehouse, the human irony of Adolph, formerly the manager of St. Clare's household, who as we have seen had some difficulty distinguishing between his belongings and his master's. St. Clare seems to have encouraged Adolph's habitual dishonesty, much as he encouraged Rosa's quick temper, through a combination of laziness and guilt; as he told Ophelia, he felt he could not blame slaves for stealing — he himself, had he been in their position, would probably have done the same. But Adolph, like Jane and Rosa, having enjoyed a relatively high status both in the St. Clare household and in the New Orleans community (and having, perhaps understandably, lorded it over others whose status was not so high), had all the farther to fall when St. Clare died. Racial slavery has taught Adolph that his African ancestry is far less valuable than his European ancestry; he has been rewarded for admiring St. Clare and emulating him. Now, like the cook, Dinah, who reminded Adolph that he was finally no better off than she, the other slaves in the warehouse, lower in social status (and darker-skinned), resent the arrogance that Adolph seems by his very appearance to assume, and they harass him for it. Having no sense of his own worth within himself, he tries to fight his chief tormenter (a fight he would probably lose), but although the "keeper" stops the two men, Adolph has no friends here but Tom. Nor will he have a friend in his next master, who recognizes Adolph's usefulness (his intelligence and "cultivation") but voices his intent to break Adolph's independent spirit.

The characters Adolph, Rosa, and Jane have not been drawn sympathetically; but they are — like most of the minor characters in this novel — relatively complex and realistic portrayals. These three characters are young adults who have been given no encouragement or help to rise above their material human condition. They are vain, frivolous, selfish, cruel (specifically to Dinah and Topsy) without their cruelty being particularly effective, dishonest in smallish ways, and ignorant. They have no religion. The only person to take them seriously and urge them to live up to their human potential (by prayer) — the only person really to believe in them as children of God — is Eva.

Later, after Eva's death, Ophelia tries to follow the lead of the child; and Tom, of course, although his interactions with them are not described, must also have treated them with real kindness and respect. Adolph and Rosa, at least, are shown to repay Ophelia and Tom with trust and good will, as they have given Eva their true grief. Now, after St. Clare's death, we hear no more of Jane, but we see both Rosa and Adolph suffering terrible fates. More than the very minor figures of the embedded narratives, whose sufferings stun us momentarily, time after time — perhaps even more than Tom, whose sacrifice is of his own choosing (every time he renews his Christian commitment) and is redemptive — Rosa and Adolph seem to embody slavery's true horror, its insult to the humanity of ordinary people whom it first degrades, treats as objects until they begin to believe they are only objects, and then punishes for their degradation.

On the other side of slavery, of course, are people like St. Clare, who is himself degraded by slavery although he believes himself to be acting humanely within a system he inherited. But in this section, we are introduced to a character who has actively chosen degradation — for himself and for the people whom he buys, uses up, and takes pride as well as perverse pleasure from turning into objects without respect for themselves or each other. Simon Legree, Tom's new master, is portrayed in depth as a horrifying human being — not, like Haley, a mere materialist, caring only for profit (and not, like Shelby, dismissing the equal humanity of slaves), but a morally and spiritually warped individual who will, if need be, sacrifice even profit to exercise the full power of pain and evil over other human beings under his sway. Legree obviously does not subscribe to any of the racist theories by which other slaveowners may justify their use of human beings for economic gain; he must be fully aware of his slaves' equal human potential in order to enjoy their degradation. As the novel takes us up the Red River on the steamboat Pirate, through a wasteland of swamps and barrens, toward the decaying mansion and hopeless shanties of Legree's plantation, we enter the truly Gothic heart of darkness presided over by this truly Gothic villain.

Glossary

"He that dwelleth in love . . . ." 1 John 4:16: "So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."

Tartarus "informis, ingens, cui lumen ademptum" Latin: Hell, "misshapen, monstrous, devoid of light."

toilet i.e., the process of dressing and grooming oneself.

palmetto a hat woven of palmetto leaves.

rattan a cane or switch made from a branch of rattan (a kind of palm tree).

exquisite a person who makes a show of being refined and fastidious in matters of taste, etc.; a dandy.

calaboose [Old Slang] a prison; jail; here, a whipping-establishment or specific place for punishment of slaves.

lot one's portion in life; fortune; fate (in the sense of its being decided by chance).

saloon any large room designed for entertainments, receptions, etc.

stock a former type of large, wide, stiff cravat (necktie); here, apparently, Legree uses the word to mean Tom's necktie or scarf.

"what's yer name" i.e., "what's-your-name," a belittling form of address directed at a person whose name the speaker does not (or pretends not to) know.

"Fear not! for I have redeemed thee . . . ." Isaiah 43: 1: "But now thus says the Lord, / he who created you, O Jacob, / he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; / I have called you by name, you are mine.'"

"The dark places of the earth . . . ." Psalms 74: 20, 21: "Have regard for thy covenant; / for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence. / Let not the downtrodden be put to shame; / let the poor and needy praise thy name."

barrens places that do not produce useful crops or fruits; places with poor soil; here, "pine barrens" are woods whose plants are chiefly or overwhelmingly pine trees.

peck a unit of dry measure, equal to a quarter of a bushel or 8 dry quarts.

"Come unto ME, all ye . . . ." Matthew 11: 28: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. / Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. / For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

"When thou passest through the waters, . . . " Isaiah 43: 2, 3: "'When you pass through the waters I will be with you; / and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; / when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, / and the flame shall not consume you. / For I am the Lord your God, / the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.'"

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