Uncle Tom's Cabin By Harriet Beecher Stowe Summary and Analysis Chapters 42-45

Summary

The night after Tom's burial, Legree rides to town, gets drunk, comes home, locks his door, and goes to bed. He wakes to see a ghost standing in the room, beckoning to him, and he faints. On the same night, shortly after Legree sees the ghost, the servants notice that the house door is open, and they see two white figures — actually Cassy and Emmeline — gliding down the lane. Cassy and Emmeline get to the next town, having changed out of their sheets and dressed as a Spanish Creole lady and her servant. Cassy, who has stolen some of Legree's money, buys a trunk and awaits the next riverboat. George Shelby is also waiting, and he and Cassy become acquainted. Cassy takes the young Kentuckian into her confidence when they board the boat, and George tells her he will do what he can to help her and Emmeline.

A French lady, Madame de Thoux, on the boat with her 12-year-old daughter, asks George about his home; she is interested in a slave who lived near there, George Harris. When George Shelby tells her the young man is married to his mother's servant Eliza and that both have escaped to Canada, Madame de Thoux tells him she is George Harris's sister, Emily. When Harris sold her to New Orleans, she was bought by a man who fell in love with her, took her to the West Indies, freed her, and married her; now she is a widow with a large inheritance and has come back to look for her brother. When George Shelby describes George Harris's wife, Eliza, Cassy realizes that Eliza is her own lost daughter.

Later, Cassy and Emmeline, together with Emily de Thoux, trace George and Eliza Harris to Montreal, where they have been living for five years and have had another child. The happy reunion soon changes Cassy into a devout Christian and a loving grandmother. George's sister wishes to share her inheritance with him and his family, and he accepts, saying he will use part of the money to educate himself. The whole family travels to France, where George attends a university for four years. Then, because of political upheavals in France, they return to the United States.

At this point, the narrator quotes from a long letter written by George Harris to a friend. George says that he would rather be darker-skinned than he is, for he feels more solidarity with the African race than with the white, and he wishes to cast his lot with them. He is hopeful that Liberia (which has been colonized by African Americans) will become a great, energetic republic, and he intends to go there. A few weeks later, George and his family go to Africa. The narrator tells us that Topsy, too, having grown up in New England with Ophelia and her family and having become a Christian, immigrated to Africa — as a missionary.

In Chapter 44, George Shelby returns home and tells Tom's wife that her husband is dead; as he promised Tom, he does not tell her the details of how he died. A month after returning, George gives each of his and his mother's slaves a certificate of freedom. George tells them, too, to remember Tom; it was at Tom's grave, he says, that he resolved never to own another slave.

In the last chapter of the book, the narrator (now in the person of Stowe herself) addresses readers directly, assuring them that most of the separate incidents and characters in the story are authentic; explaining that the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and its consequences made her determined to exhibit slavery "dramatically" in fiction; and exhorting all Americans, in all parts of the country, to do what they can to end slavery: to act directly and individually and above all to pray. Finally, she speaks directly to white Christians, saying they have much to answer for and reminding them that the millennium (with its implied promise of Christ's return) is near. If Christians do not follow the spirit of Christ, in regard to slavery, they will have to suffer God's wrath.

Analysis

The Gothic aspect of this book has been apparent during the last large group of chapters (from XXXII — "Dark Places" — forward), present in a number of details: the labyrinthine road through cypress swamps and pine forests; the ruined mansion; the mysterious, sexually powerful, and apparently mad "dark lady" (Cassy); and especially the monstrous Simon Legree, whom Cassy identifies metaphorically, at the end of Chapter 36, as a vampire. Even Eva's death, in an earlier chapter, may be seen as an element typically Gothic in its nature (the wasting death of a fair virgin) if not in its character. Now, after Tom's "victory" (over Legree's attempted objectification, and over his own struggle not to allow himself to hate Legree) and his holy death, the Gothic aspect is indeed turned on its head (as critics Gilbert and Gubar have suggested). The "madwoman in the attic" becomes one of the chief "ghosts" haunting this house, and her success in frightening Legree — into allowing her and Emmeline's escape and into drinking himself to death — is grimly comic, especially in the tongue-in-cheek telling of it by Stowe's narrator.

But the deeper irony is that Legree's house is "haunted" — by the ghosts of all Legree's victims, by the ghosts of Cassy's children and Emmeline's mother, by Cassy herself as the ghost of the hopeful, trusting young girl she was long ago. These ghosts will remain in the house after Cassy and Emmeline have glided away in their sheets, and Legree's ghost, after the man's dreadful death, will join them. For these are all the spirits of slavery, rooted in greed, manifest in the use and objectification of human beings by other human beings and antithetical to Christian love. And Legree's decaying mansion, set among cotton fields and swamps, fallen down by now but not yet disappeared, is symbolic of the civilization these spirits will continue to haunt.

In tying the end of the novel to its beginning, Stowe perhaps strains our credulity a little by arranging for George Harris's sister to be traveling on the same river boat with George Shelby and Cassy. Still, the endings of sentimental novels traditionally abound with coincidences, and this one allows for such a happy reunion of family members that we would probably be small-minded to object to it — especially as the more realistic alternative would be to have Cassy and Emmeline travel on, never learning that Cassy's daughter Elise was really Eliza. (And that alternative may suggest to us how many former slaves must have traveled about the country, before and after the Civil War, looking in vain for brothers or sisters, mothers or children, sometimes perhaps sharing a road or a riverboat with someone else who — if either of them had known — was well acquainted with their lost one.) Most of the loose ends of the novel get tied up in these last chapters, although we are left to wonder, if we care to, about some of the many characters, such as Adolph and Rosa. This is probably realistic; Adolph will no longer be "Mr. St. Clare," but will bear the name of the young dandy who bought him.

George's immigration to Liberia was a point with which many early critics (who were in general more concerned with the social and political import of the book than its formal or aesthetic elements) found fault. Although Stowe's father, Lyman Beecher, was an advocate of "colonization" (like the fictional father of St. Clare's cousin Ophelia), it seems clear that Stowe herself was not a "colonizationist" but held opinions more in line in this regard with those expressed by St. Clare: How can one object to slavery as a wrong, she might have asked, and at the same time reject the slaves and former slaves themselves, urging them to go back to Africa, when most of them had never come from there in the first place. But Stowe did believe, apparently, that Africa was going to produce a "great civilization" — one of the wondrous events that would issue in the millennium, which was in the nineteenth century just close enough and at the same time just far enough away for people to predict all kinds of marvelous things about it. Some years after Uncle Tom's Cabin was published, however, Stowe admitted that, had she the last chapters to write over again, she would not send George and Eliza to Africa.

The final chapter — "Concluding Remarks" — was not part of the novel as originally serialized, nor does it appear in all editions since then. This chapter reflects Stowe's strong rhetorical schooling. First, she presents persuasive evidence (directed at 1852 readers and often addressed to specific pro-slavery arguments that were current then) not only that the incidents of her book were true in essence but also that freed slaves were indeed capable of being model citizens and supporting themselves and their families. Second, Stowe writes directly and eloquently to her readers as individuals, making each of them feel his or her direct responsibility for acting to end slavery — and, especially, making each feel that he or she can make a positive difference.

Glossary

"The sheeted dead . . . in the streets of Rome" William Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, 1: "In the most high and palmy state of Rome, / A little ere the mightiest Julius fell, / The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead / Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets."

Elysium in Greek mythology, the dwelling place of virtuous people after death; by extension, any place or condition of ideal bliss or complete happiness; paradise.

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