Uncle Tom's Cabin By Harriet Beecher Stowe Summary and Analysis Chapters 5-7

Summary

Later that evening, Mr. Shelby tells his wife that he has sold Tom and little Harry. Mrs. Shelby is horrified; he has promised Tom his freedom, and she has assured Eliza her child is safe. Shelby admits that Haley held a mortgage on their property and that he was forced to choose between selling those two and selling everything, including all their slaves. Mrs. Shelby says she always knew slavery was evil; now she dreads having to tell Eliza.

But Eliza has overheard. She packs what she can and leaves the house, carrying her child and few possessions. She goes first to warn Tom and Chloe, and Chloe urges her husband to run away, too, but Tom refuses, saying Eliza is right to go but he has no choice except to fulfill his master's bargain. Tom looks at his sleeping children and weeps. Eliza asks them to tell her husband what she has done and that she will try to make it to Canada.

The next morning, Eliza is found missing. Haley arrives and the other slaves lose no time in telling him Eliza and the boy are gone; Haley is persuaded, with some difficulty, that Shelby was not an accomplice in their leaving and that he will assist in a search for them. Shelby delegates two slaves, Sam and Andy, to join Haley in searching. Sam, perceiving that Mrs. Shelby is not eager that they find the fugitives, manages to delay the search.

In Chapter 9, Eliza dreads leaving her home but prays for the strength to succeed. She carries the child all night along the main road toward the Ohio River. At daylight she hopes they will be taken for white travelers and will be safe unless someone recognizes them. She buys a meal at a farmhouse, where the white woman is not suspicious. Near sunset Eliza rents a room to wait for a boatman who will take them across the Ohio, for the river is jammed with ice and the ferry will not run.

Meanwhile Chloe and other servants delay Haley's search even longer, and Chloe comments upon the trader's chances for salvation (which she sees as slim). Several children agree, but Tom tells them they ought to pray for the man. Shelby calls for Tom and informs him that he has been sold; Tom reduces his former master to tears with the reminder that they have been together since Shelby was an infant. Mrs. Shelby tries to get Haley to promise that he will resell Tom to her husband in a year.

The search begins, on horseback. Sam maneuvers Haley into taking the wrong road, and they lose several more hours. When they finally reach the village where Eliza is staying, it is almost dusk. Sam spots Eliza at a window and makes a diversion that gives her time to wake Harry and run out the inn door toward the river. Haley sees her and gives chase, but Eliza jumps onto a huge floating chunk of ice. Carrying the boy, she leaps from cake to cake of ice as her pursuers watch in horror and amazement. She reaches the Ohio side and is helped onto shore by a Kentucky farmer who recognizes her but has no desire to return her to Shelby. He directs her to a house where she can get help. Seeing all this, Sam and Andy leave Haley and head for home.

Analysis

Thus Eliza's northward adventures get underway before Tom's journey southward has begun, and the novel's two plot lines separate, a separation that will make for reader interest as we are taken from one setting, group of characters, and often suspenseful action to another, a strategy that must have been especially good for magazine sales when the story first appeared in serial form.

The Eliza plot involves numerous characters, mostly minor, who help Eliza and her family to escape. The first of these are Sam, a wily Shelby farmhand, aided by the servant Andy; Chloe and her helpers in the kitchen; and Mrs. Shelby herself, who sees what these characters are doing and does not openly encourage them but does her best to assist in slowing down the search. Eliza's first helper on the northern side of the Ohio is a sympathetic Kentuckian who admires her courage. We should remember that, although escaped slaves who had crossed into a "free" state could have been captured and returned to the south in previous years, only after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act (which took effect in 1851) were citizens of the free states forbidden by law to help these fugitives, a development that not only led many Northerners to break the law but also forced escapees to travel farther, all the way to Canada, if they wanted to be sure of their freedom.

The portrayal of characters in these chapters bears some examination. Chloe, in her bitter reaction to Eliza's news, demonstrates that her clowning in Chapter 4 was only an act. She is prepared to flatter her owners, to play the game as expected and teach it to her children, but she is not able nor does she try to hide her anger and grief at Tom's sale. Moreover, the exchange between Chloe and Tom in the kitchen, as she prepares to serve lunch, illustrates the specific character of Tom's Christian fortitude. Chloe meets Tom's suggestion (that they ought to pray for the trader rather than curse him) with the retort that praying for Haley does not seem to be in her nature. It is not natural, Tom tells her; but we are required by Christianity to overcome nature, which we can do with Christ's grace. Tom's statement here, one of the first we hear him make, clearly expresses not only his strongest character trait but also one of the book's chief themes.

The Shelbys appear here as flat characters, existing to further the plot, not very interesting except as they contrast with the two other married couples we have met so far. For the sake of plot and theme, we must take at face value Shelby's claim that he really had no choice but to sell Tom and Harry, and although we do not know how much money was involved, we may deduce from sums mentioned later in the book (and Haley's claim, likely understated, that Eliza would bring "over a thousand" on the New Orleans market) that Shelby really has nothing else of so much value that he might have sold instead. Yet the man's apparent regret at this necessity, expressed in snappishness at his wife's shocked reaction, shows up rather badly against Tom's wholehearted grief. For that matter, Mrs. Shelby's embarrassment and even her bold pronouncement on the evils of slavery lose some force when contrasted with Eliza and George's willingness to risk all personal safety and well-being in order to preserve their family. We cannot help but consider other ways in which Mrs. Shelby might have reacted; she might, for example, have assisted Eliza in her escape, or at least told her at once. Instead, she goes to sleep and wakes to wonder why Eliza is not there to help her dress. Stowe's narrator does not underline the point for us (as she does so many others throughout the book), but it would be hard to miss the fact that it is not the slaves who seem to be made callous and unfeeling by the habit of slavery, but rather the owners who are so affected.

Another character deserving of comment is "Black Sam," the farmhand who sabotages Haley's pursuit of Eliza. Sam is a very minor character, but his performance in these chapters is enough to render him memorable. Because Eliza's escape is almost entirely due to Sam, and because it seems to have been successful, the reader is inclined to applaud his methods, underhanded as they are. Yet a modern reader is likely to be incensed or at least made very uncomfortable by what seems to be (and indeed is) the stereotypical sketch of a "comic" black figure, drawn by a white writer for the amusement of a white audience. Sam mugs and grins, uses big words and gets them wrong, screeches in broad dialect, and seems ready at any moment to break into a comic dance. He is quite willing to capture Eliza, if this will help him to step into the position of trust and responsibility formerly held by Tom, for his eye is to the main chance. We can hardly help laughing at Sam's actions (and at his understudy, Andy, who follows him assiduously), but we hate ourselves for doing so.

However, as with her sketch of the scene in Tom and Chloe's cabin, Stowe is playing to a double audience here. Still early in the novel, the apologists for slavery could smile as they recognized their favorite clichés illustrated in the entertaining character of the comic "darkie." They were being set up for the knockdown punch, the sudden irony at the end of the seventh chapter, where Eliza gets away and Sam and his sidekick leave Haley speechless on the shore of the Ohio. Moreover, a closer reading of the chapters reveals that Sam has turned all the laughter toward Haley, who is made a fool of and who knows he is made a fool of, but can do nothing about it. Far from being slow-witted, Sam picks up instantly on Mrs. Shelby's lack of enthusiasm about the search for Eliza, and he is all too happy to oblige her. Without batting an eye, he assesses the temper of Haley's horse and takes appropriate action immediately, as he does later with the man himself. Unlike Tom, who is bound by moral principle and spiritual commitment to love his enemies and do good to those who persecute him, Sam sees no reason to help those whom Andy calls "the soul-drivers." All of Sam's shuffling and grinning are cover for what he does best, which is to size up the situation and take advantage of it. The last laugh is on those readers who see Sam first and last as an amusing type. And it is very nearly the last laugh that they or we will have in this book, which begins now to darken.

Glossary

St. James palace in Westminster, London: the royal residence from 1697 to 1837.

Coeur de Lion Richard I (1157–99), king of England (1189–99), called "Richard Coeur de Lion," or Richard the Lion-Hearted.

palm-leaf a hat woven of palm-leaves or similar material.

"Pray for them that 'spitefully use you" Matthew V, 44: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Christ's words, from the Sermon on the Mount).

"far dogs" Sam's dialectal version of "fair" dogs, meaning not great dogs, but pretty good ones. Stowe's rendering of various dialects has been praised but is sometimes difficult to interpret.

pike a highway or main road.

"constitutional relations" that is, obligations to the law.

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