Uncle Tom's Cabin By Harriet Beecher Stowe Summary and Analysis Chapters 8-9

Summary

Haley, frustrated by Eliza's escape, goes back to the inn, where he chances to meet his old partner, Tom Loker, accompanied by a man named Marks. Over drinks, Loker and Marks commiserate with Haley and agree that slave women's attachment to their children can be inconvenient. Haley and Loker, getting drunk, begin to argue, and Marks urges them to get back to business. He and Loker are slave-catchers; they propose to catch Eliza and Harry, give the boy to Haley, and take Eliza to New Orleans to sell (they can bribe an official to certify that Marks is her legal owner). Haley gives them $50, to be repaid if they profit as they hope from Eliza.

Meanwhile, Sam and Andy return to the Shelbys and report Eliza's escape, at which both Mr. and Mrs. Shelby are gratified. Sam and Andy then go to the kitchen, where Chloe feeds them and Sam retells the story.

In Chapter 9, the scene is the Ohio home of a state senator, Bird, and his family. The senator has come home from Columbus for a night, and his wife asks him about a law making it illegal to shelter or help a runaway slave. He admits that he voted for the law, but she tells him she will break it at her first opportunity. Their servant calls Mrs. Bird into the kitchen where he and his wife are tending to Eliza and little Harry. The senator watches while his wife and the servants make the fugitives comfortable; he then suggests some articles of clothing that they might give to Eliza. Eliza tells her story, which reduces everyone present to tears. In private, the senator tells his wife that he must take Eliza and the child to the house of a man named John Van Trompe, in a secluded woods some miles from town, where she will be safe from the searchers who are sure to come after her. They start at midnight and arrive at Van Trompe's house after a rough, muddy drive. The man says he can handle Eliza's pursuers if they appear. Senator Bird leaves to catch the stage for Columbus.

Analysis

The pair of slave-catchers, Loker and Marks, together with Haley, form the basis of one of Stowe's interesting sketches, this one not so much humorous as colorful, showing three more or less low-life characters in action around a punchbowl. This scene was quite a challenge to a lady writer in the Victorian 1850s, and yet the sketch holds up well. Loker is the ex-partner whom Haley has mentioned to Shelby as a "good-hearted fellow"; here he is described as a typical "western" character: crude, brutal, blustering, and not very bright. His new partner, Marks, is feline and rather dainty, and the trio is completed by Haley, who is generally good-natured, slick, acquisitive, and who here reveals a tendency to worry while in his cups about his chances of salvation.

Their conversation is ironic: They are shaking their heads sadly, unable to comprehend why "gals" get so all-fired attached to their young ones; it must be a female thing. Yet we recall Haley assuring Shelby that Eliza, like others of her race and sex, will soon get over the loss of little Harry if she is given a new dress or something else to distract her. The effect of the scene is amusing, but chilling when it ends with the exchange of Eliza's shawl and we realize that these three terrible rascals may soon have her in their clutches. Stowe's first readers, many of whom might never have set foot in the barroom of a New England tavern, let alone a Kentucky one, must have been somewhat shocked and faintly titillated; the narrator apologizes, with some more of her deadpan sarcasm: Her readers had better get used to such company, she says, for these are men whose profession is becoming respected.

The irony continues in the next chapter, with Senator Bird proving himself a man of humanity despite his calling as a politician. The conversation between the senator and his wife, just before Eliza's appearance in their kitchen, is the first of several that will be reported, between various characters in the book, upon the subject of slavery. Senator Bird has voted for a fugitive slave law, and he argues that private feelings are all very well but that there are greater interests involved: specifically, in this instance, the interests of the state of Kentucky, which has apparently exercised political pressure upon its neighbor state because of the activity of antislavery proponents in Ohio. Mrs. Bird argues that she doesn't understand politics, but that her Bible tells her to do what she can for those in need, and she intends to do just that, law or no law. The senator hems and haws, but what he has helped to legislate in theory turns out to be something he cannot carry out in practice, and he immediately and without question breaks the law he has just helped to enact.

The Birds are flattish characters, as befits their very brief appearance in the novel, and yet one feels Stowe's affection for them as one feels her faint dislike of the Shelbys. Their home and the surrounding country must have been a pleasure for Stowe to describe, especially the "corduroy road" over which Cudjoe and the senator drive with Eliza and Harry, as she had recently left southern Ohio at the time of this writing and could draw the detailed description from memory. The fictional incident itself was taken from a real one, in which Stowe's husband and brother supposedly took a young woman to a stop on the "underground railroad" late one night, fording a swollen creek. This detail Stowe left out of Chapter 9, perhaps thinking that such another harrowing adventure, so soon after Eliza's crossing of the icy river, would be too much to be believed.

Glossary

olla podrida (Spanish) a stew; or, by extension, any assortment or medley.

peach-blow peach blossom.

bombazin bombazine; a heavy, twilled silk cloth, often dyed black.

railroad a road made from rails; here, a "corduroy" road, a road made of logs laid crosswise.

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