Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Stowe
Uncle Tom: An old slave and the protagonist of the novel, Tom's two most prevalent qualities are his inherent goodness and piety. He is a passive Christ-figure who consistently forgives the wrongs committed against him and turns to God in times of crisis. From learing to read the Bible and write letters to his kin, Tom is consistently trying to improve himself despite the limits placed upon him by slavery. Tom also serves as a Christian leader for the other slaves in the novel.
Arthur Shelby: Tom's master in Kentucky. Shelby is characterized as a "kind" slaveowner; he is the stereotypical Southern gentleman. When Shelby experiences a financial crisis because of gambling debts, he sells Tom and the little boy Harry to save his plantation.
Emily Shelby: Mr. Shelby's wife is a deeply devote woman who strives to be a kind and moral influence upon her slaves. She is appalled when her husband negotiates to sell his slaves with a slave trader, and realizes that slavery is wrong and very unchristian.
George Shelby: The master and mistress' son. At the beginning of the novel he is thriteen years old and teaches Tom to read. He vows to find Tom when he is sold. This he does, but not until many years later when Tom is near death. Inspired by his beloved Tom, young Shelby frees the slaves on his deceased father's plantation.
Mr. Haley: the coarse slave trader who buys Tom and Harry from Mr. Shelby. Ironically, he considers himself a humane man although he is pursues Eliza and her son with dogs across the frozen Ohio River.
Eliza: Mrs. Shelby's personal maid, the wife of George and the mother of little Harry. Eliza is a beautiful quadroon, meaning she is three-quarters white, and has a very spiritual and docile nature. She risks everything however, when she discovers that her son has been sold. She runs north and crosses the dangerous Ohio River. Once she reaches Ohio, she is helped by kindly Quakers and eventually reunited with her husband.
George Harris: Eliza's husband who lives on a neighboring plantation. Desperate for his freedom, George escapes disguised as a Spaniard and finds his family in Ohio. He then takes them to Canada, and eventually to France and Liberia.
Harry: George and Eliza's five-year-old son. He is both beautiful and talented, as he sings and dances for the master's pleasure. When he is sold to Mr. Haley, his mother escapes with him to the North.
Aunt Chloe: Uncle Tom's wife is a renowned cook. This plump and cheery woman takes initiative when her husband is sold, and sells her pastries to raise money to buy him back.
Tom Loker and Marks: the slave hunters Mr. Haley hires to track down Eliza.
Sam and Andy: Slaves on the Shelby plantation who are ordered to help Haley look for Eliza. Because of their elaborate schemes to stall the slave trader, Eliza has time to escape.
Augustine St. Clare: Tom's master in New Orleans. He is is a very rich, romantic man who becomes very fond of Tom when he saves his daughter from drowning. St. Clare is an unstable man looking for faith, and Tom tries to aid him. He promises Tom his freedom, but unfortunately is killed in a bar before he can sign the papers.
Marie St. Clare: Augustine's wife, who was once a popular Southern belle. Now, she is a hypochondiac who cares about no one but herself. She disapproves of her husband and daughter's close relations with the slaves and sells Tom and eleven others when her husband dies.
Eva St. Clare: The five-year old "Little Eva" is characterized as a beautiful, angelic child. She and Tom become best friends, and they are bonded by the common love they have for those around them. Eva dies young, and upon her death she both asks the slaves to be good Christians, and has her father promise that he will free them.
Miss Ophelia: St. Clare's northern cousin who comes to help him run the plantation affairs. St. Clare buys Ophelia a slave so she can have a "missionary project" of her own. At first Ophelia dislikes Topsy, but her feelings of racial superiority are eventually broken by the friendship she forms with the needy little girl.
Topsy: the slave girl whom St. Clare bought for Miss Ophelia to reform. Mistreated all her life, Topsy acts like the jovial, mischievious sprite she is and does not care what white people or slaves think of her. Topsy finally learns about love from Little Eva and moves to the North with Miss Ophelia at the end of the novel.
Simon Legree: Tom's evil and tyrranical final master. Legree is a Yankee who has moved to the South to make his money in the plantation business. An alcoholic, he brutalizes his slaves and forces them to live in sqaulid conditions. Because he does not have the respect of other slave-owners, Legree wants his slaves to grovel before him. The fact that Tom finds comfort in the Lord and will patiently bear any load is discomforting to Legree, who begins to hate him viciously.
Cassy: Legree's mistress and Eliza's mother. She is the only person on the plantation who can stand up to Legree, and she tries to protect Tom from his wrath. Cassy escapes the plantation by her shrewd wits, and later is reunited with her daughter.
Sambo and Quimbo: Legree's oversears, who have been trained to brutalize their fellow slaves. When they beat Tom and he forgives them, they are converted to Christianity.
Uncle Tom's Cabin, described by Stowe herself as a "series of sketches" depicting the human cruelty of slavery, opens with a description of Arthur Shelby's Kentucky plantation during the antebellum period. Although Shelby is not characterized as a cruel master, he has nevertheless incurred serious debts- prompting him sell some slaves to avoid financial ruin. Mr. Haley, the slave trader, purchases Uncle Tom, Shelby's loyal servant since childhood, and five-year-old Harry, a beautiful and talented child who sings, dances and mimes. Shelby regrets taking the child away from his mother, Eliza, as much as he regrets betraying Uncle Tom's faithfulness. Eliza overhears Mrs. Shelby, a very religious woman, protesting her husband's decision, and decides to flee the plantation with her son. George, her husband from a neighboring plantation, has already left for Canada via the "underground railroad," a secret network of people who usher runaway slaves to freedom in the North. Eliza plans to do the same, and tries to convince Uncle Tom to save himself and come with her. Uncle Tom, however, must remain loyal to his master, despite his betrayal and the risk of death at the cruel hands of a new master, and does not accompany Eliza on her journey to the Ohio River.
Haley searches for Eliza in vain, for she is spurred on by fear of losing her child and reaches the river quickly. Amazingly, Eliza crosses the river by jumping from one ice flow to the next. Upon reaching the shore in Ohio, Mr. Symmes, a man who has observed her brave feat, listens to her story. Fortunately, Symmes hates slave traders and thus takes Eliza and Harry to the house of Senator Bird, where they receive food and lodging. Ironically, Bird has just voted for a bill prohibiting aid to fugitive slaves, but the Senator is very moved by Eliza's story. He thus changes his convictions and takes the runaways to a Quaker settlement, where they stay with the Halliday family. Coincidentally, Eliza's husband George has sought refuge in this very community, and the young family is reunited. The Quakers help the family board a ship for Canada before Haley's hired slave hunters, Loker and Marks, can capture them.
After the hunt for Eliza and Harry fails, Haley returns to Shelby's to collect the other half of his purchase, Uncle Tom. The slaves at the plantation are very mournful, but Tom remains placid and tries to read his Bible for comfort. On the steamboat to New Orleans, where Tom is to be sold, Tom befriends an angelic little girl, "Little Eva" St. Clare. Uncle Tom saves the five-year-old beauty from drowning, and she convinces her father to buy Tom for her own family. Tom finds life on the St. Clare plantation agreeable, for although he is head coachman he spends most of his time with Little Eva. The love and goodness of which she constantly speaks influences those around her, convincing people of their inner value and that of the people around them. Eva even manages to convince the impish slave girl Topsy that she deserves to be loved, and touches the heart of her stern aunt, Miss Ophelia, who has traveled from Vermont to manage the plantation because Mrs. St. Clare is a hypochondriac.
Tom's contentment does not last, however, because Eva soon falls ill. Dying, she asks that all the slaves surround her bedside, where she gives each of them a golden lock of hair and tells them they must Christian so that they can see each other in heaven. Eva implores Mr. St. Clare to free Tom after her death. Mr. St. Clare is so distraught by her death, however, that he never legally frees Tom before he himself is killed trying to mediate a barroom scuffle. Mrs. St. Clare sells the slaves to settle her husband's debts, and the deplorable Simon Legree purchases Tom. Legree is a drunkard who beats his slaves brutally. Only one of his slaves, Cassy, defies her master by threatening to do voodoo on him. Cassy tries to help Uncle Tom, but he is a pacifist and will not resist the terrible beatings Legree inflicts upon him.
Mr. Shelby, in the meantime, has been tracking Tom down, and arrives at the Legree plantation one day. By this time, however, Tom is very near death. Once Tom is dead and buried, Shelby takes a steamboat to Kentucky, where he meets Cassy and another slave from Legree's, Emmeline, who are fleeing the plantation. The three then meet Emily de Thoux, who is George Harris's sister, and discover that Cassy is the mother of Eliza. Once in Kentucky, Shelby frees his slaves. Cassy, Emmeline, and Emily travel to Canada where they are reunited with Eliza and George. The Harris family and Cassy eventually travel to Liberia to found a freedom colony for ex-slaves. The novel ends with a chapter summarizing the lesson learned from these "sketches" of experiences with slavery: that slavery is indeed a very cruel and evil institution that should be abolished.
Biography of Harriet Stowe (1811-1896)
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher was the seventh of Lyman and Roxana Foote Beecher's nine children, born on June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. Harriet's mother died when she was five years old, and Lyman, a minister, remarried the following year, in 1817. At the age of twelve, Harriet began to attend the Hartford Female Seminary, an academy founded and run by her older sister Catherine. In 1832, the Beecher family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, when Lyman became president of the Lane Theological Seminary.
In 1834, at the age of 23, Harriet's first story was published in Western Monthly Magazine. In 1836 she married academic Calvin Stowe. Harriet was destined to live a life of prolific childbearing, as well as writing. Their twin daughters, Eliza and Harriet, were born the same year. A son, Henry, was born in 1838, and Frederick followed in 1840. In 1843, Harriet published The Mayflower, which was a collection of stories about the descendants of the Puritans. Her daughter, Georgiana, was also born this year.
In 1846, Harriet was diagnosed with exhaustion from pregnancy and childbearing. She spent fifteen months at a water cure in Vermont to recover her physical and mental strength. Her son Samuel was born in 1848, but died the following year in a cholera epidemic. In 1850, the Stowe family moved to Brunswick, Maine, when Calvin became a member of the Bowdoin College faculty. Their son Charles was also born that year.
1850 was also an important year for Stowe because the Fugitive Slave Law, requiring Northerners and Southerners alike to turn in runaway slaves, was passes. This law was a major catalyst in Stowe's antislavery writing. In 1851 Uncle Tom's Cabin first appeared as a serial in an antislavery paper, The National Era. Due to its popularity, it was published the next year as a two-volume book. In 1853, A Key to "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published to corroborate the novel's facts. Harriet took a triumphant tour of Europe as a now famous anti-slavery author. Although she was a prolific author, none of her successive works could match the popularity or importance of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which became a powerful tool of the abolition movement.
In 1856 Stowe published her second anti-slavery novel, Dred, A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, and again traveled to Europe to promote the book. In 1859 Stowe took her third successful European tour, and published a novel, The Minister's Wooing. In 1862, The Pearl of Orr's Island was published and the following year the Stowe family moved to Hartford, Connecticut.
In 1869, the novel Oldtown Folks was published. Harriet also published a book with her sister Catherine, The American Woman's Home, the same year. In 1872, Oldtown Fireside Stories was published, followed by her last novel in 1878, Poganuc People. In 1886, Calvin Stowe died. Harriet outlived her husband by ten years, dying in 1896 at her home in Hartford at the age of eighty-five.