Uncle Tom's Cabin | Study Guide

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin | Chapter 17 | Summary



Chapter 17 returns readers to the story of Eliza, George, and Harry, to the Halliday house where final preparations are underway for the next stage of their flight to freedom. This last push will bring them into Canada. George and Eliza are having a serious conversation in which George pledges to finally give himself over to the level of Christianity with which Eliza approaches life. Sensing the freedom within his reach, he finally believes he can live as a good man.

When Phineas Fletcher arrives, he says trackers will follow Eliza, George, and Harry, who must be prepared to face them. With cold resolve George announces he will shoot their pursuers if he must, and although Quakers cannot act with violence or use weapons, Fletcher will stand by him and has already thought up a plan with a high likelihood of success. Another Quaker, Michael Cross, will follow them on a fast horse so he can gallop ahead to warn them their pursuers are closing in, and Fletcher knows a place that will provide natural barriers to allow those fleeing to make a stand if needed and stay safe.

As Eliza and George continue their serious talk, Simeon Halliday offers some counseling based on biblical passages, and then everyone sits down to a last meal together. Ruth Stedman arrives with warm socks and treats she has made for Harry. Then the wagon they will travel in arrives. George's traveling companion Jim and his elderly mother are loaded in along with George's family, and then with Phineas at the reins they are off.

Many hours later Michael Cross arrives to warn them a crowd of men are giving chase on horseback. The wagon races to the sheltered spot Phineas had in mind, and everyone leaps out to climb the rocks to safety just as the pursuers arrive on the scene, with Tom Loker at the head. He and a constable who has joined the party demand they give up, but George warns them he is armed and will fight for liberty. Marks fires at him, and George's commitment to fight becomes fact. As Tom Loker climbs up to reach his prey, George shoots him, but he fights on, wounded. So Phineas pushes him into a chasm. Marks makes a hasty retreat, and the other men are left to try to rescue Tom. They manage to get him to their horses, but when he passes out they leave him.

The escapees then leave their hiding place and begin walking down the road toward the wagon, expecting Michael Cross and others to soon be along to help them. Before long their wagon does appear with several men on horseback with it, and they all determine to load Tom Loker in the back as well. They plan to take him to a healing woman, Dorcas, who lives with one of the men in the party. Within an hour the whole group arrives at the farmhouse, safe and sound.


The emphasis on religion and trusting God is particularly strong in this chapter. From the Quaker objection to violence to the quoting of Psalms, Stowe makes it clear religious beliefs are an important part of a good life.

Love is also an important theme in this chapter. George fervently declares his love for Eliza. The Quakers act out of love for their new friends. With love comes respect, another important point Stowe wants readers to see. If people love one another they respect each other and treat all as valuable humans.

As the fugitives run for their lives to the safety of the outcropping, Phineas leads the way. He leaps over a chasm and then urges them to "spring, now, once, for your lives!" The similarity to Eliza's great leap across the icy Ohio River with Harry in her arms cannot be missed. It too symbolizes a leap of faith. As George calls out to his pursuers, warning them of his intention to fight, he seems to have finally accepted his faith: "by the great God that made us, we'll fight for our liberty till we die."

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