Uncle Tom's Cabin | Study Guide

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin | Chapters 10–13 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 10

The sad day has arrived when Uncle Tom will be carted off for sale. Tom comforts Chloe the best he can as she lovingly prepares his "farewell feast" and packs his clothes. The children are sad and confused, especially when Mrs. Shelby comes to the cabin and begins sobbing. Soon everyone is crying as she promises she will keep track of Tom and one day buy him back.

Haley arrives in a foul mood to claim his property. All of the enslaved people on the farm gather to bid farewell to Uncle Tom as Haley shackles his legs and drives away. Mr. Shelby is not present, unable to witness the result of his actions, and young George Shelby is also away.

Haley stops at a blacksmith to enlarge handcuffs to add to the shackling and, like those on the Shelby farm, the blacksmith is indignant to see Uncle Tom treated this way. Suddenly young George gallops up on a horse, unleashing his grief as he sobs in Tom's arms about the unfairness of what has happened and ties his own dollar around Tom's neck. Uncle Tom calms him and offers some important advice about remaining Christian, speaking respectfully to and about all people, and taking care of his mother.

George's temper is roused when Haley emerges with the handcuffs, but Tom again calms him. As he and Haley depart the smug and self-serving slave trader presents the rules of his ownership to an ever-obedient Tom.

Chapter 11

Set in a small country hotel in Kentucky, the chapter opens with detailed descriptions of the property, its clientele, and a man who is just arriving for the evening. Readers soon learn this traveler is Mr. Wilson, the owner of the factory who had given George such a good employment opportunity. A poster has been printed seeking George's arrest, and talk among the patrons reveals split attitudes about the institution of slavery, with Mr. Wilson vouching for George as "an ingenious fellow."

Just then George, who is passing himself off as a white businessman named Henry Butler, enters the inn. He is accompanied by another runaway, Jim, who is posing as his servant. George immediately recognizes Mr. Wilson and asks to meet with him in his rooms. There he reveals his identity to his shocked and worried former employer. At first Mr. Wilson tries to convince George what he is doing is wrong, but after hearing the details of his life leading up to his decision, he relents. Mr. Wilson gives George money, agrees to try to find Eliza and deliver a small pin to her along with the news he has of George, and vows God will help George reach safety if George will just have trust in Him.

Chapter 12

This chapter returns to the journey of Haley and Uncle Tom. The two men converse as they travel along in the wagon. Haley tells Tom he is going to a slave sale in Washington, Kentucky, to buy more slaves to take to auction. They arrive there, and much to his dismay Tom spends the night in a jail. The details of the sale the next morning are emotionally wrenching, as families are torn apart and the buyers treat people as nothing more than property. Haley exemplifies both horrors, buying the young man Albert but coldly leaving behind his aged, heartbroken mother, Hagar.

The journey continues by boat down the Ohio River. Haley has also acquired a man named John, who has been sold without his wife knowing it. The sad cargo of slaves share their stories of loss, and discussion among white passengers again plays up the divisiveness of slavery. In a rare moment of reflection Haley thinks about getting out of the slave trade, but then he stops at a river town and buys two more slaves—Lucy and her baby son. In one of the most inhumane actions yet, Haley then sells the baby and has the new owner steal away with the child. The heartbroken Lucy cannot deal with the grief and jumps off the boat that night, killing herself. A quiet, suffering Tom watches the whole miserable story unfold. The chapter concludes with Stowe's ruminations on who is truly to blame for the terrible institution of slavery.

Chapter 13

Readers are now introduced to the Quaker settlement where Eliza and Harry have received safe shelter at the Halliday home. The home environment seems ideal, with all who live and visit the home reflecting a healthy, happy life. Stowe lifts Rachel Halliday up as a particularly fine example of Christian motherhood. As Ruth Stedman visits with her baby and Simeon Halliday returns home, readers learn George Harris has reached the settlement as well, and the Quakers have arranged to bring him to Eliza and Harry for a visit that very evening.

When Rachel shares the wonderful news with Eliza, Eliza faints. She sleeps deeply for the first time since fleeing from the Shelbys and awakens to find her beloved George by her side. The next morning the Halliday home is again portrayed as ideal, and Quaker beliefs are explained as Simeon assures George they are happy to help however they can. He tells George another Quaker man, Phineas Fletcher, will carry the family to the next safe harbor that night.

Analysis

Stowe represented Uncle Tom as faithful, calm, and obedient in the face of his masters' actions to show he was a deeply moral man; however, through the years readers have come to see his portrayal as terrible stereotyping. Today the dictionary definition of "Uncle Tom" is a black man who is overeager to win the approval of whites, even to the detriment of other blacks. Perhaps nowhere in the novel is the origin of this definition clearer than in the chapters showing a docile Tom accepting his fate and urging others to humbly do the same; for example, as he warns Aunt Chloe and young George not to speak negative words about Mr. Shelby.

A striking comparison can be made between this approach and the Quakerism Stowe presents in these chapters. As Simeon Halliday explains to his young namesake: "Thee mustn't speak evil of thy rulers, Simeon ... The Lord only gives us our worldly goods that we may do justice and mercy; if our rulers require a price of us for it, we must deliver it up." Since Stowe has deep respect for the Quaker tradition, this juxtaposition of Tom's philosophy with it points to the fact that she thinks of Uncle Tom as a principled man, not someone trying to win the good graces of his master.

The painful stories Stowe includes about the separation of slave families are intended to arouse the readers' emotions against slavery. She makes it doubly clear by including several lectures on the evils of such ways and portraying those speaking out in favor of slavery or profiting from it as crude and ignorant. However, the stories are much more compelling in convincing readers than any of the lectures. The emotionalism of the novel, the attachment people feel to the characters, is truly effective as an abolitionist tool.

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