Uncle Tom's Cabin | Study Guide

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin | Chapters 14–16 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 14

Chapter 14 opens with the author's sentimental musings about the mighty Mississippi River and the shameful freight of enslaved persons it carries along with the fruits of their harsh labor—cotton. Among the bales on the top deck of one of the ships on the busy river, Uncle Tom is tucked with his Bible, heading "down river" to New Orleans to be sold.

Also aboard are the handsome, wealthy young man Augustine St. Clare, his angelic young daughter, Evangeline—for whom the chapter is named—and a woman somehow related to them. Uncle Tom quietly observes the beautiful Evangeline as she explores every inch of the boat. She seems to him "almost divine ... one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament." When he finally speaks to her, a fine friendship is begun almost immediately but is cemented just minutes later when Eva falls off the ship and Tom plunges in to rescue her. The next day as the ship pulls into New Orleans, Eva's father and Haley make a deal. When Tom leaves the ship, he is in the company of his new master, Augustine St. Clare, and little Eva, who insisted her father buy Uncle Tom because "I want to make him happy."

Chapter 15

A short biography of Augustine St. Clare opens Chapter 15. The son of a wealthy Louisiana planter, Augustine has never much enjoyed the "real" side of life. A true romantic and sensitive by nature, he seeks pleasure and drinks to forget the one true love of his life while remaining married to his unaffectionate, spoiled, selfish wife.

Augustine was on the ship in the last chapter because he, Eva, and his cousin Ophelia were returning to New Orleans from Vermont. Ophelia is moving from her native New England home to help run the St. Clare household. Her services are required because Marie St. Clare, the mistress of the home, is a hypochondriac whose total immersion in her own self-interests prevents her from attending adequately to either her daughter or the typical duties of a wealthy Southern landowner's wife.

Some background information is also provided about Miss Ophelia. A 45-year-old spinster still living at home, she comes from a very respectable family and is "a living impersonation of order, method, and exactness" with "a clear, strong, active mind." In short she would seem to be the opposite of the carefree Augustine, yet she has always loved her cousin and is happy to be of help to him in order to "keep everything from going to wreck and ruin."

As the travelers arrive at the mansion they call home, newcomers Miss Ophelia and Uncle Tom are suitably impressed, although Ophelia calls it "rather old and heathenish." Augustine's main servant, Adolph, is there to greet them with his usual air of pomposity. Eva rushes to greet her mother, who hardly bothers to rouse herself from a reclining position, and introductions are made as little Eva runs around greeting all the servants. She is especially joyful to see her beloved Mammy, whom she kisses over and over. Ophelia winces to see her do so, and Augustine is quick to show her distaste for having physical contact with African Americans.

Augustine introduces Tom to Marie as their new coachman. Marie listlessly says he will probably get drunk like all of the others. Then she makes sure her husband realizes she feels ill and is unhappy about his prolonged absence. She is even rude about the gift he has brought her. Augustine's response is to have Mammy dispatch her to bed to be made comfortable.

Chapter 16

Set a few mornings after the homecoming, the chapter opens with a breakfast conversation that reveals Marie St. Clare's incredible self-absorption. She complains about the burden of owning slaves, about how slowly Mammy wakes up when Marie needs her at night, about Mammy sulking after being forced to leave her family behind. In a striking example of verbal irony, in which what is said is contrary to what is expected, Marie then says, "I never complain myself—nobody knows what I endure. I feel it a duty to bear it quietly, and I do." Miss Ophelia is amazed by such a pronouncement, and Augustine cannot help but laugh aloud.

After Augustine and Eva depart Miss Ophelia is left to hear Marie's opinions and instructions on running the household. Marie complains about Augustine and Eva being kind to the slaves and then goes on to suggest that Augustine's lack of appreciation for her and all she brought to the marriage is at the root of her ill health. She declares his wild ideas about how to treat slaves with kindness is in direct opposition to her belief that "[t]hey are a degraded race" and should regularly be punished with severe floggings. Miss Ophelia finds Marie's comments nearly unbearable and must knit furiously to avoid saying or doing something indicating her consternation.

Augustine returns and hears some of what Marie is saying. He responds in a typically sardonic way, and finally Miss Ophelia speaks up to say slaveholders such as they "ought to educate [their] slaves, and treat them like reasonable creatures." The different points of view continue to be expressed for several minutes, to no one's satisfaction.

The next scene in the chapter is Sunday morning, with all the females dressed and ready to go to church. Augustine St. Clare does not attend. When they all sit down to dinner after church, Marie reviews the message of the sermon, which seems to justify slavery in God's eyes. This causes Augustine to launch into a diatribe against organized religion. Only angelic Eva seems to hold religion in its proper sphere, as a guide to living a loving, forgiving life—the way Uncle Tom does.

Analysis

The complexities of the St. Clare household and the obviously different opinions about the issue of slavery and how enslaved people should be treated by their masters provide a perfect venue for Stowe to present the contrasting viewpoints while staying within the story line. Marie St. Clare's ideas come from her upbringing. Wealthy Southern families could only justify their abuse of enslaved people by viewing them as something less than human. When Marie hears another opinion, whether expressed by her husband or daughter or Miss Ophelia, she simply cannot listen because it is so alien to anything in her experience. She avows, "I'm thankful I'm born where slavery exits; and I believe it's right." Because readers probably already feel quite a bit of distaste for Marie, thanks to Stowe's clear depiction of her character this distaste will naturally extend to any of her statements on slavery.

Augustine clearly will not justify slavery, not with religion and not with anything except the plain truth of why it exists. He declares, "If I was to say anything on this slavery matter, I would say out, fair and square, 'We're in for it; we've got 'em, and mean to keep 'em,—it's for our convenience and our interest;' for that's the long and short of it." Again, because readers have gotten to know Augustine—and probably enjoy his sarcastic, humorous approach to life—they are likely to have a more accepting, positive response to his ideas and to see the realism he brings to the issue.

Finally Eva's belief that it's good to have slaves in a household because it's "more round you to love, you know" mirrors her sweet, Christian nature. Unlike the religious views expressed in her mother's church, which seem to validate "that the Bible was on our side, and supported all our institutions so convincingly," Eva is learning from Uncle Tom what the scriptures say is to live a truly humble, loving Christian life.

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