Uncle Tom's Cabin | Study Guide

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin | Chapters 28–29 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 28

In the weeks following Eva's death Augustine understands how central his daughter was to his life. He begins regularly reading her Bible and starts the process to set Uncle Tom free. When he tells Tom the news Tom rejoices but indicates he cannot leave Augustine's service until Augustine becomes a Christian.

The entire household mourns Eva's loss. One day Augustine comes upon Ophelia examining a parcel Topsy has made of things Eva gave her. Touched by Topsy's absolute sorrow over losing her friend, Augustine suggests Ophelia should educate her. Ophelia asks Augustine to make her Topsy's legal owner so that she can take her to the North and free her. Augustine says he will, and at her insistence immediately makes out a deed of gift. Ophelia further pressures him to make provisions for all of his servants, "in case of your death."

This serious discussion, combined with some Bible verses Augustine reads aloud to Uncle Tom, puts Augustine in a very reflective frame of mind. He moodily plays the piano, singing in Latin, as he remembers his beloved mother, and he then talks to Ophelia about realizing he must act against slavery, beginning with emancipating his own slaves. The cousins engage in what is by now a familiar discussion about the need to educate African Americans and the idea that people from the North must be brought into the world of slavery and taught what they can do to help turn things around.

Augustine then leaves to go into town and "hear the news." Tom falls asleep on the verandah, dreaming of his freedom, but is awakened by an emergency. Several men are bearing Augustine's body. He has been fatally stabbed while trying to break up a fight in a café. A doctor is quickly summoned, but he can tell Augustine will not live. Before he dies Augustine asks Uncle Tom to pray with him. As he takes his final breath he calls out "Mother!" and passes peacefully.

Chapter 29

In shock at Augustine's sudden death, the St. Clare household is filled with despair; only Uncle Tom feels a sense of peace. Marie and Miss Ophelia soon have a major disagreement about managing the slaves, who are afraid of how they will be treated with Marie in charge. However, Ophelia cannot change Marie's mind.

Soon Marie determines she will sell all the property, including the slaves except those who serve her personally, and return to her father's plantation. Tom asks Miss Ophelia to speak on his behalf to Marie regarding Augustine's wish to free him. Not surprisingly Marie will not even consider this as an option. So Ophelia dispatches a letter to Mrs. Shelby urging her to act immediately to help. However, the very next day Tom is marched away with the rest of the St. Clare slaves to a slave warehouse where they will await the next auction.

Analysis

Situational irony abounds in these two chapters, as the very night Augustine becomes reflective and determined to free his slaves is the night he dies. Ophelia's question "What if you should die first?" becomes practically prophetic.

Readers must note that reading Bible verses and remembering his mother's own religious leanings are what spur Augustine's change of heart. This link between religion and antislavery feelings is a message that Stowe will surely keep reiterating.

Another moral principle that Stowe emphasizes here is the need for Northerners to take up the antislavery cause in a much more active way. As Augustine says to Ophelia, using you to indicate her fellow Northerners: "[I]f we should begin to emancipate to any extent, we should soon hear from you."

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