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Uncle Tom's Cabin | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


For what purpose does Stowe choose a quotation by John Quincy Adams as the title for Chapter 27 of Uncle Tom's Cabin?

Chapter 27's title, "This Is the Last of Earth," is also the final phrase President John Quincy Adams uttered before he died. Adams was the sixth president of the United States and the only one elected to the House of Representatives after his presidency. In 1848 he suffered a stroke and collapsed on the Senate floor; he died two days later. In Congress Adams was known for his passionate moral stance against slavery and calls for universal freedom. One famous quote attributed to him indicates his religious faith: "[I must] bring about a day prophesized when slavery and war shall be banished from the face of the earth." Chapter 27 follows the chapter detailing Eva's death; since Eva shared Adams's passion for eradicating slavery, the quote is an appropriate choice.

What visions do dying people see in Uncle Tom's Cabin, and what does each vision say about the person's character?

Several major characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin see visions as they die: As Eva dies she has an expression of "triumphant brightness" on her face that leads those near her to ask what she sees. Her response is "O! love,—joy, —peace!" Her experience proves her lack of fear in dying and going to heaven, showing once again her deep commitment to Christianity. When Augustine St. Clare dies, his face also shows joy, and he says that his mind "is coming HOME, at last!" As he takes his last breath his expression changes to recognition as he calls "Mother!" Augustine never gets over the loss of his mother, and he longs throughout his life to be able to be as good as she was. That he sees her indicates he will be reunited with her in heaven. Despite being literally beaten to death, Uncle Tom has strength until the end, and he continues to preach his Christian beliefs of love and forgiveness. As he is about to die his face takes on the expression of "a conqueror." He is finally leaving the brutal world behind to be joined to his God, where there is only love and peace.

How does the Middle Passage described in Chapter 31 of Uncle Tom's Cabin compare and contrast to the Middle Passage that brought African slaves to America?

The horrors of the Middle Passage, the trip by sea bringing Africans to America, are well documented. The Africans to be sold as slaves were already weakened from long marches to the coast of Africa, underfed and abused by their captors. They were then shackled together on the boat of a ship, packed into the space as tightly as possible, and were barely able to move for the two-to-four-month duration of the trip. Those who survived the journey described the horrible smells and the sickness and death all around. The Middle Passage described in Chapter 31 of Uncle Tom's Cabin, although not nearly as horrifying as that described above, still exemplifies the inhumane treatment of enslaved people. Tom and the other slaves bought by Simon Legree are stripped of their belongings and shackled together on a boat taking them to a port town near Legree's plantation. Legree threatens them with violence, and readers learn of the sorrowful stories of the slaves being ripped away from their families.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin in what ways do Cassy's actions prove or disprove her repeated claim that there is evil in her?

As Harriet Beecher Stowe makes clear by her description of Cassy in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Cassy has become unbalanced as a result of the many tragedies in her life. She has a dark side that Stowe hints is bordering on insanity. Murder is certainly an evil act, and when Cassy asks Uncle Tom to kill Simon Legree, she does have evil intentions. However, Tom stops her from acting on them. Readers might see Cassy's killing of her infant son as an evil deed as well. Stowe certainly doesn't condone the act, but she does hope readers will have empathy for Cassy, who did it out of love and a desire to protect her child from the abuse she has suffered.

Which enslaved person in Uncle Tom's Cabin seems to best understand the power of money, and why?

Of all the enslaved people in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Cassy seems to best understand the power of money. Her shrewdness on this topic leads her to suggest to Simon Legree that his violent treatment of slaves, causing them injury, costs him money because they are unable to work. She makes this point in trying to rescue Uncle Tom from further abuse, and it rings true for greedy Legree. Cassy also knows she and Emmeline must have plenty of money to make their escape. Unlike George, who tries to refuse the money Mr. Wilson offers him, Cassy already knows what Mr. Wilson reminds George of: "Money is a great help everywhere;—can't have too much, if you get it honestly." Admittedly she steals the money from Simon Legree rather than getting it honestly, but Cassy sees the action as just: "Stealing! ... They who steal body and soul needn't talk to us. Every one of these bills is stolen,—stolen from poor, starving, sweating creatures, who must go to the devil at last, for his profit."

What is significant about Cassy's use of the name "Father Tom" in Chapter 38 of Uncle Tom's Cabin?

Cassy was educated by Catholic nuns in a convent, so she has been taught to refer to a priest as "Father." When she calls Uncle Tom "Father" she is revealing her respect for him as a man of faith. She is also indicating that she is open to accepting his counsel. She uses the name on the night she asks him to help her murder Simon Legree; Stowe seems to be suggesting that Cassy is hoping he will stop her from doing the evil deed. Of course that is exactly the response she receives from Tom, who begs her to try to "get away from here" and turn to God. The moment at which he assures her God will show her a way and that he will pray for her is the moment Cassy hatches the scheme that will save her and Emmeline.

When Cassy says she will kill Emmeline in Chapter 39 of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which of Cassy's previous acts is echoed?

Cassy threatens to kill Emmeline when the girl becomes so frightened during the first phase of their escape that she says she will faint. Cassy makes this threat to scare the girl to her senses, and it works, but readers should also recall that she killed her own son, in her mind to save him from a terrible life of enslavement. Since Emmeline has become a daughter figure to Cassy, she will similarly take whatever action is necessary to protect her from abuse and suffering. Later, safe in the garret, Cassy explains this to Emmeline: "If I had not stopped you, that wretch might have had his hands on you now."

Why won't Simon Legree take money for Uncle Tom's body even though slave owners in Uncle Tom's Cabin say runaway slaves are worth the same dead or alive?

Several times in Uncle Tom's Cabin slave traders and owners state that a dead runaway slave is worth the same as a live one. Even though they all view slaves as investments, this policy is no doubt intended to scare enslaved people who consider escaping. So readers should take note when George Shelby offers Simon Legree money for Uncle Tom's body and Legree replies, "I don't sell dead niggers." It's unusual for this cold, money-grubbing man to say no to money. Readers might be tempted to believe even Legree has been touched by Uncle Tom's bravery and martyrdom. However, the moment soon passes, as Legree returns to his blustery ways and angers young George so much that he punches him. Violence, Stowe reminds us, does win Legree's respect and cause him to look after George "with some evident consideration." But nothing can really change him.

Why does Stowe refer to the Hungarian Revolt of 1848 in Chapters 17 and 28 of Uncle Tom's Cabin?

One of Stowe's main purposes in writing Uncle Tom's Cabin was to arouse in her readers a level of sympathy toward slaves that would lead readers to join the abolitionist cause. The Hungarian Revolt was fresh on Americans' minds, and most were sympathetic to the cause of the newly independent country since it resembled the American struggle to be free from British rule. In fact the two scenarios were so similar that the Hungarian Declaration of Independence was based on the Declaration of Independence of the United States. The point of the revolution to which Stowe refers, however, is the abolishment of feudalism, a system under which serfs were really nothing more than slaves to the nobles. By linking her call to end slavery to the admired Hungarian Revolution, she hoped to garner support for her position.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin what scene on the boat carrying Uncle Tom and other slaves to Simon Legree's plantation resembles a biblical scene, and how does it foreshadow Tom's death?

When Simon Legree takes Uncle Tom's trunk and sells it and all of Tom's belongings inside it to workers on the boat, it brings to mind the scene from the Bible in which four Roman soldiers cast lots for the clothing of Jesus after he is nailed to the cross. Most Christians will recognize this passage from the New Testament Gospels since the act is believed to have been done to fulfill a prophecy about Jesus's death in Psalm 22 of the Old Testament. Readers who make this connection will have an uneasy sense that Uncle Tom will not survive his time with Simon Legree since Jesus died shortly after his clothes were sold in such a way.

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