Uncle Tom's Cabin | Study Guide

Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Course Hero. "Uncle Tom's Cabin Study Guide." February 27, 2017. Accessed January 19, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Uncle-Toms-Cabin/.


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Uncle Tom's Cabin | Plot Summary

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Uncle Tom's Cabin began in serial form, made up of several loosely linked stories Harriet Beecher Stowe interwove—not always seamlessly—in creating the novel. The opening chapters focus on the main character, Uncle Tom, and are set at the Shelby farm in Kentucky where Tom and his family live, along with many other enslaved people. Later the novel ranges broadly across many geographical locations and includes the story of several enslaved families' plights.

As the novel opens Mr. Shelby is negotiating with Haley, an unsavory slave trader. Shelby is in debt and must sell some of his slaves; he is reluctant to sell them to Haley but feels he has no choice. Haley wants to buy Tom, who is Shelby's best worker; Eliza, a beautiful quadroon (one-fourth black blood) woman; and Eliza's young son, Harry. Shelby won't consider letting Eliza go; his wife is very close to Eliza and raised her like a daughter. However, he considers selling Tom and Harry.

Eliza's husband, George Harris, has a different master, one whose cruelty he can no longer tolerate. He tells Eliza he is running away to Canada and will send for her and Harry when he has enough money to buy their freedom.

Tom holds religious meetings in his cabin and uplifts his friends with his devout Christianity and strength of character. As the enslaved people join together to rejoice with Tom, Mr. Shelby tells his wife he has signed Tom and Harry's bills of sale, and she is mortified. Eliza hides in a closet and overhears Shelby's words; she immediately determines to take flight with Harry. She returns to her room, bundles Harry up, and hurries to Uncle Tom's cabin to tell him he has been sold, too. Tom refuses to flee; he and his wife bid Eliza goodbye, promising they will try to alert George to her plans.

By the next morning, when Haley comes to claim his property, Eliza and Harry have fled. Eliza's friends conspire to delay her pursuit. Eliza and Harry make a grueling trip to the Ohio River, where the most famous scene in the book occurs. With Haley hot on her heels, Eliza leaps across the river ice, holding Harry in her arms, to reach the safe shores of Ohio. From there she is directed to a "safe house" where people will help her elude capture.

Haley refuses to give up pursuing Eliza and Harry; he hires Tom Loker, an especially rough slave tracker, to catch them. Haley returns to the Shelby farm to secure Tom and begin their trip "down river," where Tom will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Haley buys and sells slaves along the way. Tom watches one woman jump off the boat to her death when Haley sells her child.

Loker and his partner, Marks, track Eliza and Harry from their "safe house" to another secret location and then to a Quaker settlement that frequently harbors runaway slaves. Loker and Marks wait for the runaways' next move.

As Eliza and Harry keep moving, George also makes his way north to Canada. Because he is so light-skinned, he can pass himself off as a white businessman. At a lodging place he encounters Mr. Wilson, a kindly former employer who gives him money and promises he will try to send a message to Eliza and Harry. But as it turns out George also ends up at the Quaker settlement where his wife and son are hiding; they have a joyous reunion and plan to head for Canada together.

The story returns to Tom, who is on a boat to New Orleans with Haley. Tom meets and befriends Evangeline "Eva" St. Clare, an angelic little white girl. She is returning from Vermont with her wealthy father, Augustine, and his cousin Ophelia, who will help run their household in New Orleans since Eva's mother is a spoiled hypochondriac. When Eva falls overboard, Tom rescues her, and Eva makes her father buy Tom for her so she can "make him happy." In this way Tom ends up living in a beautiful home with the "job" of entertaining young Eva.

Tom may be safe, but George, Eliza, and Harry still have a harrowing final trip to Canada, which includes a final gun battle with Loker. The family manages to escape, but Loker is badly wounded; after the Quakers take him to their settlement and nurse him back to health he becomes reformed.

Back on the Shelby farm, Mrs. Shelby has promised to try to buy Tom back, but she has been unable to raise sufficient funds. She gives Tom's wife, Chloe, permission to hire herself out as a baker in Louisville and save her earnings to help buy Tom back. The Shelby household cares for Chloe and Tom's children, and Tom's cabin is closed.

In New Orleans Tom and Eva grow ever closer, joined by their deep Christian beliefs. When Eva becomes sick and dies, Tom is heartbroken. Not long after, her father is killed in a bar fight, and the St. Clare household disbands. Tom is once again sold, this time to the cruel master Simon Legree. Legree is focused only on making money; he feeds his slaves very little, makes them live in filthy hovels, and beats them regularly for not working hard enough. Legree tries to break Tom's spirit and force him to retract his Christian beliefs, but Tom never wavers. After Tom is subjected to a particularly vicious beating, he is nursed back to health by Legree's mistress, Cassy, a beautiful quadroon (having one-fourth African American blood). Cassy also protects Emmeline, a beautiful young girl Legree bought as another mistress.

As Cassy tells Tom her heartbreaking life story, the two become close. Tom's Christian teachings turn her cold despair to hope and belief. Cassy then figures out a way she and Emmeline can escape Legree. When Legree discovers them missing, Tom refuses to reveal their whereabouts. Legree orders Tom to be beaten to death. As Tom is about to die young George Shelby arrives to buy him back, but it is too late. However, George meets Cassy and Emmeline as he boards a ship home to New Orleans, and he helps reunite both women with their long-lost families. It turns out Cassy is Eliza's mother and Emmeline is George Harris's sister. As the novel ends the former slaves move to Liberia. In honor of Tom the Shelbys free Tom's family and the rest of their slaves.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Mr. Shelby agrees to sell Uncle Tom and Harry to Haley.

Rising Action

2 Eliza escapes with Harry to Ohio.

3 George also runs away, heading to Canada.

4 George, Eliza, and Harry are reunited and reach Canada.

5 Uncle Tom is sold to Augustine St. Clare.

6 After Eva and Augustine die, Tom is sold to Simon Legree.


7 Uncle Tom is beaten to death.

Falling Action

8 Cassy finds daughter Eliza, and Emily finds brother George.


9 The Shelbys free their slaves; the Harrises move to Liberia.

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