Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-20

Summary of Chapter 16

Mrs. St. Clare feels that Eva and Mr. St. Clare's kindness to Tom is not right. She says that slavery is justified in the Bible, but her husband counters that this is only an interpretation. If slaves were not necessary for picking mass amounts of cotton, no one would find any defense of slavery in the Bible.

In an odd statement of childhood innocence, Eva pipes up that she likes slavery because "it makes so many more round you to love." St. Clare also adds that Tom is a very good religious example for the plantation, as he says beautiful prayers. Mrs. St. Clare, however, will not be dissuaded against thinking that Tom should be treated more harshly.

Analysis of Chapter 16

Eva's naivete and her angelic presence make her a symbol of an otherworldly ideal. She sees neither black nor white, but rather simply loves all people for the sheer reason that they are fellow human beings. Her statement that she likes slavery for the fact that it brings more people into her life is questionable and perhaps even insulting, to the modern reader. It is important to remember that Stowe is writing to an audience who does not associate the master-slave relationship with anything more than a practical economic necessity. To hear Eva state that she loves slaves would indeed be a conscience-jogging revelation to readers who never before considered the emotions and human relations forged by slaves.

Summary of Chapter 17

At the Halliday's, the reunited George and Eliza discuss what their new life of freedom in Canada will be like. George promises his wife that once he is free, it will be easier for him to "act worthy of a free man," instead of burning with resentment. Word reaches the Quaker settlement that slave hunters are looking for the little family, so George, Eliza and Harry leave in the night.

Loker and Marks, the slave catchers Haley has hired, along with constables and a rabble of people, confront Eliza, George, and Harry mid-flight. A fight ensues, in which George wounds Loker and Marks runs away. The Hallidays, as Quakers, must care for everyone, and thus they take Loker into their home to heal him.

Analysis of Chapter 17

Through George, Stowe teaches the reader a lesson on how degrading slavery is to an individual's sense of worth. Before, George was bitter against both man and God. Now that he is reunited with his family and permanent freedom is in sight, George sees the world around him in a brighter light. Although he has nothing materially, he tells Eliza he could "scarcely ask God for any more." Stowe wants us to realize that for the slaves, "what a blessing" does not refer to anything more than the simple freedom to care for ones family, as George is happy to finally do.

Summary of Chapter 18

At the St. Clare plantation in Louisiana, Tom is speaking to Mr. St. Clare about how he is good to everyone except himself. Tom has been taking more responsibility lately with both his master's financial and personal matters. Tom worries that St. Clare attends too many drinking parties, and successfully begins to reform his master's ways.

This chapter also introduces the reader to Miss Ophelia, who is having troubles adjusting to Southern plantation life. She tries in vain to arrange the disorderly household into organized "departments" more in accordance with her stern New England background. Miss Ophelia is critical of her cousin as well, as she feels his lenience is the reason she cannot transform the plantation. In particular, she disapproves of Little Eva's close contact with Uncle Tom.

Analysis of Chapter 18

This chapter once again emphasizes the theme of Uncle Tom's saintliness. Stowe repeatedly states that any other slave would be tempted to abuse St. Clare's extreme trust, such as giving Tom money to do the marketing without noting the bills, but that Tom's piety keeps him honest. It is only because Tom is so extremely good, that the scene in which he advises his master about his revelries could be believable to contemporary audiences. Here, we see the theme of the law of the Bible over that of the land. Tom is able to cross the boundary between master and slave and speak honestly to St. Clare as a man because he quotes the highest authority, the Bible, saying that drinking and spending money will usher in "the loss of all."

Miss Ophelia is also a symbolic character, as she represents the hypocrisy of northerners in regards to slavery in the South. Instead of being appalled by slavery on the St. Clare plantation, she decries its "shiftless confusion." She is a righteous Christian, but her zeal is unemotional. Ironically, Ophelia wants to be a missionary, yet she fails to notice the plight of the human beings surrounding her.

Summary of Chapter 19

In this chapter, Prue, a slave from a neighboring plantation, comes to the kitchen to sell hot rolls. She is drunk, and tells all who can hear that she wants to die and leave life's misery. Tom helps her carry the rolls when she leaves, and advises her to stop drinking and find God. Prue tells Uncle Tom that her last child died because her milk dried up when she had to devote all her time and energy to her sick mistress. Her owners refused to buy milk for the baby, and she died. When Eva learns of this tragedy, she is saddened and no longer wants to enjoy herself in her new buggy.

After a couple of days, the St. Clare plantation receives the news that Prue has died. Her master whipped her until she was covered in blood, and she then became infected from fly bites. Miss Ophelia is shocked that there are no laws prohibiting such cruelty. She is angry with her cousin for having slaves. Mr. St. Clare says that he doesn't like slavery, and tried to make up for it by giving his slaves as much freedom as possible. He tells a story of his days trying to run the plantation he inherited from his father with his brother. When he made free papers for a runaway from the plantation, the slave destroyed them and dedicated his life of servitude to St. Clare. Eva cries when she hears the story, and later helps Uncle Tom write a letter to his family.

Analysis of Chapter 19

Prue is Stowe's way of giving the reader a shocking realization of just how brutally a master can treat a slave. The reader will hopefully respond like Miss Ophelia, who suddenly realizes that slavery is wrong. Interestingly enough, this argument is made, again, in religious instead of secular terms. The most horrific act was not the taking of Prue's right to life, but rather the fact that her soul never had a chance for salvation.

The moral superiority and influence of women is an important theme in this chapter, as it is throughout the book. Miss Ophelia's indignant questioning leads Mr. St. Clare to explain his views of slavery. It is because of the example of goodness set by his mother that he feels slavery is inherently wrong.

Summary of Chapter 20

St. Clare buys a young slave, Topsy, as an addition to Miss Ophelia's "department." That is, the eight-year-old imp is her sole responsibility, thus an outlet for Ophelia's missionary zeal for reforming people and things. Miss Ophelia finds Topsy's appearance- from the eyes sparkling like beads to the pigtails covering her head- heathenish, and is shocked at the wild dance she performs on St. Clare's command.

When Ophelia bathes Topsy, her attitude towards the girl relaxes at the sight of her "great welts and calloused spots." Miss Ophelia cuts Topsy's hair and dresses her in clean clothes so that she looks "more Christian-like than she did." As for Topsy's knowledge, she does not know how old she is, who her parents are, or what the word "God" means. She can, however, "fetch water, wash dishes, and wait on folks." Ironically, Miss Ophelia's Christian instruction of Topsy centers upon making her confess her sins. Topsy fabricates her crimes, such as stealing the necklace Eva wears around her neck, because she "couldn't think of nothing else to Œfess." She is a totally naïve creature, and shocks Miss Ophelia that someone could be so ignorant of the rules of Christianity.

Stowe then compares Topsy to the other figure of naivete in the novel, Little Eva. From their appearances to their behaviors, these girls are polar opposites. Stowe uses them as symbols of the differences in history and opportunity of their races. The Saxon girl is born "of ages of cultivation, command, and education," and the black girl comes from a background "of oppression, submission, toil, and vice." Eva is fascinated by Topsy's mischief: "every species of drollery, grimace and mimicry- for dancing, tumbling, climbing, singing, whistling, imitating." Indeed, the two children are polar opposites.

Topsy quickly learns all the house chores, but she seldom performs them: "Mortal hands could not lay a spread smoother, adjust pillows more accurately, sweep and dust and arrange more perfectly than Topsy- when she chose- but she didn't very often choose." Thus, Topsy is a rebel in the sense that she does not take her duties as a slave seriously, just as she is a religious rebel because she cannot fathom the concept of God, Christian goodness, or even simple love of ones neighbor.

Analysis of Chapter 20

In Stowe's characterization of Topsy we encounter another stereotypical portrayal, such as we did in the descriptions of Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe. Thus, we must look at Topsy not only as a character but also as a symbol, just as we know Tom represents Christian piety and sacrifice. Indeed, Topsy is meant to shock the readers as she does Miss Ophelia with her "hands and feet spinning around, doing summersets, and then suddenly sitting down with a sanctimonious expression." It is significant that Miss Ophelia responds to Topsy's antics by calling her a heathen. Stowe wants us to recognize the difference between the wild slave girl and the well-bred Ophelia and Eva, but more importantly she wants us to realize that even well-meaning Christians harbored destructive stereotypes.

Indeed, Miss Ophelia's attitude towards her "little plague" Topsy is a criticism of the hypocrisy of Christians. St. Clare chides his cousin for complaining, as she wants to be a missionary and educating an ignorant child is missionary work. His berating comment, "that's you Christian's all over," is meant to inspire the readers to reevaluate their own "holier than thou" attitudes.

When Ophelia's attitude towards Topsy begins to soften, such as when she realizes how much abuse the child has endured, Ophelia finally becomes a true Christian. She recognizes the evilness of a system that inflicts such emotional and physical damage on human beings such as Topsy. Stowe's message is clear: her Christian readers are hypocrites until they realize that allowing slavery to exist in their country is an immoral sin.