Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT
Textual Transcription of Chapter 6:
Mr. and Mrs. Shelby, after their protracted discussion of the night before, did not readily sink to repose, and, in consequence, slept somewhat later than usual the ensuing morning.
“I wonder what keeps Eliza,” said Mrs. Shelby, after giving her bell repeated pulls to no purpose.
Mr. Shelby was standing before his dressing-glass, sharpening his razor; and just then the door opened, and a colored boy entered with his shaving water.
“Andy,” said his mistress, “step to Eliza’s door, and tell her I have rung for her three times. Poor thing!” she added, to herself, with a sigh.
Andy soon returned, with eyes very wide in astonishment.
“Lor, missis! Lizzy’s drawers is all open, and her things all lying every which way—and I believe she’s just done clared out!”
The truth flashed upon Mr. Shelby and his wife at the same moment; he exclaimed—
“Then she suspected it, and she’s off!”
“The Lord be thanked!” said Mrs. Shelby; “I trust she is.”
“Wife, you talk like a fool! really it will be something pretty awkward for me, if she is. Haley saw that I hesitated about selling this child, and he’ll think I connived at it, to get him out of the way. It touches my honor!” and Mr. Shelby left the room hastily.
There was great running and ejaculating, and opening and shutting of doors, and appearance of faces in all shades of color in different places, for about a quarter of an hour. One person only, who might have shed some light on the matter, was entirely silent, and that was the head cook, Aunt Chloe. Silently, and with a heavy cloud settled down over her once joyous face, she proceeded making out her breakfast biscuits, as if she heard and saw nothing of the excitement around her.
Very soon, about a dozen young imps were roosting, like so many crows, on the verandah railings, each one determined to be the first one to apprize the strange mass’r of his ill luck.
“He’ll be rael mad, I’ll be bound,” said Andy.
“Won’t he swar!” said little black Jake.
[Continue reading the full text of Chapter 6 here.]
Commentary by W.B. Allen:
Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at Michigan State University
Chapter Six forms an interlude in which the conflicts visible in the prior chapters, especially Tom’ s not escaping while counseling Eliza to do so, are made clear in a seriocomic drama that builds through Chapter 8. Tom’s apology for not fleeing with Eliza boils down to the assertion that, for superior natures, there was at the time no greater opportunity for acting wisely outside of slavery than in slavery! His apparent commitment to existing social relationships may be deceptive. If there is sense in Tom’s position, it arises only from the reflection that there is no phoenix to spring from the ashes of Emily Shelby’s partial citizenship matriarchy. The flaw seems to lie not in the law that she would temper, but in the very moral principles themselves.
The key, perhaps, is found in the tension between comfort and goodness. The partial citizenship offered to the slaves seems not sufficiently distinguished from a full citizenship based on materialism. The slave in fact only confirms and deepens slavery by accepting the amelioration partial citizenship offers (worldly comfort). But, of course, Emily’s matriarchy failed this test. It could not deliver the partial citizenship or, what is the same thing, mitigating moral graces.
Of the novel’s several caricatures used to suggest this argument, one gets special attention. That is “persistent Sam,” who saw in Tom’s demise his own ascent (Chapters 5-8). Sam’s story is the story of the slave who accepts the illusion of partial citizenship in the liberal democratic regime, and who struggles to master the conditions of that citizenship. It is in this story that we find an obvious, heavy-handed parody of the Declaration of Independence, contrasted with the subsequent and subtler parody involved in George Harris’s “declaration” (Chapter 17), which becomes apparent only when the tension between George and Tom is recognized. “Persistent Sam” enters the drama just as the slaves get wind of the impending sale and for the purpose of leading the chase to capture Eliza, in which pursuit he intends not to be lax. In the end, however, he proves the earthly cause of her salvation. And this change of circumstance merits particular explanation. The explanation describes the citizenship Sam thinks to enjoy.
The author is blunt and direct in opening this phase of the drama: “Black Sam . . . was revolving the matter in all of its phases and bearings, with a comprehensiveness of vision and a strict lookout of his own personal well-being, that would have done credit to any white patriot in Washington.” (Emphasis added.) The personal reflection animating Sam was none other than his own chance to replace Tom as “grand Cuffee.” Sam’s soliloquy was interrupted by a messenger from his master, who announced the need to ride after Eliza. This sign of providence inspires Sam to “cotch her.” But events move too swiftly for any ordinary politician, as the servant, Andy, adds that Mrs. Shelby would prefer Eliza’s successful escape. The perplexity is short-lived as Sam enters the task of satisfying the despot’s whim. Before he even speaks to Emily directly, he commences delaying tactics by placing a beech-nut burr beneath the saddle of Haley’s mount. The resulting fall and melee delay the start from nine o’clock to near one. Later Sam skillfully diverts Haley yet another two hours with a wild chase along a deserted path. Still, they will arrive at the banks of the Ohio before Eliza’s crossing (she had a fourteen hour advantage altogether, but she was afoot). It will fall to Sam, then, to alert her and give the start to her mad dash across an ice-floe clogged river. The thing done, Sam joyfully returns to report to his mistress and to regale his peers with the account of his heroism and of his principles.
 Bush overlooks this aspect of the significance of the character of Persistent Sam, dismissing his importance to plot and theme with the statement that “…Sam’s function is to highlight and mock the hypocrisies of much public rhetoric.” Harold K. Bush, “The Declaration of Independence and Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Rhetorical Approach,” in Approaches to Teaching Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ed. Elizabeth Ammons and Susan Belasco (New York: Modern Language Association, 2000), p. 180. Bense comes closer in his analysis: “As the case of Sam will also show, Stowe worked subversively within the rhetoric and culturally invented myths that held sway over slavery propaganda to convert the most egregious kind of slave stereotyping among her contemporaries into a shape-shifting, encompassing figure who would, through his words and enactments, deflate major tenets of American ideology that had made his ‘creation’ possible… Through his performance as a speaker, Sam’s roles as providential agent, self-taught orator, community protector, bragging humorist, and homespun philosopher result in significant humor at the expense of white male authority.” Also: “Through Sam’s emblematizing of self-reliance, success, and salvation, Stowe
projects a comically conceived, inward view of the North’s popular mind, its self-congratulatory compounding of the influences of Emerson and Franklin with the religious tradition of exemplary ‘perseverance.’” James Bense, “Myths and Rhetoric of the Slavery Debate and Stowe’s Comic Vision of Slavery,” in The Stowe Debate: Rhetorical Strategies in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ed., Mason I. Lowance, Ellen E. Westbrook and R. C. De Prospo (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994), p. 189, 195, 200.
[Continue reading the full text of W.B. Allen’s commentary here.]
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