Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT
Textual Transcription for Chapter 7:
Chapter VII.—The Mother’s Struggle.
It is impossible to conceive of a human creature more wholly desolate and forlorn than Eliza, when she turned her footsteps from Uncle Tom’s cabin.
Her husband’s sufferings and dangers, the danger of her child, all blended in her mind with a confused and stunning sense of the risk she was running in leaving the only home she had ever known, and cutting loose from the protection of a friend whom she loved and revered. Then there was the parting from every familiar object—the place where she had grown up, the trees under which she had played, the groves where she had walked many an evening in happier days, by the side of her young husband—everything, as it lay in the clear frosty moonlight, seemed to speak reproachfully to her, and ask her whither could she go from a home like that?
But stronger than all was maternal love, wrought into a paroxysm of frenzy by the near approach of a fearful danger. Her boy was old enough to have walked by her side, and in an indifferent case she would only have led him by the hand; but now the bare thought of putting him out of her arms made her shudder, and she strained him to her bosom with a convulsive grasp as she went rapidly forward. The frosty ground creaked beneath her feet, and she trembled at the sound; every quaking leaf and fluttering shadow sent the blood backward to her heart, and quickened her footsteps. She wondered within herself at the strength that seemed to be come upon her, for she felt the weight of her boy as if it had been a feather, and every flutter of fear seemed to increase the supernatural strength that bore her on, while from her pale lips burst forth, in frequent ejaculations, the prayer to a Friend above—“Lord, help! Lord, save me!”
If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, to-morrow morning—if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve c’clock till morning to make good your escape, how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom—the little sleepy head on your shoulder—the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?
[Continue reading the full text of Chapter 7 here.]
Commentary by Jo-Ann Morgan
Associate professor in African American Studies and Art at Western Illinois University
Chapter VII “The Mother’s Struggle” of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin showcases one of the most enduring episodes in American melodrama–a damsel in distress, an imperiled Pauline, the gentle heroine eluding a villain’s debauched snare. And, judging from the abundance of visualized retellings of runaway slave Eliza Harris’s race over the frozen Ohio, not to mention stage performances and filmed dramatizations with
their many promotional advertisements, one would think the incident occupied more space in the novel. Yet, here it is. A mere six sentences (177 words) and the credulity-defying feat was accomplished.
Eliza’s harrowing escapade was not one of the engravings that illustrator Hammatt Billings created for the original John P. Jewett publication of 1852. Readers first glimpse the young mulatto mother in his print for Chapter V, captioned “Eliza comes to tell Uncle Tom that he is sold and that she is running away to save her child.” (Fig. 1) Cloaked in head wrap with son Harry in her arms, the illustration aptly expresses the way Stowe described them in Chapter VII. “Her boy was old enough to have walked by her side,…but now the bare thought of putting him out of her arms made her shudder, and she strained him to her bosom with a convulsive grasp…” By cradling the young boy, Eliza’s pose recalls Madonna and child iconography in keeping with Stowe’s evangelical reverence for the Christian mother.
When Billings depicted Eliza’s flight across the river for publisher Jewett’s Christmas 1852 gift book version of the novel (publication date 1853), he reprised the figures of swaddled boy-child in the arms of his Madonna-like mother. (Fig. 2) By then, Eliza had made her icy splash on Broadway, the escape thrilling New York City theatergoers in three separate stage productions, and there was even a song, “Eliza’s Flight,” with an illustrated cover. Early artist renderings of that climactic moment correspond to the written text. For example, English George Cruikshank imagined the fraught Eliza in the central foreground, while the tiny forms of a hunting party, trader Haley with slaves Sam and Andy, flail their arms from the distant shore.
[Continue reading the full text of Jo-Ann Morgan’s commentary here.]
How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!
Check out the top news stories, this week in 1851, here!