Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT
Textual Transcription of Chapter 8:
Eliza made her desperate retreat across the river just in the dusk of twilight. The gray mist of evening rising slowly from the river enveloped her as she disappeared up the bank, and the swoln current and floundering masses of ice presented a hopeless barrier between her and her pursuer. Haley therefore slowly and discontentedly returned to the little tavern, to ponder further what was to be done. The woman opened to him the door of a little parlor, covered with a rag carpet, where stood a table with a very shining black oil-cloth, some lank, high-backed wood chairs, with some plaster images in resplendent colors on the mantel shelf, above a very dimly smoking grate; a long hard-wood settle extended its uneasy length by the chimney, and here Haley sat him down to meditate on the instability of human hopes and happiness in general.
“What did I want with the little cuss, now!” he said to himself, “that I should have got myself treed like a coon, as I am this yer way;” and Haley relieved himself by repeating over a not very select litany of imprecations on himself, which, though there was the best possible reason to consider them as true, we shall, as a matter of taste, omit.
He was started by the loud and dissonant voice of a man who was apparently dismounting at the door. He hurried to the window—
“By the land—if this yer aint the nearest now to what I’ve heard folks call a Providence,” said Haley, “I do b’lieve that ar’s Tom Loker.”
[Continue reading the full text of Chapter 8 here.]
Commentary by Joan Hedrick
Charles A. Dana Professor of History at Trinity College
Pulitzer Prize winning biographer of Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life
Stowe uses this scene on the banks of the Ohio River to expose the hypocrisies, frauds, and lying inventions of slave-holding culture, much as Twain, a generation later, will use the southern culture river culture in Huckleberry Finn. In contrast to the domestic scenes of the Shelby plantation, most of this chapter is set in the tavern to which Haley repairs after Eliza escapes his clutches. The rituals and speech of this culture are decidely male. Haley tells the man at the bar, “get us hot water, and sugar, and cigars, and plenty of the real stuff, and we’ll have a blow-out.” In contrast to the pious objections of Mrs. Shelby to the sale of their slaves, Haley and the two professional slave-catchers he bumps into in the tavern, Loker and Marks, are single-mindedly devoted to slavery as a business.
As the men commiserate on the trouble slave “gals” make when their children are sold away from them, Haley claims to “b’lieve in religion”, and ruminates, “one of these days, when I’ve got matters tight and snug, I calculates to tend to my soul and them ar matters.” Tom Loker snorts his skepticism: “run up a bill with the devil all your life and then sneak out when pay time comes! Boh!” Loker is so sure that Haley would lie in his accounts with “the devil himself” that he demands a $50 deposit before he will help catch Eliza and Harry.
Like the Duke and the King in Huckleberry Finn, Loker’s side-kick, Marks, prides himself on his powers of impersonation: “One day, I’m Mr. Twickem, from New Orleans; ‘nother day, I’m just come from my plantation on Pearl river, where I works seven hundred niggers; then again, I come out a distant relation of Henry Clay, or some old cock in Kentuck. . . . [I]f thar’s a feller in the country that can swear to anything and everything, and put in all the circumstances and flourishes with a longer face, and carry ‘t through better ‘n I can, why I’d like to see him, that’s all!” Stowe’s scorn for the values of these men is matched by the relish she takes in parading their views and their vernacular speech.
[Continue reading the full text of Joan Hedrick’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!