August 7, 1851

Textual Transcription of Chapter 10:

Chapter IX.—The Property is carried off.

The February morning looked gray and drizzling through the window of Uncle Tom’s cabin. It looked on downcast faces, the image of mournful hearts. The little table stood out before the fire, covered with an ironing cloth; a coarse but clean shirt or two, fresh from the iron, hung on the back of a chair by the fire, and Aunt Chloe had another spread out before her on the table. Carefully she rubbed and ironed every fold and every hem, with the most scrupulous exactness, every now and then raising her hand to her face to wipe off the tears that were coursing down her cheeks.

Tom sat by, with his Testament open on his knee, and his head leaning upon his hand—but neither spoke. It was yet early, and the children lay all asleep together in their little rude trundle-bed. Tom, who had, to the full, the gentle, domestic heart, which, woe for them! has been a peculiar characteristic of his unhappy race, got up and walked silently to look at his children.

“It’s the last time,” he said.

Aunt Chloe did not answer, only rubbed away over and over on the coarse shirt, already as smooth as hands could make it, and finally setting her iron suddenly down with a despairing plunge, she sat down to the table, and “lifted up her voice and wept.”

[Continue reading the full text of Chapter 10 here.]

Commentary by Kenneth Warren:

Professor of English at the University of Chicago

By the time Stowe reached the tenth chapter of her novel she was firmly in control of her fundamental critique of the nation’s “peculiar institution,” a critique that boiled down to the conclusion that to own slaves was to sell slaves, and to sell slaves was to break up families.  Accordingly, to look upon a slave-owner, no matter how benign that individual might consider himself, and no matter how kindly he might feel towards the human chattel he possesses, is to look upon the face of a slave-trader.  The face of Arthur Shelby is the face of Haley, who responds brutally to young George’s effort to shame him for purchasing Uncle Tom by pointing out that the slave trader and plantation-owner constitute opposite sides of the same coin.  Selling slaves is no “meaner” than buying them, and Stowe’s narrator underscores this equivalence of buying, owning, and selling when she concludes the chapter on an ironic note by mentioning Haley’s wish to “prevent the necessity of any unpleasant scenes.”  Coming at the end of an episode that is nothing if not an extended scene of unpleasantness, and at a moment when the novel’s setting is about to move southward where one unpleasant scene will follow another with astonishing rapidity, Haley’s sham sympathy deepens the echo between him and Mr. Shelby.  Although the plantation owner is conspicuously absent as Tom is being carried away, he—like the slave-trader—also hopes to avoid “unpleasant scenes.”

There is, however, a small difference between Shelby and Haley worth keeping in mind. Shelby, by his absence, acknowledges that the transfer of Tom into Haley’s hands cannot avoid being an unpleasant scene while Haley, having become so inured to the emotional distress he inflicts on a daily basis, obtusely persists in believing that the feelings of the property he buys and sells are not, properly, a matter worthy of consideration.

[Continue reading the full text of Kenneth Warren’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!

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