November 13, 1851

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Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT

Transcription of Chapters 20 and 21

Chapter XX.—Kentuck.

Our readers may not be unwilling to glance back for a brief interval at Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the Kentucky farm, and see what has been transpiring among those whom he had left behind.

It was late in the summer afternoon, and the doors and windows of the large parlor all stood open to invite any stray brave that might feel in a good humor to enter. Mr. Shelby sat in a large hall opening into the room, and running through the whole length of the house to a balcony on either end. Leisurely tipped back in one chair, with his heels in another, he was enjoying his after-dinner cigar. Mrs. Shelby sat in the door, busy about some fine sewing; she seemed like one who had something on her mind, which she was seeking an opportunity to introduce.

“Do you know,” she said, “that Chloe has had a letter from Tom?”

“Ah! has she? Tom’s got some friend there, it seems. How is the old boy?”

“He has been bought by a very fine family, I should think,” said Mrs. Shelby—“is kindly treated, and has not much to do.”

“Ah! well, I’m glad of it—very glad,” said Mr. Shelby, heartily. “Tom, I suppose, will get reconciled to a Southern residence—hardly want to come up here again.”

“On the contrary, he inquires very anxiously,” said Mrs. Shelby, “when the money for his redemption is to be raised.”

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 20 and 21, here.]

Commentary by Jo-Ann Morgan

Associate Professor in the Department of African American Studies and the Department of Art at Western Illinois University

Chapter XX “Kentuck”

In chapter XX, “Kentuck,” of Uncle Tom’s CabinHarriet Beecher Stowe aims to the heart of a female audience with an aggressive challenge to the validity of patriarchy in nineteenth century America. Men, it seems, ineptly wielded power through over reliance on the pecuniary, with complete disregard for moral virtues.

Among the novel’s seeming endless parade of flawed white male characters, none outranks slaveholder Shelby, for whom Stowe barely contains her disdain. “Leisurely tipped back in one chair, with his heels in another, he was enjoying his after-dinner cigar.” By contrast, his wife Emily was “busy” sewing, an apt accompaniment to her tireless production of ideas for repurchasing the slave he had sold down the river, Uncle Tom. This man of the house is as condescending as she is indefatigable. “You are the finest woman in Kentucky, but still you haven’t sense to know that you don’t understand business—women never do, and never can.” With arrogant nonchalance he assures her that “Tom’ll have another wife in a year or two,” so Aunt Chloe, might as well ”take up with somebody else.” To the “the finest woman in Kentucky,” and even the less exalted reader, his failure to heed the “morality of the Bible” must have been nothing short of blasphemy.

The first edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published by John P. Jewett of Boston in 1852, featured six illustrations by Hammatt Billings. The artist was hired again to create over one hundred new prints for a Christmas gift book. There, atop each chapter, an engraving showcases the main characters in the story to come. A decorative first letter launches the text, occasional prints highlight memorable scenes, and tiny vignettes ornament the endings.

For the “Kentuck” chapter, which became chapter XXI in the book, Billings portrayed the Shelbys as described. (Fig. 1)

Fig. 1 Engraving by Hammatt Billings, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1853), 317.

The languorous Shelby, feet up, cozy blanket over his lap, tips back in his chair as his industrious wife directs the conversation. However, the artist deftly conveys more about what Stowe likely intended. Below Shelby’s chair, a large slumbering dog, not mentioned in the text, provides none too subtle commentary on the ineffectual nature of his master. The addition of a dog to reinforce subtext is a popular genre convention in nineteenth century painting. Courtship scenes, as example, might show a dog with its tail between its legs as an unlucky suitor is being shown the door. Here the canine doppelgänger snoozes lazily, oblivious to what is going on. Also in the picture, figuratively and literally, is Tom’s wife Aunt Chloe. She too was not present during their conversation, but did of course eavesdrop. However, it is her cause that Mrs. Shelby champions and their collaboration will bring the plan to fruition, unencumbered by the worthless mister. Men mess things up and women have to take charge and set them right, a recurring theme in the novel.

Fig. 2 Engraving by Hammatt Billings, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1853), 321.

As a side note, the other engraving Billings made for this chapter bears a striking resemblance to an oil painting by well-known American painter Winslow Homer, titled “A Visit from the Old Mistress” (1876). That this tiny print might have inspired a composition for a painting is an example of the popularity and wide-ranging impact that both written scenes and images from

the story had on other artistic mediums.[1](Fig. 2, Fig. 3)

Fig. 3 Winslow Homer, A Visit from the Old Mistress, 1876, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of William T. Evans (1909.7.28)

Chapter XXI “The grass withereth—the flower fadeth,”

If Chapter XX showcases an inadequate man, Chapter XXI, “The grass withereth—the flower fadeth,” offers an alternative. Uncle Tom, it could be argued, and Stowe seems to do just that, may be the best man in the novel. He is at the least an equal in wisdom and Christian goodness with the angelic Eva St. Clare. The two kindred spirits join in deep communion, pondering Bible verses, singing hymns. Eva and Tom, “she and her simple friend, the old child and the young one,” read together out in the garden. Stowe sees humanity in Tom, a Christian soul, a “soft, impressionable heart,” he possesses all the fine qualities to be found in women. But her words unman him, laden with designations of “faithful attendant” and “humble friend.”

[Continue reading the full text of  Jo-Ann Morgan’s commentary here.]


[1] For a more detailed look at this connection between popular prints and fine art painting using the work of Winslow Homer see: Jo-Ann Morgan, “Winslow Homer Visits Aunt Chloe’s Old Kentucky Home,” Southeast College Art Conference (SECAC) Review 14:5, (2005) 439-451.

[2] For more on the history of this image see: Jo-Ann Morgan, “Picturing Uncle Tom with Little Eva–Reproduction as Legacy,” Journal of American Culture, 27:1, Blackwell Publishing (Feb. 2004): 1-24.

[3] For analysis of the evangelical Christian aspects of imagery in Billings’ 1853 edition see: “The Passion of Uncle Tom: Pictures Join Words to Challenge Patriarchy,” Jo-Ann Morgan, Uncle Tom’s Cabin s Visual Culture, (University of Missouri Press, 2007) 64-100.


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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