Transcription of Chapter 31, Part 1
“The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.”
Trailing wearily behind a rude wagon and over a ruder road, Tom and his associates faced onward.
In the wagon was seated Simon Legree, and the two women, still fettered together, were stowed away with some baggage in the back part of it, and the whole company were seeking Legree’s plantation, which lay a good distance off.
It was a wild, forsaken road, now winding through dreary pine barrens, where the wind whispered mournfully, and now over log causeways through long cypress swamps, the doleful trees rising out of the slimy, spongy ground, hung with long wreaths of funereal black moss, while ever and anon the loathsome form of the moccasin snake might be seen sliding among broken stumps and shattered branches that lay here and there rotting in the water.
It is disconsolate enough, this riding, to the stranger, who, with well-filled pocket and well-appointed horse, threads the lonely way on some errand of business; but wilder, drearier, to the man enthralled, whom every weary step bears further from all that man loves and prays for.
So one should have thought, that witnessed the sunken and dejected expression on those dark faces—the wistful, patient weariness with which those sad eyes rested on object after object that passed them in their sad journey.
Simon rode on, however, apparently well pleased, occasionally pulling away at a flask of spirit which he kept in his pocket.
“I say, you!” he said, as he turned back and caught a glance at the dispirited faces behind him! “Strike up a song, boys—come!”
The men looked at each other, and the “come” was repeated with a smart crack of the whip, which the driver carried in his hands. Tom began a Methodist hymn—
“Jerusalem, my happy home,
Name ever dear to me;
When shall my sorrows have an end,
Thy joys when shall”——
“Shut up, you black cuss,” roared Legree, “did ye think I wanted any o’ yer infernal old Methodism? I say, tune up, now, something real rowdy—quick!”
One of the other men struck up one of those unmeaning songs common among the slaves.
Massa see’d me cotch a coon,
High boys high!
He laughed to split, d’ye see the moon,
Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho!
Ho! yo! hi—e! oh!
The singer appeared to make up the song to his own pleasure, generally hitting on rhyme, without much attempt at reason, and all the party took up the chorus at intervals,
Ho! ho! ho! boys, ho!
It was sung very boisterously, and with a forced attempt at merriment; but no wail of despair, no words of impassioned prayer, could have had such a depth of woe in them as the wild notes of the chorus. As if the poor dumb heart, threatened—prisoned—took refuge in that inarticulate sanctuary of music, and found there a language in which to breathe its prayer to God. There was a prayer in it, which Simon could not hear. He only heard the boys singing noisily, and was well pleased; he was making them “keep up their spirits.”
“Well, my little dear,” said he, turning to Emmeline, and laying his hand on her shoulder, “we’re almost home!”
[Continue reading the full text of chapter 31, Part 1, here.]
Commentary by Les Harrison
Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University
With Tom’s arrival at the Legree plantation in chapter 31, “Dark Places,” the action of the novel moves to the third and final setting in Stowe’s symbolic geography of the United States under slavery. As Jane Tompkins once noted: “Ultimately, there are only three places to be this story: heaven, hell, or Kentucky”(1). Thus far we’ve already seen Kentucky on the Shelby plantation, and, while New Orleans under slavery is a dark place in its own right, particularly for slaves such as Old Prue, the presence of Little Eva made the St. Clare household a heaven-like respite on Tom’s journey to his cavalry at the Legree plantation.
There are two important elements to the “darkness” which envelopes the Legree plantation. On the one hand, there is the palpable air of malign neglect with which Stowe characterizes the plantation. Keeping with Stowe’s theme of the threat Slavery poses to domestic happinesses of all types, her initial description of the Legree’s grouns emphasizes its former status as a beautiful and well-ordered home, with a “smooth-shaven lawn,” “ornamental shrubs,” and “what had once been a conservatory.”
Here, and in her subsequent description of the the house’s “desolate and uncomfortable” appearance, its boarded-up windows, and, finally, at the close of this installment, the revelation of a “dark wild face” at the window (later revealed to be Cassy), Stowe begins her deployment of the gothic setting and other gothic elements which will characterize events in the final chapters of the novel. Writing specifically about Stowe, as well as other authors, Teresa Goddu situates the American gothic tradition “within specific sites of historical haunting, most notably slavery,” noting that, “American gothic literature criticizes America’s national myth of new-world innocence by voicing the cultural contradictions that undermine the nation’s claim to purity and equality” (2). Stowe’s use of this gothic machinery will reach its culmination in chapter 42, “An Authentic Ghost Story,” in which Cassy and Emmeline, dressed as ghosts, haunt the Legree plantation en route to their escape to the north, contributing in no small measure to Legree’s untimely demise in the process.
1. Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790 – 1860 (New York: Oxford, 1986), 138.
2. Teresa Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation, (New York: Columbia UP, 1997), 10. For an overivew of gothic elements in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, see Karen Halttunen, “Gothic Imagination and Social Reform: The Haunted Houses of Lyman Beecher, Henry Ward Beecher, and Harriet Beecher Stowe,” in New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ed. Eric Sundquist (New York: Cambridge UP, 1986), 107 – 134.
[Continue reading the full text of Les Harrison’s commentary here.]
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