Transcription of Chapter 38 and Part 1 of Chapter 39
“The way of the wicked is as darkness; he knoweth not at what he stumbleth.”
The garret of the house that Legree occupied, like most other garrets, was a great, desolate space, dusty, hung with cobwebs, and littered with cast-off lumber. The opulent family that had inhabited the house in the days of its splendor had imported a great deal of splendid furniture, some of which they had taken away with them, while some remained standing desolately in mouldering, unoccupied rooms, or stored away in this place. One or two immense packing-boxes, in which this furniture was brought, stood against the sides of the garret. There was a small window there, which let in through its dingy, dusty panes, a scanty, uncertain light on the tall, high-backed chairs and dusty tables that had once seen better days. Altogether, it was a weird and ghostly place; but ghostly as it was, it wanted not in legends among the superstitious negroes, to increase its terrors. Some few years before, a negro woman who had incurred Legree’s displeasure was confined there for several weeks. What passed there, we do not say; the negroes used to whisper darkly to each other; but it was known that the body of the unfortunate creature was one day taken down from there, and buried; and after that it was said that oaths and cursings, and the sound of violent blows, used to ring through that old garret, and mingled with wailings and groans of despair. Once, when Legree chanced to overhear something of this kind, he flew into a violent passion, and swore that the next one that told stories about that garret should have an opportunity of knowing what was there, for he would chain them up there for a week. This hint was enough to repress talking, though of course it did not disturb the credit of the story in the least.
[Continue reading the full text of chapter 38 and first part of 39, here.]
Commentary by Denise Kohn
Assistant Professor of English at Baldwin-Wallace College
In Chapter 38, Stowe returns to the harrowing plot of Tom and Cassy on Legree’s plantation, which she had briefly interrupted in Chapter 37 with the story of George and Eliza’s final passage on the Underground Railroad to Canada. While the freedom of the Harris family provides readers with much-needed catharsis, the juxtaposition of their happiness in Canada to the horror of slavery in Louisiana heightens the nightmarish world of Legree’s plantation. Stowe further underscores the contrast between the fates of George and Tom through the chapter titles. While Chapter 37 is titled “Liberty,” Stowe titles Chapter 38, “Victory,” to suggest that the ultimate freedom is the victory of the Christian afterlife. Stowe employs juxtaposition again in Chapter 39, “Stratagem,” the other chapter in this week’s installment, which details Cassy’s daring plan to run away. While Stowe celebrates Tom’s heroic faith, which allows him to triumph over Legree, she situates his story of Christian suffering within the context of the Harris family’s successful escape and Cassy’s bold wit and cool bravery.
In the title and epigraph to Chapter 38, Stowe references 1 Corinthians 15:56-57: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the largest sense, Tom’s victory, then, is the victory of Christian salvation over death and hell. Tom’s victory, however, is multi-faceted. In Chapter 38, his faith gives him a personal victory over his psychological despair and the physical brutality of slavery on Legree’s plantation. Deprived of even the most basic food and sleep, Tom no longer has time or strength to read the Bible and begins to wonder if “God had forgotten him.” Here, as elsewhere in the novel, Stowe shows how slavery affects even the strongest and most devout—for if Tom can lose sight of his faith, how can anyone, especially women like Cassy who have been subjected to years of drunken sexual abuse, be expected to sustain belief? Yet when Legree tries to tempt Tom with the promise of an easier life and tells him to “hold to me,” in other words to serve and believe in Legree’s power rather than God, Tom bravely refuses.
[Continue reading the full text of Denise Kohn’s commentary here.]
How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!
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