Transcription of Chapter 35
“Which long for death, but it fleeth from them.”
Cassy entered the room, and found Emmeline sitting, pale with fear, in the farthest corner of it. As she came in, the girl started nervously up, but, on seeing who it was, rushed forward, and catching her arm, said:
“Oh, Cassy, is it you? I’m so glad you’ve come. I was afraid it was ——. Oh, you don’t know what a horrid noise there has been down stairs, all this evening!”
“I ought to know,” said Cassy, drily, “I’ve heard it often enough.”
“Oh, Cassy, do tell me, couldn’t we get away from this place? I don’t care where—into the swamps—among the snakes—anywhere. Couldn’t we get somewhere, away from here?”
“Nowhere but into our graves!” said Cassy.
“Did you ever try?”
“I’ve seen enough of trying; and what comes of it?” said Cassy.
“I’d be willing to live in the swamps, and gnaw the bark from trees. I aint afraid even of snakes. I’d rather have one near me than—him,” said Emmeline, eagerly.
“There have been a good many here of your opinion,” said Cassy. “But you couldn’t stay in the swamps; you’d be tracked by the dogs, and brought back, and then”——
“What would he do?” said the girl, looking with breathless interest in her face.
[Continue reading the full text of chapter 35, here.]
Commentary by Les Harrison
Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University
While this installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin does little to advance the plot of the novel, it contains three actions central to the amplification of Stowe’s themes of motherhood and the world to come. The first of these is Cassy’s conversation with Emmeline. Reprising her role as an atheistic tempter from her conversations with Tom in chapter 33, “The Quadroon’s Story,” Cassy’s counsels Emmeline to turn to alcohol in order to cope with the brutality of slavery.
For Stowe, Cassy’s gravest error is embodied in her impassioned exclamation to Emmeline at the start of the chapter: “What use is it for mothers to say anything? You are all to be bought and paid for, and your souls belong to whoever gets you. That’s the way it goes.” Here, Cassy inverts Tom’s famous declaration in chapter 32, “Cassy,” and present in nearly every single dramatic and cinematic adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “No! no! no! my soul an’t yours, Mas’r! You have n’t bought it,–ye can’t buy it! It ‘s been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it.” So anxious is Stowe to emphasize this contrast between Tom and Cassy’s understanding of the extent of their bondage that she has Tom repeat a similar version of this line near the close of the current installment: “I ‘ll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won’t give up to mortal man.”
Cassy’s conversation with Emmeline is book-ended by Tom’s confrontation with Legree in which he again defies his owner’s request to replace his Christian values with the debased values of a slaveholder. The scene opens with Tom’s almost rapturous anticipation of his death, his heart literally “throbb[ing] with joy” at his vision of the world to come. And time and time again in his conversation with Legree, Tom finds solace in the transitory nature of his sufferings when compared with “all ETERNITY to come after.”
The third major element of the chapter bracketed by these two conversations is Legree’s nightmare vision of his dead mother. This seemingly minor detail became a key scene in the H. J. Conway adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin staged at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in 1853. In addition to featuring an Uncle Tom who survives his trials on the Legree plantation to settle “down east,” the Conway version has Eliza Harris (who replaces Emmeline in the Legree section) and Cassy staging this dream sequence to bring about Legree’s death:
Legree. A witch thing. (Takes it uneasily. Cassy watches his every movement eagerly. He opens the paper, the silver dollar falls with the ribbon on the stage, but the ringlet of hair turns round his finger (Eva’s)
Legree with piercing shriek, echoed by Cassy, she in exultation.
Legree. Take it off, tear it from me, burn it up, it up! Where did it come from?
Cassy. (claps her hands loudly and shrieks) There! From your murdered mother—see!
Points to C[enter] window of house over verandah which suddenly becomes illuminated with white fire and shows Eliza with a long white dress, bosom bloody, and a white veil, points to Legree with her left hand and to heaven with her R[ight] H[and].
Legree. Ha! (wild scream) Hide me! Snatch this from me. (struggling) Drag it off, it turns tight round my hand, my arm, my neck! Now tighter, tighter still. (with effort) Help! I choke! Ha! What hand is this? It grasps my throat, it drags me to that yawning abyss. (struggling as if dragged) Now, now! Dark hands stretch forth around me! They clasp me, they shout, they shriek! They laugh, the demons laugh! They drag me, the demons drag me! Down, down! (falls) I choke, choke! I, I, choke!
Dies struggling. Sambo drags him off R.1.E. Cassy flies into house C.
Here, Conway unites the two themes of this installment in one dramatic tableau. In the role of Legree’s mother Eliza’s job is not to condemn or even to berate her wayward son, but merely, like Tom and, through him, Stowe herself, to point to heaven and the world to come.
1. “Conway’s Uncle Tom, Act V.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture. Ed. Stephen Railton: http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/onstage/scripts/osplhcaVIt.html
How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!
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