Tag Archives: National Era

March 25, 1852

Transcription of Chapters 41 and 42

Chapter XLI—Continued.

After this, Legree became a harder drinker than ever before. He no longer drank cautiously, prudently, but imprudently and recklessly.

There were reports around the country, soon after, that he was sick and dying. Excess had brought on that frightful disease that seems to throw the lurid shadows of a coming retribution back into the present life. None could bear the horrors of that sick room, when he raved and screamed, and spoke of sights which almost stopped the blood of those who heard him; and, at his dying bed, stood a stern, white, inexorable figure, saying, “Come! come! come!”

By a singular coincidence, on the very night that this vision appeared to Legree, the house-door was found open in the morning, and some of the Negroes had seen two white figures gliding down the avenue towards the high-road.

It was sunrise when Cassy and Emmeline paused for a moment in a little knot of trees near the town.

Cassy was dressed after the manner of the Creole Spanish ladies—wholly in black. A small black bonnet on her head, covered by a veil thick with embroidery, concealed her face. It had been agreed that, in their escape, she was to personate the character of a Creole lady, and Emmeline that of her servant.

Brought up from early life in connection with the highest society, the language, movements, and air of Cassy were all in agreement with this idea; and she had still enough remaining with her of a once splendid wardrobe and set of jewels, to enable her to personate the thing to advantage.

She stopped in the outskirts of the town, where she had noticed trunks for sale, and purchased a handsome one. This she requested the man to send along with her. And, accordingly, thus escorted by a boy wheeling her trunk, and Emmeline behind her carrying her carpet-bag and sundry bundles, she made her appearance at the small tavern like a lady of consideration.

The first person that struck her, after her arrival, was George Shelby, who was staying there, awaiting the next boat.

Cassy had remarked the young man from her loop-hole in the garret, and seen him bear away the body of Tom, and observed, with secret exultation, his rencontre with Legree. Subsequently, she had gathered, from the conversations she had overheard among the Negroes, as she glided about in her ghostly disguise, after nightfall, who he was, and in what relation he stood to Tom. She therefore felt an immediate accession of confidence, when she found that he was, like herself, awaiting the next boat.

Cassy’s air and manner, address, and evident command of money, prevented any rising disposition to suspicion in the hotel. People never inquire too closely into those who are fair on the main point, of paying well—a thing which Cassy had foreseen when she provided herself with money.

In the edge of the evening, a boat was heard coming along, and George Shelby handed Cassy aboard, with the politeness which comes naturally to every Kentuckian, and exerted himself to provide her with a good state-room.

Cassy kept her room and bed, on pretext of illness, during the whole time they were on Red river; and was waited on, with obsequious devotion, by her attendant.

When they arrived at the Mississippi river, George, having learned that the course of the strange lady was upward, like his own, proposed to take a state-room for her on the same boat with himself—good-naturedly compassionating her feeble health, and desirous to do what he could to assist her.

Behold, therefore, the whole party safely transferred to the good steamer Cincinnati, and sweeping up the river under a powerful head of steam.

[Continue reading Part 2 of Chapter 41 and Part 1 of chapter 42, here.]

Commentary by Beth Lueck

Associate Professor of Language and Literature at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

            Uncle Tom’s Cabin is filled with separations and losses because of slavery:  husbands and wives separated, mothers and children torn from each other, families irretrievably broken.  As a mother herself, one who had lost a much loved baby, Charley, Harriet Beecher Stowe sympathized with the losses wrought by slavery.  “It was at his dying bed & at his grave,” she recalled, “that I learnt what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her.”  She prayed that “such anguish” on her own part “might not be suffered in vain!”  Stowe was especially sensitive to slavery’s destruction of the family, and her novel offers one heartbreaking example after another of these separations.  In the early chapters, Eliza’s son, Harry, is sold, compelling her to run away in an effort to save him.  Uncle Tom, of course, is also sold; headed south, he doubts that he will ever see his wife or children again. 

The last chapters of the book, however, reverse this movement.  Although many of the characters will never see their loved ones again—most notably, Uncle Tom himself—others are reunited.  George Harris and his wife, Eliza, are already reunited, but George is also reunited with his sister, Emily, now Madame de Thoux.  Cassy, whose older children were sold and who killed her infant son rather than let him grow up to be sold,[1] is finally reunited with her lost daughter, Eliza, and introduced to her granddaughter.  In chapter 42 Stowe describes the tender reunion of the two families:  “the new-found family embraced each other, with a holy trust in Him who from such peril and dangers, and by such unknown ways, had brought them together.”  She underscores the truthfulness of such stories “when a system prevails which whirls families and scatters their members, as the wind whirls and scatters the leaves of autumn.  These shores of refuge [Canada], like the eternal shore, often unite again, in glad communion, hearts that for long years have mourned each other as lost.”  


[1]Stowe attests to the truthfulness of this in the last chapter, Concluding Remarks:  “There are those living who know the mothers whom this accursed traffic has driven to the murder of their children; and themselves seeking in death a shelter from woes more dreaded than death.”

[Continue reading the full text of  Beth Lueck’s commentary here.]



March 18, 1852

Transcription of Chapters 39 to 41

Chapter XL.—The Young Master.

Two days after, a young man drove a light wagon up through the avenue of China trees, and, throwing the reins hastily on the horse’s neck, sprang out, and inquired for the owner of the place.

It was George Shelby; and to show how he came to be there, we must go back in our story.

The letter of Miss Ophelia to Mrs. Shelby had, by some unfortunate accidents, been detained for a month or two at some remote post office before it reached its destination, and, of course, before they could read it, Tom was already lost to their view among the distant swamps of the Red River.

Mrs. Shelby read the intelligence with the deepest concern; but any immediate action upon it was an impossibility. She was then in attendance upon the sick bed of her husband, who lay delirious in the crisis of a fever. Master George Shelby, who in the interval had changed from a boy to a tall youth, was her constant and faithful assistant, and her only reliance in superintending his father’s affairs. Miss Ophelia had taken the precaution to send them the name of the lawyer who did business for the St. Clares; and the most that in the emergency could be done, was to address a letter of inquiry to him. The sudden death of Mr. Shelby, a few days after, brought, of course, an absorbing pressure of other interests for a season.

Mr. Shelby showed his confidence in his wife’s ability, by appointing her sole executrix upon his estates; and thus immediately a large and complicated amount of business was brought upon her hands.

Mrs. Shelby, with characteristic energy, applied herself to the work of straightening the entangled web of affairs; and she and George were for some time occupied with collecting and examining accounts, selling property, and settling debts; for Mrs. Shelby was determined that everything should be brought into tangible and recognisable shape, let the consequences to her prove what they might.

[Continue reading the full text of part 2 of chapter 39, chapter 40, and part 1 of chapter 41, here.]

Commentary by Wesley Raabe

Assistant Professor, Kent State University

In his 1895 memoir, William Dean Howells, one of the leading American writers of his era, recalls reading Stowe’s novel in his youth as it “came out week after week in the old National Era, and I broke my heart over Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as every one else did.”[1] To the delight of readers as enthusiastic about Stowe’s work as the young Howells, publisher John P. Jewett in an Era advertisement on 11 March had promised that Stowe’s book “will be ready march 20” and available from the “principal booksellers in the United States.”[2] Doubtless many of the earliest copies of Jewett’s edition went into the hands of Era subscribers—impatient readers who chose not to wait a week, or two, and instead sought one of the 10,000 copies of the book that would be sold before Stowe’s story completed its serial run. To imagine the experience of such readers, those who read the ending in the Jewett edition before the serial installment arrived in the mail this week, the next, or the next can alert us to the complexities of reading Stowe’s work in multiple publication forms.

The readers who purchased a copy of the Jewett edition before the serial installment arrived no doubt quickly found their way to the top of page 273 in the second volume, where chapter 40 picked up from the 11 March installment. But for readers who knew the work as a series of weekly installments, the chapter number must have prompted some questions—because the Jewett edition’s “chapter 39,” entitled “The Martyr,” a chapter which had begun on 11 March, was numbered chapter 40 in the Era. In this 18 March installment, the serial reader would find the remainder of that chapter; chapter 40, “The Young Master”; and part of chapter 41, “An Authentic Ghost Story.” Perhaps some dedicated readers eventually figured how the chapters came to be renumbered, but many may have surrendered to the inevitability of misprints and errors or decided to trust the book as the more likely product of the author’s careful consideration. But if readers today consider closely this moment in the text’s publication history—when some members of Stowe’s audience had two versions of her text before them—we might recognize that the antislavery reader that Stowe anticipates in the Era is somewhat different than the reader she anticipates in the Jewett edition.

Notes are available on the full-length post. See link to full text below.

[Continue reading the full text of Wesley Raabe’s commentary here.]

March 11, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 38 and Part 1 of Chapter 39

Chapter XXXVIII.

“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!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

February 26, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 35

Chapter XXXV.

“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.[1]

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!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

February 19, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 34

Chapter XXXIV.

“And slight, withal, may be the things that bring
Back on the heart a weight it fain would fling
Aside forever; it may be a sound,
A flower, the wind, the ocean, which shall wound,
Striking the electric chain wherewith we’re darkly bound.
Childe Harold’s Pil., Canto iv.

The sitting room of Legree’s establishment was a large, long room, with a wide, ample fire-place. It had once been hung with a showy and expensive paper, which now hung mouldering, torn, and discolored, from the damp walls. The place had that peculiar, sickening, unwholesome smell, compounded of mingled damp, dirt, and decay, which one often notices in close old houses. The wall-paper was defaced in spots, by slops of beer or wine, garnished with chalk memorandums and long sums footed up, as if somebody had been practicing arithmetic there. In the open fire-place stood a brazier, full of burning charcoal, for the weather was not cold, yet the evenings always seemed damp and chilly in that great room; and Legree, moreover, wanted a place to light his cigars, and heat his water for punch. The ruddy glare of the charcoal displayed the confused and unpromising aspect of the room. Saddles, bridles, several sorts of harness, riding whips, overcoats and various other articles of clothing, were scattered up and down the room in confused variety, and the dogs of whom we have before spoken had encamped themselves among them, to suit their own taste and convenience.

Legree was just mixing himself a tumbler of punch, pouring his hot water from a cracked and broken-nosed pitcher, grumbling as he did so—

“Plague on that Sambo, to kick up this yer row between me and the new hands! The fellow won’t be fit to work for a week, now, right in the press of the season!”

“Yes, just like you,” said a voice behind his chair. It was the woman Cassy, who had stolen upon his soliloquy.

“Hah! you she devil, you’ve come back, have you?”

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 34, here.]

Commentary by Patricia Hill

 Professor of History at Wesleyan University

Today’s installment, with its Byronian epigraph, offers a fascinating account of the power of memories associated with material objects.  Stowe uses Legree’s horror at seeing the ringlet of Eva’s hair to segue into Legree’s personal history. Uncle Tom had kept the ringlet, along with the dollar George gave him on parting, in a paper suspended by a black cord around his neck. Sambo, who calls it a “witch thing,” informs Legree that such items were acquired to ward off the pain of beatings such as the one Tom had just endured.  Stowe was aware, as she makes clear in her Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that African religious culture included a belief in spells, “fetish and obi,” and “the evil eye.” In the Key she suggests that this reflects a “peculiarity of constitution” in the African race. But the reader knows, of course, that Sambo is wrong is assuming that Tom kept these objects about his person as anything other than cherished mementoes of people he loved. And Legree’s reaction reveals a susceptibility to belief in witchcraft that is not racially delimited. In this passage from the novel, Stowe offers a psychological rather than a racial explanation for the ringlet’s powerful effect on Legree. She also sets the stage for Cassy’s successful strategy of haunting Legree.

We learn that Legree’s pedigree is divided; born inNew Englandto a devout Christian mother and an abusive father, Legree rejects the better element in his nature inherited from his mother in favor of his father’s legacy of brutality. In contrast to a common trope in sentimental fiction where sainted mothers’ dying prayers and disembodied spirits guard sons against vice, Legree strikes his mother senseless and burns the lock of hair sent with a message of love and forgiveness when she dies. Stowe tells us that Legree was haunted thereafter by dreams of his mother despite his most strenuous efforts to erase her memory. Stowe uses this to make a rather abstruse theological argument about how a God of love and a God of wrath can coexist in the same divine being. She posits a “necromancy of evil” that turns an emblem of perfect love into an instrument of torment. Both the mother’s lock and Eva’s ringlet are mementoes of such perfect love, of the Christ who inhabited them both. The persistence of memory—especially dark memories–and the inability to forget at will are triggered by the fetish object as the Byronian epigraph suggests. Legree attempts to bury these memories, initially in his plan to gratify his lust with Emmeline and then, when the hymn she is singing about the judgment day triggers another image of his mother, by calling Sambo and Quimbo to join him in drunken carousing.

The picture Stowe paints by detailing Legree’s history is of a man who has chosen evil and who willfully does evil. His character allows Cassy to contemplate murder.  Her rumination on whether it would be “a sin to rid the world of such a wretch” prepares the reader to accept Cassy’s efforts to do just that. Stowe is not quite endorsing murder but she has already presented Cassy’s killing of her infant as understandable, even as an expression of maternal love in the distorting context of slavery. What slavery has done to Cassy is also a central concern in today’s installment. It has clearly hardened her, but it has not reduced her power.  Stowe’s description of her as a “strong, impassioned woman” who can maintain influence over “even the most brutal man” explains her ability to manipulate Legree.  Cassy stands up to Legree; she criticizes him with impunity because he is afraid of her. Stowe tells us that he fears her because the “hideous yoke” of slavery had made her liable to fits of raving insanity. It is this element of slave-induced insanity that seems to give Cassy permission to contravene the moral code that Stowe would ordinarily insist upon in a sympathetic character. What this passage also reveals is Cassy’s pride and her cleverness. Cassy sees in Legree’s reaction to the ringlet a superstitious weakness that makes him vulnerable.  She will find a way to exploit that weakness in a way that this passage foreshadows.

[Continue reading the full text of  Patricia Hill’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 1852, here!

February 12, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 32, Part 2 and Chapter 33

Chapter XXXII—Continued.

Slowly the weary, dispirited creatures wound their way into the room, and one by one, with crouching reluctance, presented their baskets to be weighed. As each was weighed, Legree noted on a slate, on the side of which was pasted a list of names, the amount. Tom’s basket was weighed and approved; but he hesitated and lingered to see the success of the poor woman he had befriended. Tottering with weakness, she came forward and delivered her basket. It was of full weight, as Legree well perceived; but affecting anger, he said:

“What, you lazy beast, short again! Stand aside; you’ll catch it this time.”

The woman gave a groan of utter despair, and sat down on a board.

The person who had been called Misse Cassy now came forward, and with a haughty, negligent air, delivered her basket. As she delivered it, Legree looked in her eyes with a sneering yet inquiring glance. She fixed her black eyes steadily on him, her lips moved slightly, and she said something in French—what it was, no one knew; but Legree’s face became for a moment perfectly demoniac as she spoke, and he half raised his hand, as if to strike—a gesture which she regarded with fierce disdain, as she turned and walked away.

“And now,” said Legree, “come here, you Tom; ye see I telled ye I didn’t buy you jest for the common work; I mean to promote ye, and make a driver of ye; and to-night yer begin to get yer hand in. So now yer jest take this yer woman and flog her. You’ve seen enough to know how”——

“I beg mass’rs pardon,” said Tom; “hope mass’r won’t set me at that; it’s what I aint used to, never did do, and know I couldn’t do any way.”

“You’ll learn a pretty smart chance of things ye never did know, before I’ve done with ye,” said Legree, taking up a cowhide that lay near, and striking Tom a heavy blow across the cheek, and following up the infliction by a shower of blows.

“There!” he said, as he stopped to rest. “Now will yer tell me yer can’t do it?”

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 32 and Chapter 33 here.]

Commentary by Robert Levine

 Professor of English at the University of Maryland

Jane Tompkins has influentially argued that the Quaker woman Rachel Halliday is “God in human form,” and that “The Quaker Settlement,” Chapter XIII of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, provides a utopian, millenarian vision of women’s ability to reform the nation through the power of matriarchy located in the kitchen. Women’s power, in Tompkins’s formulation, is sentimental power—the power of feeling—and it has the potential to do significant “culture work.”[1]

In that context, what are we to make of bitter, violent Cassy, who tells Tom, even as she nurses him, that she has lost her faith in God and has committed infanticide—a crime, she states, that was no crime at all, but instead a liberation of her baby son from slavery. Anticipating the historical Margaret Garner, who killed her baby daughter in 1856, Cassy had experienced enough of the horrors of slavery to feel justified in her action, even as she suggests that it was the loss of her religion that allowed her to act as she did. Tom’s steadfast Christianity to some extent keeps him from acting in violently rebellious ways, though as we see in the continuation of Chapter XXXII, it does not keep him from being rebellious. Hardly the acquiescent “Uncle Tom” of twentieth-century caricatures, Tom, in the spirit of Christ, calmly but firmly tells the demonic Legree that he refuses to flog an elderly slave woman. Thus we have what can seem to be a paradox: that Tom is termed “unresisting” in the final sentence of that chapter even as he resists. In her depiction of the unresisting resistant Tom, Stowe addresses the paradoxical nature of Christ Himself, whom she similarly depicts in her 1853 poem “Caste and Christ” as simultaneously peaceful and militant. Though Tom ultimately refuses Cassy’s entreaties to assist her with a violent escape from Legree’s plantation, the linking of Tom and Cassy points to their similarities, both as rebels and Christians.

As Cassy nurses Tom in Chapter XXXIII, Tom attempts to convert her to his Christian vision. But were she to “convert” at that moment, she would not have been able to escape with Emmeline and wreak havoc on the plantation. Stowe needs to keep her empowered by keeping her a doubter. The dialogue then becomes more a monologue as Cassy tells her life history, which recapitulates some of the earlier stories of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Like Mr. Shelby, her lover and the father of her children went into debt, which makes Cassy vulnerable in the way of Uncle Tom, as she is eventually sold to Legree. Prior to that, however, we see how black women are vulnerable in ways that black men are not: She is purchased by her lover’s cousin, who basically wins her as part of a gambling debt and then sells off her children and makes her into his sexual slave. As she puts it, “he made me as submissive as he desired.” She snaps mentally when he keeps her from her children (or becomes enraged in the way of a sane person who hates to see her children suffer), and attempts to kill him with a bowie knife. Nowhere in the novel is there any suggestion that Stowe condemns her for that; and there is little sense that she condemns Cassy’s subsequent decision to kill the baby son that she eventually has with the kindly Captain Stuart.

Cassy will eventually rediscover her Christianity; and there is every indication by the end of the novel that Stowe envisions her as saved. In other words, the Victorian Harriet Beecher Stowe presents a woman who is multiply raped (the clear implication of what happens after the cousin of the beloved white father takes “possession” of Cassy) and the acknowledged killer of one of her children, who nonetheless by the novel’s end lives happily ever after in salvific grace. What I want to suggest here is that Stowe, by making Cassy irreligious at the start, gives her the latitude to act out her rage against the patriarchal institution, and patriarchy itself (as embodied by Legree) in ways that point to the existence of other forms of female power capable of doing cultural work. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar famously identified the figure of the rebellious “madwoman” haunting the Victorian novel (see their seminal The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination [1979]), and the rebellious Cassy, who eventually plots her escape with the enslaved Emmeline from a second-story attic-like room, fits the bill of the “dark” woman who can be read in dualistic relationship to the more conventional Rachel Halliday.

[1] Jane Tompkins, The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 142.

[Continue reading the full text of  Robert Levine’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 1852, here!

February 5, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 31, Part 2 and Chapter 32, Part 1

Chapter XXXI—Continued.

It was late in the evening when the weary occupants of the shanties came flocking home—men and women in soiled and tattered garments, surly and uncomfortable, and in no mood to look pleasantly on new-comers. The small village was alive with no inviting sounds; hoarse guttural voices contending at the hand-mills where their morsel of hard corn was yet to be ground into meal, to fit it for the cake that was to constitute their only supper. From the earliest dawn of the day they had been in the fields, pressed to work under the driving lash of the overseers, for it was now in the very heat and hurry of the season, and no means was left untried to press every one up to the top of their capabilities. “True,” says the negligent lounger, “Picking cotton isn’t hard work.” Isn’t it? And it isn’t much inconvenience, either, to have one drop of water fall on your head, yet the worst torture of the inquisition is produced by drop after drop, drop after drop, falling moment after moment, with monotonous succession, on the same spot; and work in itself not hard becomes so by being pressed hour after hour with unvarying, unrelenting sameness, with not even the consciousness of free will to take from its tediousness. Tom looked in vain among the gang, as they poured along, for companionable faces. He saw only sullen, scowling, imbruted men, and feeble, discouraged women, or women that were not women—the strong pushing away the weak—the gross, unrestricted animal selfishness of human beings, of whom nothing good was expected and desired, and who, treated in every way like brutes, had sunk as nearly to their level as it was possible for human beings to do. To a late hour in the night, the sound of the grinding was protracted, for the mills were few in number compared with the grinders, and the weary and feeble ones were driven back by the strong, and came on last in their turn.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 31, Part 2, and Chapter 32, Part 1, here.]

Commentary by Susan M. Ryan

 Associate Professor and vice chair of English at the University of Louisville

In this installment of Stowe’s novel, Tom has arrived at the Legree plantation, dispirited and physically exhausted. It’s the end of a typically long workday, which timing allows Tom to witness the ways in which overwork and abuse have affected Legree’s slaves, the “sullen, scowling, imbruted men and feeble, discouraged women” trudging in from the fields to grind their meager share of corn. As a means of underscoring the slaves’ degradation, Stowe’s narrator emphasizes the plantation’s systematic destruction of domesticity—readers have already learned from the previous week’s offering that Tom is disappointed to find that his new master will not even provide him with the refuge of a neat, quiet little cabin—instead, he’s assigned to a filthy shack, where he’ll sleep on a dirt floor among similarly arranged strangers. Stowe further emphasizes the disintegration of home life in her description of the evening meal—instead of preparing and sharing food as families, Legree’s slaves subsist as competitive, atomized beings, hostile toward one another by habit and necessity. Hardship has isolated them, left them bereft of affiliation. Here Tom’s habitual, constitutional benevolence intrudes: he grinds corn and revives the cooking fire on behalf of two weary women, (re)awakening in them a “womanly kindness” that leads them to make his dinner while he reads aloud from the bible.

Tom’s first night at the Legree plantation sets the stage for spiritual trials to come. He’s already struggling with despair; Stowe describes him as sitting “alone, by the smouldering fire, that flickered up redly in his face,” suggesting that the hellish qualities of the world Legree and slavery have created might engulf even Tom. But this “disconsolate” figure, as Stowe describes him, is not in fact beyond spiritual comfort—that night he dreams of (or is visited by?) Eva, whose “deep eyes” exude “rays of warmth and comfort” that go directly to Tom’s heart. The pattern thus established, of despair and spiritual renewal, will be repeated with increasing intensity across the narrative’s next several installments.

The following chapter, the action of which takes place a few weeks later, introduces the desolate and embittered—but still powerful—figure of Cassy, whom readers have previously encountered only via a glimpse of her “wild” face and her unidentified voice from within Legree’s house. It becomes clear by the end of the installment that Legree is setting a trap for Tom, in which the latter will be forced either to beat another slave or be beaten himself.  But the pseudo-cliffhanger with which the segment ends carries no real suspense. Tom’s Christ-like forbearance and penchant for self-sacrifice are so well established by this point in the narrative that the reader cannot imagine his failing Legree’s diabolical moral test.  Tom’s trajectory, in other words, entails no more uncertainty than do scriptural accounts of Christ’s passion. The point is not what ultimately happens to Tom—that most readers steeped in the New Testament could readily guess—but rather the ways in which his gentle resistance and brutal murder allow Stowe to emphasize the cruelties of slavery and the redemptive power of Christian faith.

[Continue reading the full text of  Susan M. Ryan’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 1852, here!

January 29, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 31, Part 1

Chapter XXXI.

“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!
High—e—oh! high—e—o!

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.


1Jane 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.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

January 22, 1852

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

Transcription of Chapter 30

Chapter XXX.

“Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity. Wherefore lookest thou on them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devourest the man that is more righteous than he.”—Heb. i, 13.

On the lower part of a small, mean boat on the Red River, Tom sat—chains on his wrists, chains on his feet, and a weight heavier than chains lay on his heart. All had faded from his sky—moon and star; all had passed by him, as the trees and banks were now passing, to return no more—Kentucky home, with wife and children, and indulgent owners—St. Clare home, with all its refinements and splendors—the golden head of Eva, with its saint-like eyes—the proud, gay, handsome, seemingly careless, yet ever-kind St. Clare—hours of ease and indulgent leisure—all gone; and in place thereof, what remains?

It is one of the bitterest apportionments of a lot of slavery, that the negro, sympathetic and assimilative, after acquiring in a refined family the tastes and feelings which form the atmosphere of such a place, is not the less liable to become the bond slave of the coarsest and most brutal—just as a chair or table, which once decorated the superb saloon, comes at last battered and defaced to the bar room of some filthy tavern or some low haunt of vulgar debauchery. The great difference is, that the table and chair cannot feel, and the man can—for even a legal enactment that he shall be “taken, reputed, adjudged in law to be a chattel personal,” cannot blot out his soul, with its own private little world of memories, hopes, loves, fears, and desires.

Mr. Simon Legree, Tom’s master, had purchased slaves at one place and another in New Orleans, to the number of eight, and driven them handcuffed, in couples of two and two, down to the good steamer Pirate, which lay at the levee, ready for a trip up the Red River.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 30, here.]

Commentary by Sarah Meer

Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Cambridge

Stowe’s epigraph to this chapter directs us to the complicit witness who is denounced near the end: ‘wherefore lookest thou upon them who deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue…?’. The gentleman whose conscience is apparent in his, ‘listening to the conversation with repressed uneasiness’, is such an onlooker, and so he is denounced by another character:

it is you considerate, humane men, that are responsible for all the brutality and outrage wrought by these wretches; because, if it were not for your sanction and influence, the whole system could not keep foothold for an hour.

For Stowe, this applied not just to decent Southern planters, but to American society itself: national complicity, crystallised by the Fugitive Slave Law, had been her original spur to write the novel.

Stowe also seems to have considered this chapter important for its introduction to the profit-centred philosophy of the very worst slaveowners. When, after the novel’s success, she published a factual book, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to elucidate her claims in fiction, she produced evidence for the mindset that  she gives to Legree in this chapter. In this instalment, Legree makes the horrifying boast that he intentionally works his slaves beyond human endurance; he has calculated that working people to death is more cost effective than sparing them to work another day: ‘Use up, and buy more, ‘s my way’ because ‘it comes cheaper in the end’. The Key gave real-life examples of Legrees, reprinting an account of slaves on a sugar plantation working eighteen to twenty-hour days, seven days a week, for two to three months at a time.[1] The Key also confirms that it is no accident that the boat that takes Tom up the Red River in this instalment is called ‘Pirate’. Later in the novel, Stowe will observe that the international slave trade is ‘considered as piracy’ in American law, but that a domestic trade that is just as terrible ‘is an inevitable attendant  and result of American slavery’. Accordingly, in The Key, Stowe calls her character ‘Pirate Legree’, and in this chapter he is taking slaves away from their families on a boat, just as international slave traders removed people from their homes in other lands.[2] In later book editions of the novel, this chapter was subtitled ‘The Middle Passage’, making explicit the comparison with the Atlantic journeys of slave ships.

But for one contemporary reader the most compelling aspect of the chapter was not its staging of the question of complicity, nor the horror of the economic argument for using human beings like machines.

[1] Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (London: Clarke, Beeton, 1853), 74

[2] Stowe, Key, 69. The comparison with the international slave trade is made in the “Concluding Remarks” published at the end of the novel.

[Continue reading the full text of  Sarah Meer ‘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 1852, here!

January 15, 1852

Transcription of Chapter 29

Chapter XXIX.

A slave warehouse! Perhaps some of my readers conjure up horrible visions of such a place. They fancy some foul, obscure den, some horrible Tartarusinformis, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.” But no, innocent friend; in these days men have learned the art of sinning expertly and genteelly, so as not to shock the eyes and senses of respectable society. Human property is high in the market, and is therefore well fed, well cleaned, tended, and looked after, that it may come to sale sleek and strong and shining. A slave warehouse in New Orleans is a house externally not much unlike many others, kept with neatness; and where every day you may see arranged, under a sort of shed along the outside, rows of men and women, who stand there as a sign of the property sold within.

Then you shall be courteously entreated to call and examine, and shall find an abundance of husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and young children, to be “sold separately, or in lots to suit the convenience of the purchaser;” and that soul immortal, once bought with blood and anguish by the Son of God, when the earth shook, and the rocks rent, and the graves were opened, can be sold, leased, mortgaged, exchanged for groceries or dry goods, to suit the phases of trade or the fancy of the purchaser.

It was a day or two after the conversation between Marie and Miss Ophelia that Tom, Adolph, and about half a dozen others of the St. Clare estate, were turned over to the loving kindness of Mr. Skeggs, the keeper of a depot on —— street, to await the auction next day.

Tom had with him quite a sizable trunk full of clothing, as had most others of them. They were ushered for the night into a long room where many other men, of all ages, sizes, and shades of complexion, were assembled, and from which roars of laughter and unthinking merriment were proceeding.

“Ah, ha! that’s right. Go it, boys—go it!” said Mr. Skeggs, the keeper. “My people are always so merry. Sambo, I see!” he said, speaking approvingly to a burly negro who was performing tricks of low buffoonry which occasioned the shouts which Tom had heard.

As might be imagined, Tom was in no humor to join these proceedings, and therefore setting his trunk as far as possible from the noisy group, he sat down on it and leaned his face against the wall.

[Continue reading the full text of chapter 29, here.]

Commentary by Jo-Ann Morgan

 Associate Professor of African Studies and Art at Western Illinois University

Were the January 15, 1952 installment of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for The National Era less steeped in irony, Harriet Beecher Stowe addressing the reader as “innocent friend” might have assuaged northern subscribers of complicity with the goings on down South. “A slave warehouse!” she announces, where “husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children” in bondage wait to be sold. The scenario transpires in New Orleans, but one “gentleman” who will profit by selling his inherited lot of human property resides in New York.

“[T]hese days men have learned the art of sinning expertly and genteelly, so as not to shock the eyes and senses of respectable society,” Stowe chastises. But it is not just blind Yankee mercantilism she indicts. The artful sin to which she alludes is indeed unspeakable; something proper women were not supposed to notice, much less mention. Destined for the auction block is a mother named Susan, a “mulatto woman…with soft eyes and a gentle and pleasing physiognomy.” Also for sale is her daughter Emmeline, “a young girl of fifteen…. a quadroon, as may be seen from her fairer complexion.” The reader well knew the subtext implicit in pale skin. In an earlier chapter Stowe remarks on another fair young woman. “Safe under the protecting care of her mistress, Eliza had reached maturity without those temptations which make beauty so fatal an inheritance to a slave.” Here in chapter twenty-nine the consequences of that aforementioned fatal inheritance are made squeamishly clear.

As the girl huddles with her mother, leering men pass by, touching her hair, admiring her soft hands. Her mother admonishes she must brush her pretty curls all back straight so that “respectable families” might wish to purchase her. But pious ladies, such as she whose attendant they had once been, were not habitués of slave markets. Here were vulgar men in checked clothing and palmetto straw hats– “great, burly, gruff men; little, chirping, dried men; long-favored, lank, hard men; and every variety of stubbed-looking, commonplace men.” They chew cigars and drool tobacco juice. In contrast, Stowe assures the reader, “the gentleman” who sells this mother and daughter “is a member of a Christian church in New York, who will receive the money, and go thereafter to the sacrament of his Lord and theirs, and think no more of it.” Is he then any less morally bankrupt that his crude southern brethren?

Fig. 1 Hammatt Billings, engraving Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Boston: John P. Jewett, 1852

A different slave market would be one of six illustrations by Hammatt Billings for John P. Jewett’s publication of the serial as a book later that year. Captioned “The Auction Sale,” that image accompanies the tragic story of an old slave named Aunt Hagar. (Fig. 1) The image resembles a vignette Billings recently used on his masthead design for the antislavery newspaper The Liberator.[1] (Fig. 2) More apropos to Stowe’s sentiment about the evil of slavery and the vulnerability of young slave girls is his rendition of the sale of Emmeline for Jewett’s gift book version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Fig. 2 Hammatt Billings, masthead engraving, The Liberator, c. 1850

[1] James F. O’Gorman, Accomplished in All Departments of Art– Hammatt Billings of Boston, 1818-1874 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1998), 48. William Lloyd Garrison began publishing The Liberator, stalwart among anti-slavery papers, January 1, 1830 and never missed an issue for 1,800 weeks. Over a thirty-five year run, The Liberator had three mastheads. The second, designed by David Claypoole Johnston, debuted March 23, 1838 and included an auction scene. For the third and last masthead design of the 1850s, Hammatt Billings elaborated on Johnston’s auction design and added a central roundel wherein a slave kneels before Christ. See: Donald M. Jacobs, editor, Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston (Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 1993) 10.

[Continue reading the full text of  Jo-Ann Morgan ‘s commentary and view more images here.]

How did Stowe connect this chapter to real-life stories? Find out here!

Check out the top news stories, this week in 1852, here!

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