Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter 16: Tom’s Mistress and Her Opinions Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At breakfast, Marie declares to her husband, Eva, and Miss Ophelia that the slaves are really the masters of their owners, that no one understands her physical maladies, and that slaves like Mammy complain too much and do too little. When St. Clare and Eva leave, Marie says that Eva is strange, always playing with the slaves, which does not teach them their place in the household. St. Clare, she continues, believes slaves should be treated kindly and that any faults in slaves are the responsibility of their masters. Marie asserts to Ophelia that this is nonsense. Slaves, she says, are a “degraded race.”
Marie continues in her description of slaves’ behavior. Mammy, who essentially takes care of Eva before the arrival of Miss Ophelia, is, in Marie’s understanding, a complainer and a hypochondriac (which is, of course, a better description of Marie herself). Although St. Clare takes a more enlightened and challenging view—that slaves’ deficiencies might be derived from their servitude—Marie believes slaves are slaves because they are inferior, “degraded” in the eyes of God.
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Marie brought Mammy from her father’s house but did not bring along Mammy’s husband. St. Clare argues this is cruel, but Marie refuses to acknowledge that black marriage resembles the white institution—slaves do not feel as whites do. Marie believes St. Clare should flog his slaves when they misbehave.
Marie similarly does not understand that a marriage between black people might in any way resemble a marriage between whites. Of course, Marie's own marriage isn't characterized by love, as she has poisoned it.
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St. Clare tells Ophelia that Adolph, his footman, has been taking too much of his clothing. Ophelia decries the slaves’ (and, implicitly, their master’s) laziness, and states that St. Clare ought to let his slaves be educated, intellectually and spiritually. St. Clare plays the piano while he considers this opinion, and Marie says educating slaves is worthless. Ophelia also criticizes St. Clare for letting Tom play with Eva; she finds this “dreadful.” St. Clare says that the two care for each other and points out Ophelia’s hypocrisy.
St. Clare’s time at the piano allows him to think over Miss Ophelia’s comments, which clearly affect him (as we see later in the novel). But Ophelia has her own prejudices, and although she opposes slavery she finds black people frightful, indeed somewhat repulsive. Ophelia must learn how to interact with black people as equals, how to treat all people with compassion.
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The house’s opulence is described, and Beecher Stowe argues that black people are inclined to enjoy this kind of majesty. Eva offers Mammy her golden brooch as a present, since Mammy has a headache. Marie says this is a terrible thing to do, though St. Clare defends it. Marie and Eva leave for church, and St. Clare and Ophelia stay behind.
An example of Beecher Stowe’s own racial attitudes. One would be hard-pressed to support her opinion that blacks appreciate opulence more than whites. These views, however, were common even among abolitionists like Beecher Stowe.
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Marie describes the church sermon over dinner, wherein the pastor explains that “orders and distinctions in society come from God.” St. Clare thinks this justification for slavery is immoral. He believes that slavery exists for economic reasons, to spur on the cotton trade, and if this trade ceased to need slavery, no one would have to justify the institution anymore. Eva says she likes slavery because it means her household contains more people for her to love. She tells of her Bible studies and singing with Tom, and St. Clare relates that Tom has begun praying for St. Clare’s conversion to Christianity.
The pastor's comments are another religious justification for slavery, such as was common in the South. St. Clare takes a more practical tack, arguing that people will justify slavery however they wish, but it is economically necessary and therefore tolerated. Tom’s prayers for St. Clare, that he might accept Christianity, will eventually be answered just before St. Clare’s untimely death.
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