Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter 31: The Middle Passage Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Tom is shackled hand and foot on a boat running down the Red River. Beecher Stowe remarks that slaves educated and brought up in better circumstances, like Tom, can easily be thrown into terrible ones. On the ship are others of Legree’s new slave purchases. Legree forces Tom to change into shabby clothes. Tom hides his Bible so it can’t be thrown away. Legree tells Tom that he will take the place of Tom's religion. Legree says he will rule Tom completely, but Tom resists, quietly.
Tom knows that all he has now, in the hands of Simon Legree, is his faith in God. Indeed this faith becomes even more important during his trials on the Red River plantation. It seems that, as much as Legree beats and injures him, his faith can only grow stronger.
Themes
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Christianity and Christian Charity Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Legree sizes up Emmeline, whom he finds attractive and warns to look happy, so that he will continue enjoying her company. Legree comments aloud that his hands have become strong and hard from beating up on his slaves. Legree describes his method of tough punishment to a white stranger, who claims Legree has also become hard-hearted.
Even fellow whites, some of whom are supportive of slavery, find Legree’s tactics excessive—these tactics tend to destroy his slaves, thus “using up” his property and leaving their owner at an economic disadvantage. Thus Legree’s motivations cannot just be profits; they derive from a deeper immorality and desire to exercise power over other human beings.
Themes
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The stranger argues to another gentleman that, if all slave-owners were as vile as Legree, the system would collapse under its own cruelty. Benevolent slave-owners are the ones who perpetuate the system under a veneer of civility, he continues. Emmeline hears the sad story of another slave who has been separated from her husband, and Beecher Stowe wonders whether Emmeline, and other slaves educated like her, and taught to believe in God, could manage to remain human under the strain of so much brutality.
This has been expressed before in the novel, but no place more forcefully than here. Slavery is a system of inherent inequality that has been given a decent enough reputation through the benevolence of certain masters. But the “peculiar institution”—as slavery was sometimes called—will be revealed for its true horrors, Beecher Stowe believes, if its cruelties are exhibited.
Themes
Slavery and Race Theme Icon
Christianity and Christian Charity Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon