Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter 4: An Evening in Uncle Tom’s Cabin Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Uncle Tom’s cabin is simple, its front covered in beautiful flowers, with an interior organized around a hearth. Aunt Chloe, Uncle Tom’s devoted wife, prepares a meal for the family. She is known to be the most naturally gifted cook in the county.
For Aunt Chloe, cooking is a way of demonstrating one’s love and devotion. The cabin is a physical embodiment of Uncle Tom’s family and, more generally, of the families slaves establish on white estates, and even of the human connections that can be forged between slaves and kind masters.
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Two of Uncle Tom’s and Aunt Chole’s children play happily with a third, who is learning to walk. Near them, seated, is Uncle Tom, described as a strong middle-aged slave with a noble air. He practices his writing diligently and is tutored by “Mas’r George,” the thirteen-year-old son of George Shelby. As Tom perseveres at his lessons, Aunt Chloe remarks that reading and writing, and other activities like it, come more easily to whites than to blacks.
Chloe's remark is a notable example of the “internalized racism” present in some parts of the book—these are often sticking points in contemporary analysis of race in the novel. Tom’s lack of education is a product of his bondage, not of his natural abilities. George Harris’ eventual education, at the end of the book, is an obvious contrast to Tom’s difficulties with reading.
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George expresses his love of Aunt Chloe’s cooking as she serves him griddle cakes. George mentions that Tom Lincon, a friend, has declared his slave Jinny to be a better cook than Chloe, and Chloe replies that Jinny’s cooking is serviceable but plain—the Lincons, she continues, don’t have the Shelby’s manners and good breeding. When George admits to having bragged about the quality of Chloe’s cooking, Chloe gently reproaches him, saying he ought not to boast of his good fortune.
Young George is very much loved by Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe, and he considers them a part of his family, even if his treatment of them includes the intimation that they are his inferiors. Chloe’s desire to keep Master George humble stems from a Christian notion of service—George ought to use his gifts to help others.
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After George has eaten his fill, Aunt Chloe and the children eat. The children run around, roughhousing, and Chloe scolds them for being rude while George is present. The children are instructed to behave, and the family prepares for the prayer meeting to be held that night in the cabin. The family recounts the previous week’s boisterous meeting, in which Uncle Peter, another slave, sang so heartily he fell out of his chair.
The novel shows numerous instances of religious worship. This is the first such instance involving slaves, and the meeting, referred to later as a “Methodist” celebration, involves out-spoken, song-filled praise of God and his power. It shows the deep Christianity among the slaves, implicitly raising the question: how can Christians enslave other Christians?
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George agrees to read a Bible passage for the meeting, and soon a large group of slaves from the plantation have assembled to pray and sing together. They sing especially of the glory of the judgment day and of Jerusalem, which Beecher Stowe attributes to the vivid imaginations of black people. George reads from the Book of Revelation, and Uncle Tom leads the group in a closing prayer.
Stories of the Judgment Day have particular importance in the novel, as Beecher Stowe felt that a “reckoning” was going to soon come regarding slavery, and the apocalypse of Revelations is a fitting allegory for this kind of major upheaval. (And a reckoning did come: the Civil War.)
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Meanwhile, in the main house, Mr. Shelby and Haley the trader are finalizing the sale of Uncle Tom and Harry. Shelby appears displeased after signing them over, and asks Haley to keep his word and sell Tom only to a benevolent owner. Haley promises as much, though Shelby takes little comfort in his promise, and sits alone, smoking.
Here the impossible mixture of “benevolence” and “business” in slave-trading becomes clear. Slavery is a cruel system that some defend because they feel they can make conditions livable for slaves. Shelby wishes that Tom not be mistreated, yet at the same time he insists on selling Tom to another man. The novel argues that any system in which men are traded and sold will necessarily result in cruelty, no matter the "good intentions" of some of the masters.
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