Chapter 20: Topsy
Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter 21: Kentuck Summary & Analysis
Chapter 22: “The Grass Withereth—The Flowers Fadeth”
Back in Kentucky, on the Shelby plantation, Mrs. Shelby tells her husband that Tom’s letter to Aunt Chloe has arrived. Mr. Shelby hints that business affairs have not improved much since Tom’s sale but refuses to tell his wife specifics. Mrs. Shelby says she could teach music students to raise extra money, but Mr. Shelby finds this “degrading” and will not allow it.
Once more, Shelby will not allow Mrs. Shelby to work, as that would be degrading and gauche—even though Mrs. Shelby’s extra income could speed Tom’s return. Shelby puts preserving his "honor" higher than the well-being of a beloved slave.
As she cooks dinner, Chloe offers that she could be “let out” as a cook to another family, and her wages could be used to buy back Tom. Sam has reported to Chloe that a bakery in Louisville wants to hire a cook and would pay four dollars a week, a decent wage. At this rate Uncle Tom could be bought back in “four to five years.”
Aunt Chloe is willing to help. The “renting” of slaves for commercial purposes was a common practice in the South. Wages earned by the slaves were entirely the property of the owner. Here, the Shelbys vow to use this money to repurchase Tom.
Mrs. Shelby likes the idea and plans to run it by Mr. Shelby. Young George arrives, pleased to have news from Tom, and eats a final meal with Aunt Chloe before she heads off to Louisville. As they eat, he writes to Tom with the news of the Kentucky estate.
George Shelby again appears in the “home” scene of Uncle Tom’s cabin. It is notable that, in the entire book, he is shown eating only in the cabin and never in the Shelby’s main house.