The chapter begins in Legree’s sitting room, where he is complaining of the complications introduced by Uncle Tom’s refusal to cooperate with his demands. Cassy comes into the room and Legree believes she has returned to live with him, but she replies that she would rather live in filth, and that she “has the devil” in her. Legree, who is superstitious, agrees that she is a woman possessed. He notes that Cassy has become more “irritable,” even a bit crazed, during her time at the Legree plantation.
Interestingly, although Legree is in many ways identified with the devil, Cassy is the one who claims to be crazed and possessed. It is revealed that Legree is superstitious; Beecher Stowe links this superstition with his total renunciation of religion. This is another way that Beecher Stowe argues that it is true religious faith that gives a person an unassailable core. Legree lacks such a core, and so is prey to superstitions (and a penchant for cruelty). His superstitions and fears will be of great importance later in the novel.
Cassy reveals that she has come to see Legree to argue with him over Tom’s treatment. Legree feels he will eventually “break” Tom, but Cassy says it won’t be done—Tom’s faith is too strong. Sambo arrives, showing the lock of Eva’s hair that Tom has kept, and claiming that it is a form of witchcraft. Fearful, Legree demands it be burned.
Cassy has come to believe that Tom’s efforts, though not resulting in his freedom, will preserve his soul. She believes, in other words, that Tom will win out over Legree in the next life. Legree has yet to admit this, though he fears greatly the bit of Eva’s hair that is found on Tom’s person.
Legree’s life story is briefly sketched. His father was a difficult, tyrannical man, and his religious mother attempted to raise him according to Christian teachings, but Legree became a sailor and chose a life of “brutality” and greed. On his mother’s death, he received a letter from her containing a lock of her hair, and he has been haunted by her memory ever since.
Eva's lock of hair is compared to another one, Legree's mother’s, given to Legree on his return from a sea voyage. Legree’s mother, like St. Clare’s, is a religious exemplar, but unlike St. Clare Legree does not uphold his mother's Christian teachings. Instead he fears even the idea of her, as if he has a hidden guilt for his behavior.
Legree is shaken by the coincidence of Eva’s and his mother’s hair-locks, thinking that the hair recovered from Tom might be his mother’s hair, “back from the dead.” He hears Emmeline singing a hymn in another room and grows scared, asking Sambo and Quimbo to keep him company. Cassy leaves the three of them, carousing together, and heads to Emmeline’s room.
Legree’s response to fear is “carousing,” or drinking. He seeks, essentially, to make himself senseless with alcohol in order to escape his fear. A religious person, instead, might pray and face his or her fears. But Legree can only hide from them in drink.