That evening, Mrs. Shelby asks who visited Mr. Shelby earlier, and Mr. Shelby admits it was a slave-trader. Mrs. Shelby reports her conversation with Eliza, and that she had told Eliza that Shelby would not sell any slaves. Realizing he can no longer hide the truth, Shelby reveals that business conditions have forced him to sell Tom and Harry to Haley.
A rift between Mr. and Mrs. Shelby’s understanding of slave-ownership becomes apparent. Mrs. Shelby genuinely believes that her husband would not sell Tom because he is part of the family. But for Shelby, the “family” can consist only of blood relations among white people.
Shelby insists that he did not want to sell anyone, and that he did not offer Eliza even though Haley wished dearly to purchase her. Mrs. Shelby, at first upset and surprised, apologizes to her husband for her small outburst and wonders aloud whether the estate couldn’t get buy with a “pecuniary sacrifice” and keep the two slaves. Shelby informs his wife that, had he not sold them, he would have been forced to part with the entire estate—the debt is more severe than Mrs. Shelby has imagined.
Selby feels it would be “unbecoming” for Mrs. Shelby to work, since a southern estate should be able to function with only income from the male and leader of the household (although it is never clear what exactly Mr. Shelby’s line of work is). He sees it as better to sell Tom than to have Mrs. Shelby earning even a small amount of money, part-time.
Mrs. Shelby grows even more upset, arguing that slavery is a curse, something she has never agreed with, even though she tried to make conditions for her slaves as comfortable as possible. Mr. Shelby points out a recent sermon justifying slavery, which Mrs. Shelby responds was just a defense of evil. Mr. Shelby asks that his wife help in the sale by distracting Eliza when Harry is taken, but Mrs. Shelby says she will not, and that instead she will visit Tom before he leaves.
Christian defenses of slavery will be mounted by characters throughout the novel. Although sections of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, make reference to slavery and bondage, the institution of southern cruelty is quite a bit different from ancient slave customs, and other portions of the Bible, especially the New Testament, seem obviously to champion a love for all humankind that is clearly not compatible with slavery.
Eliza overhears this conversation from an adjoining room and resolves to escape with Harry immediately. That night, Eliza takes Harry in her arms, quiets the old dog Bruno, and slips into the cold winter darkness. Aunt Chloe sees Eliza as she leaves, and Eliza reports the news of the impending sale, saying that neither Shelby wishes it to be done. Eliza says it is wicked to leave, but she must to protect her son.
The first of the novel’s escapes. Even as she has heard that Mr. Shelby wishes to sell her son, Eliza believes that the Shelbys have been good masters and have treated their slaves with kindness. However, caring for her son is more important than remaining on the estate to carry out her “duty.”
Uncle Tom, on hearing the news, understands that Eliza must flee, but he says he must stay, since fleeing would mean breaking his word and bond with his master. Uncle Tom goes inside and cries—Beecher Stowe argues that he cries the tears any human being might on being confronted with such horrible circumstances. Eliza asks Chloe to tell George that she loves him, that she and Harry are escaping to Canada, and that they hope to reunite with him there or, failing that, in heaven.
For Tom, the equation is reversed. There is nothing more important than his obligation to his superiors, including Mr. Shelby (and, later, to the Lord). The notion of reunion in heaven is also introduced in this passage—one that will recur throughout the text.