Mrs. Shelby is a kind, Christian mistress who takes her responsibilities toward her slaves and their souls very seriously. When her husband sells Tom and Harry, Eliza’s son, she is sickened by the injustice of tearing families apart and by their own broken promises to these faithful slaves.
When Eliza runs away with little Harry, Mrs. Shelby is glad, and she makes it clear to her other slaves that she wants them to delay the manhunt as long as possible. Unlike her husband, Mrs. Shelby takes the family’s promise to redeem Tom very seriously. She’s willing to institute household economies to help save the money to buy Tom back, and she allows Tom’s wife Chloe to work for a confectioner and earn money to contribute to the redemption fund.
When Mr. Shelby dies, Mrs. Shelby and her son, George, must first straighten out the household finances. If Mrs. Shelby has a flaw, it’s that she hasn’t paid enough attention to the business details of housekeeping – though her husband is reluctant to share financial matters with her and impedes her efforts. After several months of work, Mrs. Shelby and George are in a position where they can try to buy Tom back – but too late. Although Mrs. Shelby tries to do her best for the men and women she is in charge of, the reader realizes that she can only do so much when the institution itself is evil.