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Analysis

Uncle Tom's Cabin Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

Mr. Shelby trades Tom and Eliza’s son to slave trader, Mr. Haley.

Despite his misgivings, Mr. Shelby clears his debt by selling his faithful slave, Tom, and Eliza’s son, Harry. Eliza overhears enough to fear for her child. She asks her mistress, Mrs. Shelby, if she thinks "master" will sell her boy. Mrs. Shelby tells her not to be silly. However, Mr. Shelby has done just that and clears his conscience by making Mr. Haley promise to sell his slaves to good people. Meanwhile, George Harris, Eliza’s husband, finds his own situation intolerable and he makes plans to escape to Canada.

Conflict

Eliza runs away with her son while faithful Tom stays to be shipped south.

Eliza overhears Mr. Shelby explain to his wife that he has sold Eliza’s son and Tom. After warning Tom of his fate, Eliza runs away with her son in the night, heading to Canada. This is the initial conflict that sets the story in motion.

Complication

Eliza makes it to the north side of the Ohio River, but Mr. Haley sends slave catchers after her; meanwhile, Tom’s relatively pleasant life with the St. Clares is ruined when Eva and Augustine St. Clare both die.

Eliza makes it to the north shore of the Ohio River but Mr. Haley employs slave catchers with dogs to go after her. Meanwhile, Tom is taken south. He is bought by a kind family and becomes good friends with the daughter. All seems well until both Eva and her father die and Tom is put up for auction again. This complicates both situations – Eliza is still hunted and Tom is no longer in touch with his family so that they can buy his freedom.

Climax

Tom is sold to Simon Legree.

Tom’s sale to a cruel master brings the novel to its main point, demonstrating that slavery can leave good people in the power of Evil, as represented by Legree.

Suspense

Cassy and Emmeline escape. Tom is tortured but refuses to betray them; he dies rather than confessing their whereabouts.

Though the novel has reached its apex, there is still more to come. Despite the fact that Tom has been sold to a man clearly intent on using up his slaves and spitting them out, we still wonder whether Tom might possibly survive – and our answer is no. He helps Cassy and Emmeline to flee, but when Legree discovers their escape, he tortures and kills Tom.

Denouement

Eliza and George Harris make it to Canada. Cassy is reunited with her daughter, Eliza, while George Harris is reunited with his sister, Madame de Thoux. George Shelby frees his slaves.

Once Tom has died, the story wraps up relatively quickly. We learn that George and Eliza have made it to Canada and are doing well. Through George Shelby, Cassy discovers where her daughter is and Madame de Thoux finds her brother, George Harris. George Shelby frees his slaves after witnessing the horror of what happened to Tom.

Conclusion

The Sermon

The narrator explains the problems of slavery directly to the reader, reminding us that both the North and the South are implicated in this evil institution. Stowe suggests some possible solutions and concludes that it is our Christian duty to abolish slavery and educate former slaves to be responsible citizens in a democratic America.

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