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Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin


by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin Slavery Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

"I would rather not sell him," said Mr. Shelby, thoughtfully; "the fact is, sir, I'm a humane man, and I hate to take the boy from his mother, sir."

"O, you do? – La! yes – something of that ar natur. I understand, perfectly. It is mighty onpleasant getting on with women, sometimes, I al'ays hates these yer screechin,' screamin' times. They are mighty onpleasant; but, as I manages business, I generally avoids 'em, sir. Now, what if you get the girl off for a day, or a week, or so; then the thing's done quietly, – all over before she comes home. Your wife might get her some ear-rings, or a new gown, or some such truck, to make up with her." (1.41-42)

Mr. Shelby’s interpretation of being "humane" in his treatment of slaves is very different from Haley’s. To Mr. Shelby, treating a slave humanely means keeping families together (although he’s willing to violate this principle when he needs the money). To Haley, "humane" treatment just means managing things so that he can avoid actually seeing the unpleasant consequences of his actions. Stowe is making it clear that agreeing to treat slaves "humanely" isn’t enough, because everyone will define that term however they need to in order to do just what they want anyway. Being "humane" shouldn’t be open to interpretation, and it can’t be optional.

Quote #2

"Now, they say," said Haley, assuming a candid and confidential air, "that this kind o' trade is hardening to the feelings; but I never found it so. Fact is, I never could do things up the way some fellers manage the business. I've seen 'em as would pull a woman's child out of her arms, and set him up to sell, and she screechin' like mad all the time; – very bad policy – damages the article – makes 'em quite unfit for service sometimes. I knew a real handsome gal once, in Orleans, as was entirely ruined by this sort o' handling. The fellow that was trading for her didn't want her baby; and she was one of your real high sort, when her blood was up. I tell you, she squeezed up her child in her arms, and talked, and went on real awful. It kinder makes my blood run cold to think of 't; and when they carried off the child, and locked her up, she jest went ravin' mad, and died in a week. Clear waste, sir, of a thousand dollars, just for want of management, – there's where 't is. It's always best to do the humane thing, sir; that's been my experience." (1.44)

Haley’s anecdote about the woman who died of grief when her baby was taken from her serves two purposes. First, it shows his callousness – he doesn’t actually care about the woman’s suffering, just about the economic consequences of it. This is the moment where we realize that he’s a villain, despite his chummy nature. Second, however, Stowe does want her reader to think about that economic consequence, even though it seems coldhearted and disgusting to do so. Stowe is arguing both that slavery causes inhumane suffering and that it doesn’t even make economic sense, so it can’t be justified on any grounds.

Quote #3

He was possessed of a handsome person and pleasing manners, and was a general favorite in the factory. Nevertheless, as this young man was in the eye of the law not a man, but a thing, all these superior qualifications were subject to the control of a vulgar, narrow-minded, tyrannical master. This same gentleman, having heard of the fame of George's invention, took a ride over to the factory, to see what this intelligent chattel had been about. He was received with great enthusiasm by the employer, who congratulated him on possessing so valuable a slave.

He was waited upon over the factory, shown the machinery by George, who, in high spirits, talked so fluently, held himself so erect, looked so handsome and manly, that his master began to feel an uneasy consciousness of inferiority. What business had his slave to be marching round the country, inventing machines, and holding up his head among gentlemen? He'd soon put a stop to it. He'd take him back, and put him to hoeing and digging, and "see if he'd step about so smart." (2.4-5)

Legally, George belongs to somebody else who can dispose of his hopes and dreams in a minute without consulting him – and who can decide to oppress him just because he’s excelled at something. Notice that George’s master becomes more domineering because he’s afraid of George’s skills and potential. George is more of a man than his master will ever be – except according to the law.

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