Study Guide

George Harris in Uncle Tom's Cabin

By Harriet Beecher Stowe

George Harris

George is an intelligent and innovative young man who happens to be the slave of a cruel, petty one – Mr. Harris. George is talented and inventive. When he’s sent to work in a bagging factory, he invents a labor saving machine for cleaning hemp, which revolutionizes the way the factory works. Unfortunately, his "master" is jealous of George’s abilities and uses George’s intelligence as an excuse to punish and humiliate him.

Basically, George is more of a man than Mr. Harris will ever be: George "talked so fluently, held himself so erect, looked so handsome and manly, that his master began to feel an uneasy consciousness of inferiority" (2.4). Mr. Harris puts George to work doing soul-deadening manual labor. He lets his child flog George. He even drowns George’s dog. He also threatens to force George to abandon his wife, Eliza, and their child, who are slaves of the Shelbys, so that George can "marry" one of Harris’s own slaves. It’s not surprising that George has trouble believing that a loving, Christian God is behind these events.

George endures his master’s cruelty in silence for a long time, but he refuses to abandon his family. He runs away and, reunited with his wife and son among the anti-slavery Quakers, he makes it to Canada.

When his long-lost sister Madame de Thoux arrives, now a free woman and a wealthy widow, he’s finally able to get an education. Madame de Thoux pays for the family to move to France and for George to go to college. Once he’s completed his education, George decides not to return to the United States permanently. He believes that he is and should be treated as the equal of white Americans, but he’s simply not interested in "passing" for white among them. He chooses instead to take his family to the new African colony of Liberia, where he can use his intellectual gifts to help a large group of former slaves develop their own nation.

George functions in the novel as an example of a creative young man who would make a great citizen in a democratic society but who is kept down by the institution of slavery. His bitterness and anger about his situation, and his difficulty accepting Christianity, make him another important foil to Uncle Tom. For modern readers, George’s active rebellion is easier to understand than Tom’s more passive faith. In fact, George (along with Augustine St. Clare) is one of the only truly rounded and complex characters in the novel, having both strengths and flaws.

Significantly for Stowe’s racialized thinking, George is much paler-skinned than Tom – he’s even able to pass for a Spanish gentleman. Even though Uncle Tom’s Cabin shows the humanity of blacks and the evils of slavery, there’s still a 19th century racial hierarchy at work here. Stowe also uses George to develop the idea of African colonialism as one answer to the difficulties of abolition– a popular but problematic proposal at the time.