Study Guide

George Shelby in Uncle Tom's Cabin

By Harriet Beecher Stowe

George Shelby

George Shelby, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Shelby, is a kind young man who loves Uncle Tom. When Tom is first sold away from the Shelby family farm in Kentucky, young George Shelby, not yet legally a man, goes after him and gives him the precious dollar that he’s been saving. (See "George’s Dollar" in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory.")

George has sympathy for Tom, but doesn’t really understand the severity of the situation. While Tom is living with the St. Clares, George writes him a letter that includes both details of the Shelbys’ plan to buy Tom back and a list of the subjects George is studying in school. Although George is principled and loving, he sees Tom’s plight as equal to the other simple concerns of his childish life.

Over the years, while Tom is away, George grows into a young man concerned with justice for his family’s slaves. When his father dies, he and his mother straighten out the household finances, and then he goes to redeem Tom. Tragically, Tom is already on his deathbed when George Shelby reaches him.

George gives Legree the punch in the face the reader has been dying for, gives Tom a decent burial, and returns home to devote himself to justice. He has, finally, fully recognized that slaves are humans and should not be bought and sold. He frees all the Shelby slaves. When some object that they have nowhere to go, he welcomes them to stay as paid laborers under his care and tutelage. The novel is ambivalent about this paternalism. George’s desire to free and educate his slaves is positive, but his patronizing fatherly attitude is insulting, suggesting that he still sees blacks as somewhat childish.