Uncle Tom's Cabin Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Uncle Tom's Cabin: Novel Summary: Chapters 1-3

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Chapter 1: The story opens with two men sitting in a Kentucky parlor.  Haley, a slave trader, is discussing how Mr. Shelby, the plantation owner, can pay off his debts.  Shelby is trying to sell his slave, Tom, but Haley does not think that Tom is enough for the debt.  Shelby tells him how trustworthy and pious Tom is, but he's still not convinced and asks for another slave in the deal.  Shelby says that he has none to spare, when a little "quadroon" or quarter black child about five years old comes into the room.  They call him Jim Crow and ask him to act and dance for them, which he does, and they laugh.  The boy's mother, Eliza, a beautiful quadroon slave then comes into get her child, and takes him away.  Haley wants Shelby to throw Jim Crow into the deal with Tom; or if not the child, Eliza because she is so beautiful.  Shelby says that he does not like to break up families, and Haley tries to tell him how "humane" his policies are.  Haley figures that if you get a black mother away from the child for a few days, and when she comes back the child is gone, it is much easier than ripping it out of her arms.  As compensations, he says to buy her a dress.  Shelby told him he would think about it, discuss it with his wife, and tells Haley to come back later that evening.  Upstairs, Eliza begins crying in the room with Mrs. Shelby because she heard the men talking about taking her child.  Mrs. Shelby says that she would never consent to that, and that Mr. Shelby would never even consider selling any of his slaves.  This comforts Eliza, and she helps Mrs. Shelby get ready for dinner. 
Chapter 2: Mrs. Shelby raised Eliza from girlhood with a good education, which was unusual for a slave.  She was a favorite to the family, and the Shelbys allowed her to marry a handsome Mulatto man on the next plantation named George Harris.  They had a Christian wedding in the Shelby home, and a large celebration.  George's master, Mr. Harris, hired him out to work at a nearby factory.  George invented a machine that helped there, and when his master found out, he became jealous of George's success. He thought that his slave had begun to look better than him, so he pulled him away from the factory and gave him the most grueling farm labor he could find.
Chapter 3: Eliza's husband George came to the Shelbys to visit her that day, and told her he was fed up with the way his master treated him.  His master said that he should get a wife on his plantation, and since the law did not recognize slave marriages, he could do this.  Eliza was upset, and George told her that he was going to try to runaway to Canada.  If he made it, he intended to buy Eliza and their son Harry.  They said goodbye, and Eliza promised to pray for him because she was extremely pious.


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