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Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher
Uncle Tom, a slave on the Shelby plantation, is loved by his owners, their son, and every slave on the property. He lives contentedly with his wife and children in their own cabin until Mr. Shelby, deeply in debt to a slave trader named Haley, agrees to sell Tom and Harry, the child of his wife’s servant Eliza. Tom is devastated but vows that he will not run away, as he believes that to do so would plunge his master so far into debt that he would be forced to sell every slave.
Just before Tom is taken away, Mrs. Shelby promises him that she will buy him back as soon as she can gather the funds. Tom is sold to Haley, who eventually sells him to a kindly master named Mr. St. Clare.
Eliza, however, cannot bear to part with her son and escapes the night before he is to be taken from her. She escapes successfully and makes her way to a Quaker village, with a family that harbors slaves. There, she is reunited with her husband George, who lived on a neighboring plantation and has also escaped to flee his master’s cruelty. The couple and their son spend a night with the Quaker family before returning to the underground railroad.
Tom befriends his new master and especially his young daughter Eva, who shares Tom’s deep religious faith and devotion. Eva abhors cruelty and eventually is so overcome with grief over slavery that when she becomes ill, she accepts her impending death peacefully and tells her family and their servants that she is happy knowing that she is going to heaven, where such cruelty does not exist. St. Clare begins to confront the realization that he believes slavery is evil, and he promises Tom that he will fill out forms guaranteeing his freedom in the event of St. Clare’s death.
Shortly after Eva dies, her father dies tragically in an accident, and Tom’s fate is left entirely in the hands of Marie, St. Clare’s selfish and unsympathetic wife. Marie decides to move back to her parents’ estate and to sell all the slaves, despite Miss Ophelia’s exhortation that Marie should fulfill St. Clare’s promise to give Tom his freedom. Marie refuses, and just before he is sold, he writes a letter to the Shelbys (with the help of Mr. Legree) telling them his plight and asking for their help. The letter goes unanswered, and Tom ends up in the hands of Simon Legree, an evil and bitter plantation owner whose philosophy is to work his slaves hard and replace them when they inevitably die just a few years later.
On Legree’s plantation, Tom meets two fellow slaves, Emmeline and Cassy. Emmeline is a young mulatto woman sold to Legree at the same time as Tom, and she attempts to befriend the embittered Cassy, who has suffered at the hands of Legree for several years. Cassy has seen her children sold and is so destitute that Tom’s pleas that she put her faith and trust in God fall on deaf ears. Legree soon comes to hate Tom after Tom refuses to beat and discipline the other slaves. Legree had planned to turn Tom into a brutal overseer, and when he realizes that Tom will not participate in cruelty, he becomes enraged and takes out his wrath on Tom. Tom becomes discouraged until he has a vision of heaven one night as he is drifting off to sleep. The vision reinvigorates him, and he decides it is his mission to suffer for the other slaves. He regularly fills their cotton baskets at the expense of his own, gives them his food and water, and reads the Bible to them.
Tom’s acts of kindness enrage Legree, and when Emmeline and Cassy escape, he demands that Tom tell him everything he knows. Tom admits that he knew of their plans to escape and is aware of their whereabouts, but he refuses to disclose where they are. Legree beats Tom so severely that after a few days, he dies.
Cassy and Emmeline eventually escape, and they happen to wind up on the same northern-bound ferry as George Shelby, who is rooming next to a woman named Madame de Thoux. Through conversation, it is discovered that Eliza Harris is Cassy’s daughter, and George Harris is Madame de Thoux’s brother. Cassy and Madame de Thoux journey together to Canada, where they are reunited with their family. Madame de Thoux reveals that her husband has left her a large inheritance, and they all move to France together, where George is educated. The family then relocates to Africa, and Cassy’s long-lost son, who has been traced, joins them. Topsy moves with Miss Ophelia to New England, then moves to Africa to work as a missionary. George Shelby gives all the servants on the Shelby farm their freedom, and tells them to be Christians and to think of Tom.