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Notes on Characters from Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Uncle Tom's Cabin Major Characters

Uncle Tom: The central figure of the book, Tom is a slave on the Shelby farm in Kentucky. Honest, faithful, and deeply religious, Tom lives in a cabin on the farm with his wife Chloe and their two children. His love for his family and respect for his master is upstaged only by his unbending piety. Though he cannot write well and is a slow reader, having learned late in life, he reads his Bible nightly and leads prayer groups and hymn singing amongst the slaves. His hard work, devotion, and dedication to God make him the most valuable slave on the Shelby family, which ironically leads to Tom's undoing. When Mr. Shelby falls deeply into debt, he decides that the only way to save the estate is to sell Tom. Tom first ends up in the hands of Mr. St. Clare, and is taken to live with the St. Clare family on their plantation in Louisiana. Mr. St. Clare is extremely generous and kind, and his small daughter Eva is a delight and comfort to everyone on the plantation. But after both Eva and Mr. St. Clare die tragically, Tom's fate is left in the hands of Marie, Mr. St. Clare's selfish and unsympathetic wife. When Miss Ophelia, Mr. St. Clare's prudent but kind cousin, appeals to Marie to fulfill her late husband's promises to Tom to set him free, her pleas fall on deaf ears. Tom is eventually sold to the brutal Simon Legree, who works his slaves literally to death. On the Legree plantation, Tom endures trials he has never experienced, and his faith is nearly broken. But after he receives a vision of heaven, Tom's faith returns, stronger than ever, much to the chagrin of Mr. Legree. Tom vows to help the other slaves, who are at first suspicious of his motives. But when the slaves realize that he is sincere, they begin to treat him kindly and listen to his messages about God. When Tom refuses Mr. Legree's demands to beat other slaves (a tactic in Legree's plan to brutalize Tom, thus making him an effective overseer of other slaves), Legree becomes enraged and beats Tom severely. Though Tom eventually dies from his wounds, his faith is unshaken, and he whispers on his death bed that he is happy because he knows he will soon see heaven.

Eliza Harris: A beautiful mulatto slave on the Shelby farm. Though her mistress, Mrs. Shelby, adores her, her master, Mr. Shelby, falls into a slave trader's debt and decides to settle it by selling Eliza's beloved son Harry to the slave trader. Eliza, who has already lost two children, adores Harry and decides to flee to Canada, where she hopes to meet with her husband (a slave on a nearby plantation who decided to flee a day earlier). She is deeply pious but also brave and fiercely protective of her son. She eventually makes it to Canada with her husband and son, in part due to her steely resolve and her commitment to her faith.

George Harris: Eliza's husband. George is extremely intelligent, having invented a machine for the cleaning of hemp, and his master permits him to work in a factory off the plantation (though his master keeps George's money). But when the master sees that George is respected and admired at the factory, he yanks him out and puts him to work on mindless drudgery to 'keep him in his place.' George's intelligence is matched only by his pride and staunch refusal to be treated disrespectfully. He decides to flee to Canada, leaving his wife behind (he soon meets up with her when she is forced to flee as well). George is deeply skeptical of God, having endured endless tragedy in his life. But he learns to accept God, albeit begrudgingly at first, with the help of Eliza.

Evangeline St. Clare: The daughter of the kindly Mr. St. Clare and his selfish wife Marie, Eva is a living embodiment of Christ to Tom, Mr. St. Clare, his cousin Miss Ophelia, and the slaves on the St. Clare plantation. Unusually mature and sensitive for a child her age, Eva delights in the company of her family's servants and regards them as completely equal beings. Eva is also utterly selfless and delights in any opportunity to help others, sometimes at the expense of her own needs. She also helps others to improve themselves, often after other methods have been exhausted. But she is deeply disturbed and troubled by the injustices of slavery, so much that it wears down upon her already fragile constitution. When she sees or hears of injustice, the normally happy girl becomes so melancholy and dejected that it worries others. Eventually, Eva becomes ill; many on the plantation remark that she seemed almost too heavenly to be real, as if she were an angel sent down for a short time to touch the lives of others.

Augustine St. Clare: Tom's second master. St. Clare is kind and generous to his servants; he refuses to strike them and lets them do mostly as they please. He is not religious and is somewhat lazy and lackadaisical in nature; though he is generally benevolent, he has had a difficult life--his beloved mother died when he was young, and the woman he adored married another man. He spends his days resigned to living with his wife, a cruel and vain Southern aristocrat. He loathes the institution of slavery but does not free his slaves, and he pleads that though he detests the institution, he is resigned to it because he is powerless to stop it. His life seems to lose all meaning when his beloved daughter Eva dies, as she was St. Clare's principal reason for being. His attitude toward slavery begins to change after her death, and he decides that he must devote the rest of his life to eradicating the institution and helping the poor, though he is not certain how he plans to pursue this. His ideas are rendered moot when he is killed in a tragic accident days after Eva's death.

Marie St. Clare: Augustine St. Clare's vain and selfish wife; Eva's mother.

Miss Ophelia: St. Clare's sensible cousin, Miss Ophelia is a pious, hard-working, no-nonsense New Englander who comes to live with the St. Clare family. Though she staunchly supports abolition, Miss Ophelia is forced to confront her own hypocrisy when she finds herself in charge of a young slave girl, Topsy. Initially repulsed by Topsy and afraid to touch her, Miss Ophelia eventually realizes, through the delicate guidance of Eva, the error of her ways. She sets Topsy free and raises her in Vermont, where she returns after Mr. St. Clare dies.

Topsy: The young slave girl St. Clare purchases and puts in Miss Ophelia's charge. Topsy has been raised and treated cruelly, with no family to care for her, and is disruptive and unwelcome by all except Tom, St. Clare, Eva, and Miss Ophelia, who soon grows exasperated with Topsy and admits that she cannot truly love a black child. Eventually, Eva befriends Topsy and tells her that she loves her, something Topsy has never heard before. After Eva dies, Topsy is heartbroken, and Miss Ophelia vows that she will try to love the girl the best she can. She eventually convinces Topsy of her sincerity, and the girl begins to try to sincerely change.

Simon Legree: One of the most hated characters in American literature, Simon Legree is a plantation owner from Louisiana who terrorizes his slaves. Legree's philosophy is to work his slaves as much as possible until they die, then replace them. A hard, cruel and embittered man, Legree is secretly haunted by visions of his dead mother, who implored him on her death bed to change his ways. Though Legree almost had a change of heart, he eventually ignored his mother's pleas and continued his lifestyle. He is tortured by nightmares and plagued by superstition, and the nightmares become more vivid and frequent when Legree is at his most cruel. His cruelty reaches new highs after he purchases Uncle Tom with the hopes of turning him into a brutal overseer. Enraged by Tom's staunch refusal to participate in acts of violence against other slaves, Legree beats him so severely that he eventually dies.

George Shelby: Mr. and Mrs. Shelby's son. George adores Tom and is deeply saddened and angered when his father sells him. When he finds out, years later, that Tom has been sold at auction, he tracks him down and finds him on his death bed. George buries Tom and declares on Tom's grave that he will devote the rest of his life to trying to eradicate slavery. Later, he frees all his slaves and tells them that they are welcome to stay on the Shelby farm if they like, but that if they do, he will now pay them for their work.

Cassy: A slave woman on Legree's plantation; she is deeply skeptical of religion, but becomes close to Tom. His intervention prevents her from killing Legree; she eventually escapes with Emmeline through an ingenious plan she devises.

Tom Loker: Slave catcher dispatched to find George, Eliza and Harry. He is shot by George, but changes his profession and attitudes when the fugitives bring the wounded man to a Quaker village, where he recuperates.

Sambo: Legree's slave/overseer. He is cruel and abusive to the other slaves until Tom dies, when Tom's peace and forgiveness move him to embrace Christianity.

Haley: The slave trader who buys Tom and Harry. He is a coarse, gruff, and ill-mannered man who has little conscience regarding his line of work.

Mrs. Shelby: Mr. Shelby's wife, George's mother, and Eliza's mistress. She is shocked by her husband's decision to sell Tom and Harry, though she understands the financial reality. She adores Eliza and cannot bear to see Harry sold. Mrs. Shelby rejoices when she realizes that Eliza and Harry have escaped, and she purposely delays the search party dispatched to find them for several hours. She vows to Tom that she will raise money to redeem him, and tells her husband that she will be willing to work, if need be. Her fierce devotion to her slaves and her piety lead her to believe that the institution is cruel, and she bitterly protests a system that allows human beings to be bought and sold and treated cruelly.

Harry: George and Eliza Harris' young son, who is sold to Haley. He escapes with his parents.

God: Spoken of often in the book, God is the most important figure in the lives of many of Uncle Tom's Cabin's characters (most notably Tom, who does not reject his faith in God even after he is treated cruelly and is beaten savagely). All of the morally upstanding characters in Stowe's book either believe deeply in God or come to do so by the end of the book. Stowe, herself deeply religious, believed that God could be a source of comfort and strength to the slaves, and she viewed slavery as an unchristian institution, a point she makes repeatedly in the book.

Jesus Christ: Plays the same role as God in the lives of many of the characters. Jesus is particularly meaningful to Tom, because Christ's death at the hands of his tormentors is similar to Tom's treatment and murder. He compares his suffering to that of Christ and refuses to try to escape, believing that Jesus has endowed him with the mission to protect the poor and lowly on Earth, as Jesus himself did in Tom's beloved Bible.

Minor Characters

Mr. Shelby: Owner of the estate where Tom is a slave. Though Mr. Shelby is kind, he finds himself deeply in debt to Haley and realizes he must sell Tom and Harry despite his wife's strong objections. He is a practical man, and though he regrets his decision deeply, he realizes that he must either sell his most valuable slaves or sell all the others combined. He does not, however, share his wife's feeling that they are duty-bound to raise money to buy Tom back, as he believes that from a businessman's perspective, it would be impossibly costly. He dies several years after Tom is sold.

Alfred St. Clare: Augustine St. Clare's (twin) brother and the father of Henrique. Though they get along well, Alfred and St. Clare could not have less in common; unlike St. Clare, Alfred is a driven businessman who sees his slaves only as a more efficient means of making money. Though not as cruel as Simon Legree, he does not treat his slaves as human beings.

Henrique: Alfred St. Clare's privileged son and Eva's cousin. Henrique adores Eva and is capable of kindness but has a hot temper and, like his father, believes that slaves should be kept in line and made to remember their station.

Mr. Bird: The Ohio senator who agrees to help Eliza in her attempt to flee, despite the fact that he had just voted on legislation that would make it a crime for Ohio residents to offer food and shelter to fugitive slaves.

Mrs. Bird: Mr. Bird's wife, who vociferously objects to Mr. Bird's legislation and insists to her husband that he would help a slave if confronted with the situation. She readily agrees to harbor Eliza for the evening, while the couple decides what to do with her.

Marks: Slave catcher in business with Tom Loker.

Emmeline: Slave girl sold at auction, along with Tom, to Legree. She is sold away from her mother, and later escapes Legree's plantation with Cassy.

Prue: Slave from a plantation near the St. Clares who drinks to escape from the horrors of her life. She is eventually beaten to death by her master.

Madame de Thoux: A woman George Shelby meets on a ferry; She is George Harris' long-lost sister.

Phineas Fletcher: Quaker man who helps George, Eliza, Harry and other fugitives from the Hallidays to their next stop in their escape to Canada.

Rachel Halliday: Quaker woman who accommodates George, Eliza and Harry during their escape.

Simeon Halliday: Rachel Halliday's husband.

Mr. Wilson: George's boss in the factory; he encourages George not to run away, then changes his mind and sympathizes with him.

Sam and Andy: Slaves on the Shelby farm; they purposely delay their search with Mr. Haley, enabling Eliza to successfully escape.

Dinah, Rosa, Adolph, Mammy: Slaves on the St. Clare plantation.

Quimbo: Legree's other slave/overseer. He is as cruel as Sambo, but undergoes a similar change of heart when Tom dies.

Chloe: Tom's wife; she is heartbroken when Tom is sold, as she believes he will end up on a Southern plantation, where she fears he will be murdered. She is overcome with grief when she learns that her suspicions have come true.

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