Chapter 20 Notes from Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Uncle Tom's Cabin Chapter 20

One day, St. Clare brings home a wild-eyed slave girl, aged eight or nine, named Topsy, and he tells Miss Ophelia he has purchased her so that Miss Ophelia might educate her. Miss Ophelia is disgusted and tells him she wants nothing to do with her, but he tells her he bought Topsy because she belonged to a couple of drunken men who own a restaurant that he passes every day, and he was tired of hearing her screaming every day. He also thinks that Topsy is bright and that something could be made of her if she is treated kindly.

Topic Tracking: Morality 11

Miss Ophelia reluctantly agrees, but only out of a sense of duty. Topsy is unwelcome by everyone on the place except St. Clare, Eva and Tom, and the other slaves denounce her as "a low nigger." Miss Ophelia tries to learn about Topsy, but she realizes the child knows nothing about her roots--she was bought by a speculator and doesn't know who her parents are, how old she is, or, much to Miss Ophelia's horror, who God is. Miss Ophelia is given full responsibility for Topsy's care and instruction, and she accepts her duty earnestly. She soon sets on a rigorous course of education for Topsy, instructing her in the arts of making her bed and cleaning her chamber. Topsy performs the tasks perfectly but also creates mischief. Miss Ophelia soon discovers that Topsy has stolen some items and hidden them in her sleeves. The other slaves dislike Topsy, but learn to hide their displeasure when they realize that anyone who remarks openly that they don't like her eventually meets with some sort of "accident," such as having a bucket of slop fall on them from above or having their jewelry stolen. Topsy also fascinates everyone with her wild, mischievous antics and noisy dancing and singing. Miss Ophelia is beside herself and doesn't know how to handle the child, who, despite her shenanigans, learns Miss Ophelia's instructions and expertly follows them. Miss Ophelia tries to whip Topsy but realizes this is ineffective, as Topsy has been whipped her whole life and is not afraid of it. Miss Ophelia begins instructing her in religion, but the lessons do not sink in. Topsy boasts about how wicked she is, and tells Miss Ophelia that this is why she behaves the way she does. Miss Ophelia continues her instruction, despite the fact that she is frustrated and her patience is wearing thin. St. Clare remains amused by Topsy and regards the child affectionately despite her antics.

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