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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
This chapter opens in a cozy parlor belonging to the Senator and Mary Bird. The Senator is talking with his wife about a proposed piece of legislation forbidding people to give shelter to fugitive slaves from Kentucky. His wife declares such a law to be cruel and un-Christian. The Senator maintains that there is nothing wrong in it. Mrs. Bird knows that for all his political opinions, however, her husband is a humane person. He will never turn away a person in need.
As if on cue, Eliza appears at their door and faints. When she recovers, she is frantic with fear about the safety of her child. She appeals to Mrs. Bird for help, instinctively striking the right chord when she asks her, "Ma'am, have you ever lost a child?" The Birds' had recently lost a child to death. Senator Bird feels sorry for Eliza and offers her dry clothes for herself and her child. Though he knows it is against the law, he decides to take her to John Van Trompe that very night himself. Van Trompe is a man who recently set his slaves free. After a tiring journey, they reach Van Trompe's house. The Senator gives Eliza ten dollars and leaves her in the care of Van Trompe.
This chapter is important as it furthers Eliza's escape. As well, two more important characters, the Senator and Mrs. Bird, are introduced. The atmosphere in their parlor is one of warmth, peace, and tranquillity. The readers learn of an offensive law of the time that forbids Northerners from helping fugitive slaves. This is the infamous Fugitive Slave Act (1850), which incidentally prompted Stowe to write Uncle Tom's Cabin. She saw the law as proof that slavery was no longer confined to the South but was beginning to affect the whole nation.
Mrs. Bird's life, one learns, revolves around her husband and children. She rules her home more by entreaty and persuasion than by command or argument. Though she is gentle, any type of cruelty throws her into a passion. She considers this legislation against slaves as cruel and un-Christian. She declares she will break the law the instance she is given the chance, and conveniently, she is given it right away.
Senator Bird seems at first to believe in upholding the law, but when he is given the opportunity, he too decides that humanity forbids such callous indifference to human life. A mother's anguish touches him. Not only does he instruct his wife to fit out Eliza and her son with clothes, he also volunteers to personally undertake the tortuous journey to John Van Trompe's house to deliver her to safety. According to Stowe, the Senator is a "political sinner" who atones his sins by one night's "penance". The Senator has performed a true Christian deed that undoes all his verbalization about legal compliance. There is a narrative parallel in this incident. Consider, for example, how Mrs. Bird succeeds in transforming her husband through gentle persuasion, whereas Mrs. Shelby had been unsuccessful in her bid to change her husband's mind in an earlier chapter.