I'm reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and I don't know what "the devil and all" means in this context. Thank you

and sometimes they gets ugly,--particular yallow gals do,--and it's the devil and all gettin' on 'em broke in.

  • Usually the devil and all refers to great difficulty or trouble. It's like saying I had a helluva time getting that machine to work. But I don't understand the presence of on in that statement. I would have expected gettin' 'em broke in. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 17 '18 at 13:24

Remember that this is meant to be slaver slang from the 1800s. Contrast how "Haley" speaks with the voice of "Mr. Shelby" or that of the narrator.

Next read the context. Haley is a slave trader and he is talking about how he treats his slaves, and comparing his methods with those of "Tom" and "Kentucky folks". Haley is particularly talking about separating children from their mothers before being sold, and what to do when the women cry. Haley suggests that Tom's method of "crackin' 'em on the head" (not the accent) is ineffective because "It jest [just] spiles [spoils] your gals [the women]"

Basically, he says "don't beat up the women for crying" but not because he is kind, but because it makes them harder to sell. Because if you beat up women they get "sickly" and "ugly". They also get angry and less willing to follow orders. This is what he means by "broke-in". When training a horse you have to train it to follow the orders of the rider. This is called breaking-in the horse. Haley treats the slaves like animals and uses the same language.

He uses a dialect expression to mean "very difficult". Translated he is saying.

[Beating up woman slaves] makes them sick and it makes them ugly, and it makes them hard to train.

Haley is a very unpleasant character. It should go without saying but do not try to use any of Haley's dialect in modern English Conversation.


"the devil and all gettin"- This typically means that they have started showing devilish behavior(something thats not normal).

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