Thursday, April 17, 2008
Uncle Tom's Cabin
This is a difficult book to read for two reasons. The local language of the narrative slows me down quite a bit , however, most significantly, the dialogue is so shocking in it's racism that I find myself getting physically uncomfortable. The descriptions of babies being torn from their mothers are so heart wrenching. Reading only half the book, it is hard to make any definitive statements, but it seems that in spite of the passionate argument against slavery, there is still a condescending attitude by the author. Maybe I will change my mind after finishing the book but right now that is the way it feels. I looked up some information about Harriet Beacher Stowe and read that she was the daughter of a protestant minister with a puritanical upbringing. When she lost a child she became very sympathetic to the plight of black mothers who became separated from their children and saw slavery as a terrible evil inconsistent with Christian morals. Christianity appears to serve three different roles in the lives of the characters. For Uncle Tom, his religion gives him hope for a better life in the kingdom of God when he dies. Some critics condemn this concept as a way of keeping people passive and accepting of all the suffering that white men brought upon the black slave population. For two of the women characters, Mrs. Shelby and Aunt Ophelia, Christian belief is a clear reason to oppose slavery. Upon being told that Eliza, the baby and Tom are being sold, Mrs. Shelby tells her husband " This is God's curse on slavery!-a curse to the master and a curse to the slave! I was foolish to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil." Ophelia tells Marie St. Clare, "Don't you believe that the Lord made them of one blood with us?" Christianity is also used as an excuse to keep slaves by the statement of Mr. Wilson to George, " Let everyone abide in the condition in which he is called." Ms. Stowe portrays the slave owners as more benign than the traders and in reality they were equally evil. Mr. St.Clare admits to Ophelia that being kind to his slaves does not absolve him of guilt and he unsuccessfully compares the oppression of black slaves in America to the oppression of the lower class in England.