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.

11 comments:

NurseKim said...

I agree that the book is difficult to understand. As I began to read , I must admit that I was not looking forward to continue with the book. But it did become a little easier as I read on. I think Christianity takes on the role that best serves that individual. It gave Uncle Tom and Eliza tremendous strength to get through life. The women in the book were very strong and sympathetic. The statement by Mr. Wilson to George, " Let everyone abide in the condition in which he is called" is an easy one to say when you are not the one enslaved.

Amy H. said...

I agree the racial language in the novel was difficult for me to read as well. I was actually surprised how offended and shocked I was at the dialouge. There were a few times that I just set the book down because I need a break! I had to continually remind myself that it was all apart of Stowe's intent.

Lisa Mac said...

It is a tough book to read for several reasons. I do see some hope for St. Clair, though, since he at least admits that slavery is evil.

It is ironic that both sides of the confrontation used the Bible as support

mountaingirl said...

The language of the book is probably the most difficult challenge this books presents. The horrors that are presented must be presented in such a way to add a reality for the reader. I think the intention is to make the reader very uncomfortable with the subject, so much that the reader will take action perhaps. I also have noted that Christianity is used in a variety of ways, which continues through time and is also very realistic.

AnneR said...

I agree, Phyllis! The language was difficult to get through - when in doubt, I read things out loud and that seems to help. What I saw in the families being torn apart was a helplessness because they had no control. It sickened me the way slave owners and traders played some sort of god with the slaves. It was insinuated that masters just put a male and a female together (like hamster? to breed?) and they were married. Without family, well, George said it best when he elaborated on how long before Eliza it had been since he had heard a kind word.

If the truth be told... said...

Stowe's descriptions and her adjective use was very bothersome at times. I think the hard part for me was balancing how well she describes with how offensive I found some of the desciptions.

Living only in free states, and the bulk of her interaction with slaves being those who had escaped to freedom in Cincinnati, may have contribured to the her way of describing. In the book the slaves use the same names for each other that were used as desparaging names when used by white people. If her interaction with the life of slaves was predominately with freed slaves her way of looking at how black people and white people interact may have been colored by those she spoke with.

ANaturalBeauty said...

The broken language is hard at times but I've read it before so it wasn't too difficult for me. I don't have my book but Stowe did pose a question in the book after Haley sold the young woman's baby on the boat and she then committed suicide. She asked a rhetorical question about blaming the slave trader or blaming the slave owner who makes it possible for the traders to do what they do. So, as a reader I did get angry at Haley alot, but I also held the same degree of anger with the masters as well. No matter how good they supposedly treated slaves.

EE said...

The local language is difficult to read at times. I found myself rereading many sections thinking I wasn't getting the complete meaning of what was trying to be said. The information you found out about Harriet Beacher Stowe is interesting especially about her own experience of losing a child which sparked her inerest.

Cari's Blog said...

I was right there with you in the difficulty of the reading, but the further I went the easier it got to get through it. The racism was also hard to take as well. I do think Beecher Stowe could not have been at the same level as the slaves since she had never been one. However, as a mother and one who fought against slavery, she was likely to be able to understand what they were going through.

Ocho said...

I too find the racism thing a bit daunting. I hate it, in all its forms, but I live here in the 21st century and was raised in a liberal community in the 70's. My best friend in elementary school was black, and I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. I always wanted to be black like her. It wasn't until years later that I found out that some people look down on folks with a different pigmantation. It still doesn't make any sense to me at all!

eli korthanke said...

Great catch on Tom telling them not to kill Legree. I think that raises a great issue. Is it ever right to murder someone? Is Christianity and what we consider to be sin black and white or are their shades of gray?

hmmm.