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Big Books 2006 Web Papers Forum
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|Perspectives of a Biologist: A Scientific Critique|
Date: 2006-03-15 22:32:05
Link to this Comment: 18544
Uncle Tom's Cabin was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1850-51 as an anti-slavery novel. It was written in response to the Fugitive Slave Act passed in 1850 which forbade any citizen to assist runaway slaves. The argument that forms the basis of Stowe's novel is the idea that slavery is in essence against Christian morals and consequently should be abolished by every true Christian. As a biologist and as a non-Christian reader, the entire idea behind treating one group of humans as fundamentally inferior to another seems preposterous but for reasons entirely different from those Stowe adopts. Using a biologist's perspective, I am examining the arguments Stowe uses and whether or not they are compatible with the biological perspective, while exploring the uses of her and mine while trying to imagine the writing of this book using arguments solely based in the biological sciences.
I am not the first one to use the biological argument to speak against racial and religious prejudice. The most famous example comes from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in which Shylock, a Jewish money lender, argues against his mistreatment because of his religion. His famous speech's basis lies in the biological similarity of all human beings: 'If you prick us do we not bleed?' (Shakespeare, Act III.i.49–61)2. This argument is more convincing to a larger group of people, because it speaks to a human understanding that goes beyond religiosity and the specific arguments that arise from one religious outlook.
For Stowe, Christianity was an easily accessible way to get to her target audience – northern white women who had lost children. It was a moral and ethical compass that was culturally prevalent in their lives and Stowe's argument appeals to the Christian morals of these women in the north to take a stand against slavery, as black souls are souls too. Biology is another such tool that could be used, though its target audience would be limited to those who were educated in the sciences. If this were written from a scientific perspective, the argument would have to be that there is a biological consistency within the human makeup, so whether you are black or white, you internally remain the same, and your brain structure and ability to think or feel is unaffected by the melanin in your skin. If one was aware of such scientific evidence that proves the basic commonality of the human form, it would be hard to justify oppression of any one group with any logical reasoning. This would be an effective approach if the author was trying to incite the slaves to take action, as they were just as capable of doing so. Stowe however, is asking for the white people to act for the blacks and free them because it's the Christian thing to do.
In addition to reaching her target audience, religion allowed Stowe to create the binary world that she operates within, having clearly demarcated good and evil, absolutes with the potential of being moved from one category to another only through a spiritual revelation. A biological standpoint would not allow for a complete binary. While there would be people who were culturally raised with certain beliefs, each person would have a power of rationality and cognition which could make them capable of choosing between sides when presented with convincing evidence. Additionally, people would have the ability to do good and bad without having to go through a complete reversal from one side to another. While there could be some who remain wholly on the side of the wrong or right, it's impossible to create a biological certainty that the world would be so. In a biological rewriting of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the binary system could not be upheld in the way Stowe has set it up.
The traditional Christian motifs used in the book, especially the references to the kingdom of heaven, the Christ-like figures of Eva and Tom would have to be reworked in order to fit within a biological framework. The Christian argument is compelling in this context because of the aftermath of bad choices made in this life that will be suffered in the next life. Tom was able to bear all the injustices Legree carries out against him through till the very end on his faith that there was a glorious afterlife waiting for him. Scientifically, the existence of an afterlife is disputed in its entirety. This takes away one of the main factors that would be motivating individuals to take a right stand, because if there's no penalty, then the only motivation left to do good is your own set of morals. This implies that being effected by the book and striving to abolish slavery because blacks are the same as whites biologically, rather than doing it to save their and your own soul, is in fact a more unselfish act, as there is no guaranteed payoff in the form of a beautiful afterlife.
Stowe does adopt some level of biological arguments within the book, like in the case of Miss Ophelia, who detests slavery, but is prejudiced against slaves simply because of her inexperience and ignorance. Once she actually interacts with Topsy, a slave girl she tries to tutor, and grows to love her because of Eva's lessons, Ophelia realizes her prejudices and overcomes them. She serves as the model of what Stowe wants her readers to experience, though her revelation is mostly stemming from the Christian faith being awoken within her.
Stowe's main argument lies in the fact that slavery and Christianity are incompatible with each other. This is illustrated by the characters in her novel – the more Christian the character, the more opposed he/she is to slavery. She insists that Christianity asks for universal love, and this includes all human beings. In this fashion she attempts to use Christianity to fight slavery. The power of Christian love is apparent in the transformation of Tom Loker, after he is shot by George and healed by the Quakers. Uncle Tom embodies the Christian martyr as he adheres to his values through all the suffering he is subjected to. The entire spirituality of the book comes into question to a certain extent when being examined from a biological outlook. Instances like Eliza's crossing of the ice covered river were thought to be divine in the book, whereas scientifically it probably had some physical explanation.
Another biological incompatibility in the book is Stowe's portrayal of women as more compassionate, more courageous and fundamentally more moral than men. From a molecular standpoint men and women have the same brain structure. While there are differences in the hormones and levels of those present within the two sexes, the gross generalization that all men are less moral women is based on a cultural concept of how men and women are raised. A lot of the differences that were attributed to slaves, such as being more emotional and less capable of thinking and rationality, were also cultural, as slaves were not provided with the same educational resources as white people were. Her assumptions stem from a cultural and social construction rather than any anatomical basis. Thus the reason she chooses her target audience would be inconsistent if this book were to be written from a biological standpoint as not every woman is biologically predisposed to be more moral than every man.
Stowe is not presenting a realistic world, and she isn't trying to. Instead, Uncle Tom's Cabin is clearly a propaganda novel. Can the same effect still be achieved using the biological arguments I've presented? I think it could, if audiences were made familiar with scientific fact like they were familiar with biblical references. There is an undeniable morality attached to human beings as equals when seen on the most basic level. There can be no greater proof of oneness with other fellow men than the biological truth that we are all composed in the exact same manner, irrespective of the amount of melanocytes (cells that produce skin pigmentation) present under our skin cells. While Stowe uses religion and sentimentality to achieve the desired affect in her readers, a biological Stowe would argue for the simple undeniable fact that we are all alike in every molecular way conceivable, so any instances of slavery are inexcusable.
1. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. London: Norton. 1994.
2. Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice. Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1996.
|Holy Infant, Patient and Mild: Children as Images |
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-03-16 01:33:19
Link to this Comment: 18551
Among the many tactics Harriet Beecher Stowe employs to inspire readers of Uncle Tom's Cabin to abolition, the most effective is her citation of theology. Throughout the novel, she emphasizes that to degrade another human being, and to treat him as chattel, is incompatible with Christian teachings, and as such, so is the institution of slavery. She urges the reader rather to do the truly Christian thing; to take in and care for the helpless, to stand up for the oppressed, and to give due respect and dignity to all people, as they too are the "children of God". In order to enact this kind of behavior, Stowe suggest a need to return to innocence, to the unwavering conviction so often found in young children, and by way of example, assigns truly Christian behaviors primarily to those in her story who are children.
The first example of a good, Christian character (at least, among the white classes) in Uncle Tom's Cabin is none other than George Shelby. While his mother is certainly a kind and pious woman, and his father is a decent man who trusts his slaves and treats them well, they still do own slaves, and they still do sell slaves, a behavior which, debt or not, Stowe says is unchristian and therefore unacceptable. It is only George who, upon hearing Tom is to be sold, attempts to make the matter right in spite of the circumstances being stacked against him. Swearing up and down to Tom that he will, one day, bring him home again, George is advised by his friend to "be a Christian, like yer mother. 'Member yer Creator in the days o' yer youth" (88). And in what Stowe might call true Christian spirit, George is thus inspired to say to Haley, "I should think you'd be ashamed to spend all your life buying men and women, and chaining them, like cattle!" (88), to which Haley replies, "So long as your grand folks wants to buy men and women, I'm as good as they is; 'tan't any meaner sellin' on 'em, than 't is buyin'" (88). Stowe's point, of course, is that neither buying nor selling humans is "good"; George too knows this, as expressed in his retort ("I'll never do either, when I'm a man; I'm ashamed, this day, that I'm a Kentuckian" (88).), as he asserts his Christian sense of right over what the law tells him is his due, yet he can do nothing then to fight it.
It is not until George is older, and fully in command of himself and his father's affairs, that he is able to do what he knows in his heart to be right, declaring, "I will do what one man can to drive out this curse of slavery from my land!" (365). True to his word, he frees the slaves his father had kept, despite the fact that, at that point, it was unclear whether or not he and Mrs. Shelby had managed to pull themselves out of debt. Furthermore, he offers to hire all his former slaves, at an individually determined salary, so that those who had cared for him might continue to support their families, and to educate them in the ways of their freedom, as was their right in his eyes (379).
The second character who truly exemplifies "Christian" behavior is, obviously, little Eva. From the moment she is first introduced, her virtues are extolled to the utmost, beginning with her empathic and charitable nature, as described on page 127: "Often and often she walked mournfully round the place where Haley's gang of men and women sat in their chains...sometimes she would lift their chains with her slender hands, and then sigh wofully [sp]...Several times she appeared suddenly among them, with her hands full of candy, nuts, and oranges, which she would distribute joyfully to them..."
Later in the chapter, when St. Clare asks Eva why he should buy Tom from Haley, she replies, "I want to make him happy" (130). This simple, childish answer is nevertheless the sum of Stowe's argument; that all people have the right to live in such a way as is enjoyable to them.
As the novel progresses, and the reader becomes acquainted with the St. Clare household, there comes a point where Miss Ophelia, horrified by the genial intimacy that seems to be blossoming between Eva and Tom, speaks to her cousin about it. In reply, he explains, "Custom with us does what Christianity ought to do; obliterates the feeling of personal prejudice" (154). Eva maintains this attitude throughout her life, behaving familiarly and lovingly with all the servants, caring for their needs (such as when Mammy complains to her of chronic headache, and Eva suggests to her mother that Mammy be the one to rest, on page 148), and ministering to them, both personally (as in the case of Topsy, whom she teaches of love and begs to be a good, Christian woman while, as Christ had once done, she lays hands upon the girl in question (245-246)) and as a group (when she lies dying, and impresses upon all her father's slaves, indeed her friends, that they "must be Christians...remember that each one of you can become angels...Jesus will help you. You must pray to him..." (251).). Furthermore, she impresses upon others the necessity of doing as she has done; when her cousin beats his servant, Dodo, while visiting with her, Eva implores him, "...the Bible say[s] we must love everybody...do love poor Dodo, and be kind to him" (237).
Little Eva's death, as it follows, became a symbol of the ultimate goodness and sacrifice, reminiscent of the death of Jesus. She died to save the souls of the people she loved, and to set into motion events which would lead Cassy, Em, George, and Eliza to a happy family reunion, even at the cost of her dear Tom's life. She became the ultimate icon, an exemplification about all others of the kind of selflessness that, according to Stowe, it was every Christian's duty to seek. Eva's own father puts it best, when he says, "It wouldn't be the first time a little child had been used to instruct..." (246).
The third child in Uncle Tom's Cabin who personifies the sort of good, moral, Christian characteristics that Stowe encourages in her readers, is, surprisingly, Topsy. Certainly, she does not begin with these qualities; rather, through the love and guidance of Eva, she comes to strive for them (246), eventually achieving them to such an end that she is made a missionary to the people of the newly formed Liberia (377). It is through her struggles that Stowe provides a roadmap for any reader who might be similarly floundering, as well as for those who, desiring to make a change in themselves and perhaps their nation by pursuing further their Christian duty, might face similar experiences.
Children are, according to Stowe, both wonderfully simple and amazingly creatures. They take things at face value, are often set in their ways, and can be difficult to reason with at almost any stage. And yet, they have the capacity for wisdom beyond their years, for seeing truths and making simple things that their adult counterparts make difficult with politics and propriety. As such, what better vessels could Stowe have picked to convey her messages of Christian love and goodness to her audience? Through the children in her novel, readers may be made to see the simplicity of right action, and how, if right action is performed, right thinking and right feeling will follow, to the betterment of the whole individual, enabling them to become truly Christian and, simultaneously, to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth by achieving fellowship with all men.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 1994.
|Not My Uncle Tom|
Date: 2006-03-16 11:52:41
Link to this Comment: 18557
Perhaps the most profound element of the novel that distances this generation from this tale of the past is the religious and Christian themed soaked pages. Turn after turn, paragraph after paragraph, the book is dripping with references that only those who have taken the time to master every syllable of the Bible would comprehend. Yes, Stowe takes excerpts that are able to be understood in conjunction with the text without the included passages from where they originated on the bottom of the page. However, such verbal inclusions as "Weep not for those whom the veil of the tomb,/ In life's early morning, hath hid from our eyes" (246) require the reader to stop and think about what these confusing words meshed together signify. The footnote reveals that these are the first lines of the poem "Weep Not for Those" from the Irish poet Thomas Moore's Sacred Songs written in 1816. Thomas Moore was well-known during Stowe's time. In 1835 he was awarded literary pension, remained a popular writer during the course of his life and received Civil List pension in 1850. I have never heard the name Thomas Moore, though I did confuse him with a Sir Thomas More which my previous American History teachers had drilled into my cranium. Such references do not draw me to the text but only allow me to realize the large breadth between the 19th and 21st centuries. Dave Olsen, the director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, surveying only Christian churches accounts that only 18.7% of Americans regularly attend church. Thus such quotes such as, "Look in those clouds!-they look like great gates of pearl..." (227) from Revelation 21.20-12,21, "learned in whatsoever state he was, therewith to be content..." (223) from Isaiah 40.6, and especially "I have put my trust in the Lord God..." (166) from Psalm 73.2-28 do not reach out the 2006 American public. How is this society expected to be engulfed in such themes if it is not in contact with their origins, the House of God? Such preachy writing only echoes those lectures of the constant, hounding parentals.
Not only do the teenagers of the times, spanning those in high school, middle school and college feel removed from Uncle Tom but pedagogues as well. Elaine Showalter, an English professor at Rutgers University states, "The reason we do not teach or respect Uncle Tom's Cabin has less to do with the qualities of the book itself, with its alleged sentimentality, or its enormous and shameful popularity, or its deliberate intent to change things rather than beautifully represent them, than with the fact that it is an anomaly in a period where the literary canon is exceptionally narrow and strong" (ADE Bulletin 070 (Winter 1999):17-21). Showalter then stresses the germaneness of instead reading Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. Gilman's writing also takes place in a pronounced time period quite different from our own however, schizophrenia and madness are issues that touch directly or indirectly today's youth. Health classes required for high school level sophomores even have a section of their syllabus' devoted to schizophrenia and various mental illnesses. Gilman's themes are universal and Showalter agrees that students will not be as enriched by Uncle Tom's Cabin as The Yellow Wallpaper . I cannot agree more.
There is no question that the role of women in today's society has vastly improved from centuries past. However, male dominated events and actions are still prominent. Sheila Jeffrys mentioned how "When a woman reaches orgasm with a man she is only collaborating with the patriarchal system, eroticizing her own oppression..." (BC Fathers). In today's day and age Stowe's female characters, who are morally courageous and committed in the text, may be misconstrued as over-emotional women. Senator Bird's wife states, "You ought to be ashamed, John! Poor, homeless, houseless creatures! It's a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I'll break it, for one, the first time I get a chance..." (69). Joy Kroeger –Mappes, a professor of philosophy at Frostburg State University in Maryland feels that "moral theories that bring in aspects of women's morality and /or womanly virtues and subsume them into a larger category or relabel them do not address the fatal flaw in today's system. Such theories do not benefit women because they function to support the status quo and thus do not contribute to efforts to end the subordination and powerlessness of women" (Kessler 119). Such moral virtues that Stowe tries to present in her women characters have the opposite effect of proving men right by saying that women are led too much by emotions. Whereas in Stowe's time such writing evoked passion in women readers, today such tactics of cajoling our husbands degrades us instead of praises us by deducing that our meaningful actions can only be completed with the help of the opposite sex. Furthermore as a white woman I can never connect with those experiences of Black women. "As a result of colonialism, imperialism, slavery, apartheid, and other systems of racial domination, Black people share a common experience of oppression. These two factors foster shared Afrocentric values that permeate the family structure, religious institutions, culture, and community life of Blacks in varying parts of Africa, the Carribean, South America, and North America" (294). Patricia Hill Collins said this assertion as a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Cincinnati and accepts the separate orb that Black culture encompasses whose membrane cannot be impregnated. I cannot understand despite my utmost endeavors.
Stowe was writing at a time when Caucasians did not perceive African Americans as humans but rather as property. Today, the notion is not even discussed, unless of course someone rents "Crash," and a racial slur by a white person is castigated by the black community. Of course it is easy to say that the parallel notion to Stowe's slavery is modern terrorism. Most of us do not devote time to show compassion toward fellow human beings. However, I have never heard of Laura Bush gently coaxing George not to invade Iraq. Then again, if she did, she didn't do a very good job. Yet again another of Stowe's methods fails by today's standards.
|How to "Feel Right:" Cognitive Dissonance in Uncle|
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-03-16 21:19:23
Link to this Comment: 18563
People often act in ways that contradict their expressed beliefs. Though our society values and admires those who "walk the talk" and "put their money where their mouth is," we believe that it is sometimes difficult or impossible to act in the ways dictated by one's ideals. Although this is not particularly problematic with regard to behaviors with limited consequences, such as the belief that one should eat healthfully or call your mother once a week, when this mindset is applied to larger social issues, it leads individuals to support institutions and actions that they ideologically oppose. In Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, the majority of the characters believe that slavery is wrong. They believe that slaves are human beings worthy of compassion and deserving of humane treatment. However, many of the characters act in ways that perpetuate the system of slavery. In doing so, they maintain an institution that dehumanizes slaves and violates their basic rights. According to cognitive dissonance theory, this conflict between the characters' actions and beliefs should produce psychological discomfort, both in the characters and in Stowe's readers. Stowe uses this psychological discomfort to motivate her readers to challenge the institution of slavery. By portraying the psychological conflict associated with participation in the slave system and the different ways in which characters' negotiate this discomfort, Stowe urges her readers to change their behavior in order that they may "feel right" about their own actions (Stowe 441).
Dissonance theory was first proposed by Leon Feistinger in 1957 (Harmon-Jones & Mills 1999). Dissonance occurs when two cognitions (or a cognition and an action) directly oppose one another. Feistinger proposed that this dissonance is psychologically uncomfortable and motivates individuals to reduce the dissonance (Harmon-Jones & Mills 1999). This can be achieved in several ways: "by removing dissonant cognitions, adding new consonant cognitions, reducing the importance of dissonant cognitions, or increasing the importance of consonant cognitions" (Harmon-Jones & Mills 1999). Phrased more simply, there are two major means by which dissonance can be reduced: by changing the behavior that leads to the dissonance and acting in a way that is consistent with the expressed belief, or by changing the beliefs themselves. The characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin utilize these two different strategies to different extents: while some characters rely solely on changing their cognitions in order to reduce the discomfort produced by their actions, others change their actions in order to align them with their expressed beliefs. Stowe uses the different experiences of these characters to reveal that, in the case of slavery, the morally right way to reduce cognitive dissonance is to change one's actions.
The majority of the characters in Uncle Tom's Cabin experience some degree of psychological discomfort when confronted with the realities of the slave system. This results from the conflict between a belief in the value of all human life and the realities of an institution that consistently devalues and exploits human beings. Stowe suggests that this conflict is innate: nearly every character is presented as experiencing this conflict. Although some respond to the conflict by accepting the utility and validity of the slave system and rejecting the idea that slavery is dehumanizing, this acceptance is motivated by the need to negotiate the conflict between one's innate beliefs and the perceived experiences of slaves. Thus, Stowe portrays cognitive dissonance as an inevitable result of slavery; since value for human life is an innate, core belief, individuals will always experience psychological discomfort when confronted with the institution of slavery. Characters are differentiated by the strategies they use to reduce or eliminate this discomfort — the most admirable characters change their behaviors rather than justifying their participation in a system that devalues human life.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Shelby do not fully support slavery as an institution, they reduce the dissonance created by their ownership of slaves by asserting that circumstances force them to participate in the slave system. Because they believe that they are not in a position to change their behavior, they instead assert beliefs that are consonant with their actions. The primary cognition they use to reduce the dissonance they experience is the assertion that they are bound by circumstances to own and sell slaves. Mr. Shelby, in particular, emphasizes that he does not freely choose to sell Tom and Harry, but justifies it by noting that "circumstances obliged [him]" to do so (Stowe 32). This allows Mr. Shelby to participate in one of the most dehumanizing aspects of slaveholding — selling another human being and dividing families — without believing that he is personally responsible for the pain that will be inflicted on those his decisions affect. By choosing to think of himself as an unwilling participant in an unchangeable system, Mr. Shelby avoids taking responsibility for his actions as a slaveowner and reduces the discomfort associated with the knowledge that he has owned and sold another human being. Stowe reveals that this is a flawed strategy. Although Mr. Shelby expresses confidence in his actions, he is still haunted by a sense that they are wrong. The alternate cognition he uses to justify his actions is not entirely plausible and still contradicts the innate belief in the value of human life. Thus, even though he comforts himself with the belief that "he had a right to do it, —that everybody did it . . . he could not satisfy his own feelings" and remains conflicted about his actions (Stowe 100). Although Mr. and Mrs. Shelby attempt to justify and rationalize their role in the slave system, their actions directly contradict an innate belief in the value of humanity and they are left in a state of psychological dissonance.
Though the Birds do not own slaves, Senator Bird's role as a legislator places him in a position where his actions directly support the institution of slavery. Like Mr. And Mrs. Shelby, Senator Bird initially attempts to eliminate the dissonance associated with his actions by suggesting other cognitive rationalizations, particularly the belief that support for slavery is necessary to maintain the integrity of the union. Rather than seeing slavery as a moral or personal issue, Senator Bird states that because "great public interests are involved . . . we must put aside our private feelings" when making decisions regarding slavery (Stowe 81). Mrs. Bird, however, believes such rationalizations to be un-Christian and resolves to act as her faith commands. When Eliza comes to her house seeking shelter, Mrs. Bird takes her in, although to do so directly violates the laws that her own husband has supported. Mrs. Bird's insistence upon acting in a manner consistent with her values ultimately changes the Senator's mind. His wife's repeated assaults on his justifications for supporting pro-slavery legislation reduce the ability of these cognitions to ameliorate his psychological discomfort. When faced with the fact that his rationalizations no longer bring him comfort, Senator Bird changes his behavior. Senator Bird's experience illustrates both methods of negotiating cognitive dissonance. Although Stowe portrays changing one's actions as the more difficult choice to make, she also reveals that this is the right, Christian way to avoid internal psychological conflict.
Stowe also portrays characters who avoid cognitive dissonance by acting in ways that are consonant with their beliefs and values. The clearest case of the resolution of cognitive dissonance is the actions of John Van Trompe. Trompe witnessed "with repressed uneasiness the workings of a system equally bad for oppressor and oppressed" as a slaveowner (Stowe 92). He resolves this discomfort through decisive action: he frees his slaves. Moreover, he moves beyond the personal sphere and makes himself available to shelter fugitive slaves and assist them in their journeys North. In doing so, he helps undermine the system of slavery. By refusing to participate in the slave system and by conscientiously acting to weaken it, Trompe eliminates the psychological dissonance inherent in slave ownership. Like John Van Trompe, the Quaker characters in the novel cope with cognitive dissonance by eliminating behaviors that conflict with their belief system. Unlike Mrs. Shelby, who reconciles her Christian beliefs with slavery by asserting that she treats her slaves in a Christian manner, the Quakers directly translate the Christian faith into actions that challenge the slave system. They do not differentiate between slaves and free men; they treat all men with equal kindness and compassion. Stowe promotes these behaviors as the ideal, moral and Christian way in which individuals are able to eliminate the psychological discomfort inherent in the slave system. Unlike those characters who attempt to rationalize or justify their behavior, the Quakers do not experience internal conflict as the result of their beliefs or actions. They express a confidence in the righteousness of their actions and are unafraid of the consequences. When his son asks him whether he is worried about possible financial or legal punishment for assisting Eliza and George, Simeon Halliday responds that "the Lord only gives us our worldly goods that we may do justice and mercy," and further expresses the belief that "if we would not meet trouble for a good cause, we were not worthy of our name" (Stowe 141-2). Simeon does not experience conflict as the result of his actions because they are consistent with his values. Although his actions may have consequences, he accepts them as the price of remaining moral in a legal system that supports an immoral institution. The Quakers and John Van Trompe are the clearest illustration of individuals who "feel right," because their actions are not in conflict with their values (Stowe 443).
Dissonance theory provides a psychological lens through which to understand Stowe's portrayals of various characters and their responses to the slave system. Although dissonance theory is morally neutral, Stowe presents those characters who change their behaviors as less conflicted than those who change their beliefs in order to reduce their discomfort at the thought of slaveholding. By showing the ways in which different characters negotiate the dissonance produced by the realities of slavery, Stowe encourages her readers to reduce their own discomfort by acting to eliminate slavery, rather than by justifying or excusing it.
Harmon-Jones, E., & Mills, J. (1999). An introduction to cognitive dissonance theory and an overview of current perspectives on the theory. In E. Harmon-Jones & J. Mills (Eds.). Cognitive dissonance: Progress on a pivotal theory in social psychology. (pp. 3-24). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. (1995). Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York: Barnes & Noble.
|You Go, Girl: Cassy and Baldwin's Categorization T|
Name: Steph Hero
Date: 2006-03-16 22:50:46
Link to this Comment: 18565
|A Buddhist response to Uncle Tom's Cabin: Christia|
Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-03-16 23:41:34
Link to this Comment: 18567
Christianity is a fundamentally dualistic religion. God is good; the devil is evil. Heaven is opposed by Hell. One is either sinful or repentant and saved. This duality is obvious everywhere in Beecher Stowe's story. Most of the characters are either Christ figures or devilish sinners. Eva is constantly portrayed as if she were a holy angel. When she is first introduced, she is described as having "the perfection of childish beauty, [...] an undulating and aerial grace, [...] mythic and allegorical being [...] deep spiritual gravity [...]" and to finish it off, she seems like "something almost divine [...] one of the angels stepped out of [the] New Testament" (126-7). Tom, the other Christ-figure, never hesitates in his faith. Even when he is being beaten to within an inch of his life by Simon Legree, he only thinks of saving the soul of the tyrant who beats him:
Tom looked up at his master, and answered, "Mas'r, if you was sick, or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I'd give ye my heart's blood; and, if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I'd give 'em freely, as the Lord gave his for me. O, Mas'r! don't bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than 't will me! Do the worst your can, my troubles'll be over soon; if ye don't repent, yours won't never end! (358)
Tom is a near perfect parallel to Jesus; beyond human concerns, his sights are on Heaven and on saving others so that they, too, will make it there instead of falling into Satan's grip and being pulled down to Hell. The Quakers are also portrayed as a nearly perfect, sinless and selfless group. On the other hand, the book offers fundamentally evil characters like George's master and Simon Legree, who try to brutalize and debase their slaves as a matter of principle.
It has often been argued that Harrier Beecher Stowe created such a polarized tale precisely because she was trying to create a sort of Christian fable. She wanted to make the divide between good and evil so well defined that the reader couldn't help but choose good. Not only that, however, she wanted to move the reader so profoundly that they would ACT and do something to end slavery. I want to argue, though, that this strict duality doesn't really lead us to action; that the dualism is really at the root of the problem.
David Loy, a professor at Bunkyo University in Japan, wrote an article called "On the Nonduality of Good and Evil: Buddhist Reflections on the New Holy War." In this article he presents the Buddhist perspective on good and evil, which is in stark contrast to the Christian idea – and he would say, more generally, that of all Abrahamic traditions. He asserts that there are good and evil within each human being and that the real evil actions in the world arise when the battle between good and evil, which should be an internal struggle, is externalized, allowing one to consider himself good and someone else evil. He explains that, "Buddhism emphasizes the concept of evil less than what it calls the three roots of evil, or the three causes of evil, also known as the three poisons: greed, ill will and delusion" (2). He goes on to make an important distinction between the dualism of the Abrahamic religions and the non-dualism of Buddhism: the prior focuses on "the struggle between good and evil because the main issue is usually understood to be our will: which side are we on?" The latter, on the other hand, focuses on "ignorance and enlightenment because the main issue depends on our self-knowledge: do we really understand what motivates us?" (2-3)
In his article, Loy applies these ideas to the current war in the Middle East. He shows how both President Bush and Bin Laden use the rhetoric of fighting evil, in nearly mirror statements. He gives the example, "Osama bin Laden/George W. Bush looks at the world in very stark, black-and-white terms. For him, the US/al-Qaeda represents the forces of evil that are bringing corruption and domination into the Islamic/Western world" (2). The war between these two will only bring more human suffering into the world as long as they refuse to examine the roots of the conflict. As was mentioned already, Buddhism considers the three roots of evil to be greed, ill will, and delusion. Applied to the current war on terror, an examination of these three roots could lead the West to a better understanding of why many in the Middle East despise us so fundamentally. Could it perhaps be that America's greed for oil, ill will towards those that stand in the way of what we want, and delusional certainty that we are right – again refusing to see the duality that exists in everyone, us and them – has led the Arab world to hate America so deeply? Whether or not this specific expansion of the three roots of evil is totally accurate is not the most important point; what is vital is that we realize that there must be some root, some cause of the evil acts. People are not essentially evil in their nature, but are rather good and evil – a balance of the two. Loy comments that the "Buddhist solution involves breaking the cycle by transforming greed into generosity, ill will into loving-kindness, and delusions into wisdom" (3). We can only begin to transform the system when we know its causes.
To return to Uncle Tom's Cabin, I repeat my earlier statement that the dualism of the book, which is supposed to induce action, is at the root of the problem. If we simply think of slave owners as evil and slaves as good, of whites as evil and blacks as good, we fall into the same kind of externalized battle that Buddhism sees as a shortsighted or deluded struggle. To make any real and lasting changes, we have to look at roots: greed, ill will, and delusion. We have answer the question of what really motivates us instead of simply taking sides.
In some ways, Beecher Stowe does begin to examine these questions. She touches on the fact that greed is the main motivation for some slaveholders, like Simon Legree, who she describes as using "everything [...] merely as an implement for money-making" (298). Ill will is everywhere in this novel, felt by the slaveholders towards their slaves and vice versa. There are few, other than the Christ-figures of Uncle Tom and Eva, who feel real true love for everyone. Master George, who has known Tom since birth, loves him as a sort of father figure and friend, and thus seems to be one example of breaking the cycle of ill will. However, though he feels no ill will towards his slaves, George cannot help but despise Legree. He cannot love him as Tom, symbol of Christ, can and does.
It is worth noting that Master George is a generation younger than pretty much all the other protagonists in the book, which brings me to the idea of social education. I think that he represents the real solution offered for the future. Once we have examined the causes of the conflict, of the human struggles, we can teach our children to live in a different way. Just as past generations have taught children to hate, we can teach the next generation to love. There are repeated examples in this book of children and of how they are taught the social scheme. Eva has taken to heart her father's principles, even if he doesn't have the moral strength, or is too lazy, to carry them through. Henrique, Eva's cousin, is being trained by his father in how to break slaves of their spirit. He repeats his father's rhetoric, "it's the only way to manage him, he's so full of lies and excuses. The only way is to put him down at once, - not let him open his mouth; that's the way papa manages" (231-2). He will carry on the family tradition of owning and mistreating slaves. Then there is the aforementioned example of Master George, who has taken to heart his parents', specifically his mother's, convictions about slavery, and though they were not able to make decisive action in their own time, he will realize the changes that they imagined. If Tom can also be considered a parent-figure for George, it seems particularly important that it is "kneeling on the grave of his poor friend" that the young master declares before God that "from this hour, [he] will do what one man can to drive out this curse of slavery from [his] land" (365). Standing on the shoulders of his forefathers and understanding the fundamental causes of the unjust system they handed down to him, George declares that he will "never own another slave, while it was possible to free him; that nobody, through [him], should ever run the risk of being parted from home and friends, and dying on a lonely plantation" (380). Not only does the young master set his slaves free, but more importantly, he does it for the right reasons. He sees their humanity, and that they are no different from he.
In the end, I think this is the most important message of this book, when seen from a Buddhist perspective. Change is not instantaneous. It takes time because we must first begin to understand the roots of the problem, and then we must seek to eradicate them. Just as we will not be able to end the war in the Middle East until we deal with the causes of all the hatred involved; slavery, too, could not simply be eradicated by freeing the slaves. The greed, ill will, and delusion that brought the system to life and allowed it to flourish had to be uprooted as well.
Beecher Stowe, Harriet. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Elizabeth Ammons, Ed. New York: Norton & Company, 1994.
Loy, David. "On the Nonduality of Good and Evil: Buddhist Reflections on the New Holy War." Japan: Bunkyo University, 2004. Online
|The Left Hand of Stowe|
Name: Jessica Ro
Date: 2006-03-17 09:52:53
Link to this Comment: 18569
At first, the most striking, and seemingly most noteworthy, difference between the 1851 readers of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and readers today is the understanding of slavery, feelings towards race relations, and reactions to profoundly systematic oppression. In "Big Books of American Literature," taught the spring semester of 2006 at Bryn Mawr College, the initial responses from the class centered around the uncomfortable feeling produced in the students as this novel, ostensibly about freedom and equality for African Americans, appears to be so racist.
But as classroom and online discussion continued, it another level of discomfort was illuminated. Uncle Tom's Cabin is an unapologetically religious text. The novel was written as anti-slavery propaganda for the abolitionist movement of the 1850's, and Stowe displayed no trepidation in utilizing religious sentiment to make her point. She blends religion and politics until there is just barely a preposition keeping them apart: Nothing of tragedy can be written, can be spoken, can be conceived, that equals the frightful reality of scenes daily and hourly acting on our shores, beneath the shadow of American law, and the shadow of the cross of Christ. (Stowe, 514)
Stowe knew her audience, and aggressively, that is, often unsubtly, prayed upon the emotions generated by their strict religious belief to get under their skin; she created characters and situations that would read easily as Christian allegories, and used the sympathy and pity created therein to change minds.
This is not to say that the novel is without solid persuasive arguments; there are many places where characters, black and white, are allowed to speak on the evils of slavery, appeal to the blatant wrongness of enslaving a part of humanity, and even explain how slavery hurts white people. Meanwhile, Stowe's heroes and heroines are easy to love, and upsetting to watch danger befall. For a Northern audience with potentially little interaction with the Southern institution of slavery, even less likely to know a slave intimately as a human being rather than a piece of property, Uncle Tom's Cabin gave readers the chance to get to know enslaved characters, hear how they might speak to their husbands, wives, children and parents, and get a glimpse inside their emotional life.
But more and more as the novel goes on, when it seems Stowe can see herself running out of story space and time, she loads on the old time religion with an earnest fervor. It is unlikely that, at the time of Uncle Tom's Cabin's publication, there could have been very much outcry from secular Americans that the novel's religious content was inappropriate, distracting, or actively dissuading. Readers that come to the book today, however, have a very different experience of religion.
Notably, not everyone reading Uncle Tom's Cabin today are practicing Christians. Plenty of readers actively practice the other monolithic religions, some may be of an Eastern religious decent, and even more, most likely, are non-practicing atheists or agnostics, born into Christian families. But more than personal religious beliefs, many readers today have a very different idea of what kind of role religion should play in politics. It is arguably only within the years of the current administration that the country has become, or revealed itself to be, as divided over religion. As the center of the political spectrum has appeared to move rightwards (for a myriad of reasons inconsiderable in a paper of this length), voices from the "religious right" became louder and more frequently heard, and religious belief became even less of a taboo topic in political debate. And the louder the religious right became, the further away from religion the liberal left seemed to move.
This move, how counterproductive it has been towards achieving political success, and what the left can do to change this, is the focus of Rabbi Michael Lerner's new book The Left Hand of God. In it, he explains what he sees as the spiritual, emotional, and personal reasons people respond to the rhetoric of the right. there are many very decent Americans who get attracted to the Religious Right because it is the only voice that they encounter that is willing to challenge the despiritualization of daily life, to call for a life that is driven by higher purpose than money, and to provide actual experiences of supportive community for those whose daily life is suffused with alienation and spiritual loneliness. (Lerner)
Unfortunately, as Lerner points out, these humanist desires have been politicized to run down a party line. It's up to the left now, he writes, to demonstrate how the "loving connection, kindness, generosity, awe and wonder, and joyous celebration of the universe," (Lerner) are part of the left's plan for the country.
It is with this modern day fear of religion intruding on politics that non-religious, liberal (not that they are always the same thing) readers today come to Uncle Tom's Cabin. This mindset leads to a misreading, to a weakened understanding of how Stowe is using her audience. In the online public forum for the "Big Books" class this spring, response to the religious content of the novel displayed the dismissal of religion that seems inexorably linked to voting liberal or progressive these days. As one student wrote, "I agree with... the fact that UTC is way too Christian to be effective in sending out any sort of message." (Marina, 18388) When students recognized Stowe's audience as not themselves, there was a tendency to demean the supposed readers: "I just have to remind myself, little Christian ladies." (Emily, 18304)
But Stowe's religion, born of a Reverend father and later, brother, was, as much as another other than her can tell, a genuine expression of faith, and in how belief can create good people who make positive change. Her audience's, and her own, Christianity is not a blind weakness, but a conviction that leads them to question authority and themselves, to be a force in the world of politics and national life. Stowe knows her audience's religion, and how rarely the beliefs actually gel with political opinions. She points out hypocrisies, and calls her readers to question their status quo:
See, then, to your sympathies in this matter! Are they in harmony with the sympathies of Christ? Or are they swayed and perverted by the sophistries of worldly policy? (Stowe, 515)
Modern readers and voters would benefit from the self-awareness and self-judgment that comes from the kind of religious interrogation that Stowe calls for. Instead of "Christ," substitute whatever your story of faith is, and give your self the hard look Stowe makes her readers take. What you believe and the change you actually get up and make; how much space is there between the two?
Lerner, Michael. The Left Hand of God. Excerpt from http://www.alternet.org/story/32037/. February 10th, 2006
Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Vintage Books. New York: 1991.
"Big Books of American Literature," Bryn Mawr College: Spring Semester, 2006. Forum Five: "What does 'Feeling' Uncle Tom's Cabin get us?" http://serendipstudio.org/forum/viewforum.php?forum_id=393&start=18180&end=18409
"Harriet Beecher Stowe's Life and Times," The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. http://www.harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/life/#childhood. March 17, 2006
|The Trial of H.B. Stowe: The Boondocks, Uncle Tom'|
Name: Amy Stern
Date: 2006-03-17 11:03:24
Link to this Comment: 18570
When we discussed Uncle Tom's Cabin in class, several people mentioned feeling very uncomfortable, and I was definitely one of them. In a culture currently predicated on racial understanding and tolerance, not to mention a society in which the very nature of slavery is particularly abhorrent, I found it hard to empathize with Harriet Beecher Stowe's vision of the world, where tolerance is rooted in treating slaves kindly and giving them good Christian values rather than completely abolishing slavery. I had a hard time rationalizing how this could be a strongly liberal view of the world when it was predicated on beliefs that even archconservatives today would find extremist.
Then I rewatched a few episodes of The Boondocks. And all of a sudden I understood.
Aaron McGruder originally wrote The Boondocks as a comic strip in the mid-nineties (a few years of strips were published in A Right To Be Hostile, which was the point at which the comics became more overtly political), and in November of 2005 the Cartoon Network began airing it as a cartoon series. Both the comic strip and the television show feature Huey and Riley, two black elementary-school-aged kids who move with their grandfather from their life in a mostly-black urban area (the South Side of Chicago) to all-white suburbia (their "boondocks"). There, they make wry observations about culture, popular as well as political. Riley, the younger sibling, wants to be a gangsta rapper; he doesn't are at all about the political situations in which the country he lives in is embroiled. Huey, the older sibling, is a militant leftist who chiefly wants to be free of stupidity in all forms. Granddad just wants to be happy and relaxed and live the American dream, which would be much easier if his two grandchildren weren't making the suburban life unnecessarily difficult.
Since the show first came on the air, a fair amount of controversy has surrounded the ways in which McGruder portrays the black experience, and honestly, I don't entirely know how to respond to it. Both reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and watching The Boondocks makes me very aware of my whiteness, and what it means. That's given me several questions, in fact, regarding how I can write this paper. In the comics, McGruder replaces racial slurs with "asterisks... [or] 'profanitype'" (n*gga, *#$%!, etc.) (de Moraes). In an interview on Nightline, however, when asked why he uses "the N word [when he knows] it's going to be highly offensive to many people", McGruder smiled and said "Well, actually, we had him say nigga. We don't use the N word on my show" (Nightline). Given McGruder's stated preference, and the way the word "nigger" is used frequently in Uncle Tom's Cabin, I will be doing my best to conform to that.
It was, in fact, the use of the word "nigger" that made me want to look at Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Boondocks together in the first place. Stowe is guileless in her use; it is simply another way to refer to the people of African-American descent. McGruder, on the other hand, is completely self aware; he has had several interviews (including the one quoted above) about his conscious decision to use words as he hears them in conversation. Notably, too, he errs on the side of the word as spelt "nigga", which in some way carries with it the reclamation. (This is, obviously, a much larger subject, which deserves far more discussion; due to space restrictions, however, I am only touching on it.) For the purpose of this paper, "nigga" will be used when referencing The Boondocks; Uncle Tom's Cabin will be quoted as it appears in the text.
Obviously, the use of the word "nigga" in The Boondocks is not a response to the use of the term in Uncle Tom's Cabin, but rather to centuries of history surrounding a word with a powerful linguistic history on a specific racial group. Still, given that both are aspiring to "push the envelope" and make people think about their reactions (appropriate and otherwise) to race, and given that McGruder has mentioned several historical events which contribute to what he wants to say in the comic strip and cartoon, I feel the comparison remains apt.
Still, I was starting to wonder about how to tell what, if anything, the direct impact is of something like Uncle Tom's Cabin on something like The Boondocks, when I realized that it was as clear as the title of the book. "The Trial of R. Kelly" is the first episode of the TV show to introduce two secondary characters: Tom Dubois and Uncle Ruckus. Both characters are black, and both are in some ways at odds with the way Huey, the point of view character, approaches race. Examining them enables the audience to examine their own reactions to race in its myriad forms. In this way, The Boondocks is able to accomplish the same task that Uncle Tom's Cabin set out to do: force the audience's feelings about race and behavior out into the open, and create a forum for discussing them. Stowe's character is an archetype, a genuinely good man with very few flaws who deserves far more than what he was given in life, but McGruder's characters are more complex.
Like in the comic strip, Tom is a black man who has married a white woman and works as a prosecutor in the local courts. In short, he has assimilated completely into the white suburban landscape in ways that neither Riley nor Huey is able to, nor desires to, do. In "The Trial of R. Kelly", R. Kelly is being tried for sexually assaulting yet another underage girl, and Riley decides to protest at the courthouse, dragging a "Free R. Kelly" sign (as well as his brother) with him. Tom is, in fact, prosecuting R. Kelly, a fact which outrages Riley, who at one point calls him "Mr. I-Wanna-Lock-Niggas-Up". In the course of a few sentences exchanged with an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old, Tom Dubois has become Aaron McGruder's reimagining of Stowe's Uncle Tom.
The episode itself is a criticism of all extremes. McGruder places Huey, Tom, and three or four academics against a swarming crowd that cares far more about R. Kelly's success with Trapped in the Closet than they do with the fact that he urinated on a fourteen-year-old girl on a videotape. Tom's methodical, clear presentation of evidence is outweighed by the way that the defense attorney- a white man- points to Tom's wife as proof that he is not as comfortable with his black culture and identity as R. Kelly is; saying Tom "is married... to a WHITE WOMAN!" elicits gasps in the court, clearly placing him at odds with the culture.
Uncle Ruckus is another character who far more strongly fits the stereotypical, derogatory insinuation of an "Uncle Tom". Uncle Ruckus is clearly ashamed of his race, and repeatedly refers to his "condition", which makes his skin so dark; he claims it is "Re-Vitiligo", which he says is the opposite of what Michael Jackson has. Uncle Ruckus believes that white people are responsible for all that is good in the world, and black people for all that is bad. Because of the structure of The Boondocks, however, his complete fawning subservience to anyone white and contempt for anyone black places him not as someone to be pitied, but someone to be mocked. If Tom Dubois is the natural outgrowth of a character struggling to make peace between his own black self and a culture which values white ideals, Uncle Ruckus is a caricature of Uncle Tom.
With Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe was appealing to the general public to change their perceptions of race. Through The Boondocks, as highlighted through the characters of Uncle Ruckus and Tom Dubois, Aaron McGruder is working hard to do the same thing. As the culture has changed, both in climate and laws, what Harriet Beecher Stowe said grew less and less envelope-pushing, until today when it seems blatantly regressive. McGruder presents new ideas, several dozen steps beyond Stowe's, but his art is something which could not have existed without Uncle Tom's Cabin. By drawing on the stereotypes she presented and making them into something more, McGruder doesn't just make Uncle Tom's Cabin relevant in the present day; he reinvents the story, bringing new depth to a story which, without these continuous reinventions, would by all rights become irrelevant in any contemporary context.
Billingsley, Lloyd. "Martin Luther King, Down in the Boondocks". FrontPage Magazine.com February 8, 2006.
De Moraes, Lisa. "CNN Stands By Embattled Novak." The Washington Post. July 18, 2005.
McFadden, Cynthia. "Pushing the Envelope." Nightline. ABC. January 16, 2006.
McGruder, Aaron. "The Trial of R. Kelly". The Boondocks. Adult Swim. Cartoon Network. November 13, 2005.
McGruder, Aaron. A Right To Be Hostile. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.
|Neither Liberty Nor Security|
Name: sky stegal
Date: 2006-03-17 11:44:41
Link to this Comment: 18571
A play in several acts
A scene, from the beginning of the last act.
Tom, a poor, pious man who has been trying to bring peace, safety, love and freedom to his people and who has been persecuted for it.
Cassy, a prostitute of the tyrant; well brought-up but degraded now and half-mad in her situation.
Late at night, in an old abandoned barn. Tom has just been badly beaten and wounded in an interrogation. Cassy is an acquaintance, not yet a friend, but is trying to help Tom.
They live on the compound of a tyrant; they are his servant/slaves, along with many others. Some are political prisoners, some are religious dissenters, some are prisoners of the constant war around them. Against all the rules Tom preaches, helps the sick and hurt, and tries (in vain?) to save his comrades (if only by humanizing them).
This is not our world. This is our world through a glass, darkly. This is simplified, steeped and strained, reverse-refined. This is not a portrait; this is grafitti – representative but not parallel to what we think of as real.
Some Stage Stuff:
The set is dark, dank and dingy, with the wild colors of poorly kept-up tropical landscape. Lights (bluish from above and reddish from below) come in at strange angles, through cracks in the walls and what suffice for door and window. Amber spot warms the special where Tom stays (somewhere near center) so that he looks more human than Cassy and the scene around them.
(as Cassy enters from upstage)
Tom: Who's there? Oh, for the Lord's mercy, please give me some water!
Cassy: (giving him water slowly and steadily) Drink all you want. I knew how it would be. It isn't the first time I've been out in the night, carrying water to such as you.
(a pause, while Cassy gives him water, washes his wounds, etc)
Cassy: It's no use, my poor fellow! It's of no use, this you've been trying to do. You were a brave fellow, you had the right on your side – but it's all in vain, and out of the question for you to struggle. You are in the Devil's hands – he is the strongest, and you must give up!
Tom: Oh Lord! Oh Lord! How can I give up?
Cassy: There's no use calling on the Lord – he never hears. If there is a god, he's taken sides against us. All goes against us, heaven and earth. Everything is pushing us into hell. Why shouldn't we go? Oh, you don't know anything about it – I do, I've been here for five years, body and soul under this man's foot. Here we are, alone with him way in the swamps, no one to speak for you or save you or even seek vengance if you are burned alive – if you are scalded, cut into inch-pieces, set up for the dogs to tear, or hung up and whipped to death. There's no law here, of God or man, that can do you the least good. And this man! Did I want to live with him? Wasn't I a woman, and he – God in heaven! What is he? And yet, I've lived with him, these five years, and cursed every moment of my life – night and day!
Tom: Oh Jesus! Lord Jesus! Have you quite forgotten us poor creatures? Help, Lord, I perish!
Cassy: And what are these miserable low dogs you work with, that you should suffer on their account? Every one of them would turn against you, the first time they got a chance. They are all of them as low and cruel to each other as they can be; there's no use in your suffering to keep from hurting them.
Tom: Poor creatures! What made them cruel? And if I give out, I shall get used to it, and grow, little by little, just like them! No, no, no ma'am, I've lost everything – wife, and children, and home – I've lost evertyhing in this world, and it's clean gone, forever – now I can't lose Heaven, too; no, I can't be wicked, besides all!
Cassy: But it can't be that the Lord will lay sin to our account; he won't charge it to us, when we're forced to it; he'll charge it to them that drove us to it.
Tom: Yes, but that won't keep us from growing wicked. If I get to be as hard-hearted as Sambo, and as wicked, it won't make much odds to me how I come so; it's the being so – that's what I'm dreading.
Cassy: (realizing what this means for her, speaking slowly) Oh! God of mercy! What if you speak the truth?
Tom: Ma'am, I can see that, some how, you're quite above me in everything; but there's one thing you might learn even from poor Tom. You said the Lord too sides against us, because he lets us be abused and knocked around; but you see what came on his own son – wasn't he always poor? And have we, any of us, yet come so low as he came? The Lord hasn't forgotten us – if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him. Suffering is no reason to think the Lord's turned against us; but just the contrary, if only we hold on to him, and don't give up to sin.
Cassy: But why does he put us where we can't help but sin?
Tom: I think we can help it.
Cassy: Maybe it's the way. But those that have given up – there's no hope for them – none! We live in filth, and grow loathsome, until we loathe ourselves! And we long to die and we don't dare to kill ourselves! No hope! No hope! No hope! They think it's nothing, what we suffer! It's a small matter; yet I've walked the streets when it seemed as if I had misery enough in my one heart to sink the city. I've wished the houses would fall on me, or the stones sink under me. Yes! And in the judgement day, I will stand up before God, a witness against those that have ruined me, body and soul!
Tom: And when you do, ma'am, what will the Lord say of you? You have suffered, sure, but so have we all. To suffer alone, to make others suffer as well, to deny the Lord and his supreme suffering for your sake, that is to give up heaven and forsake any hope of freedom.
Cassy: Heaven? Hope? Freedom? What do these things mean to me, who have had only this place, only this dispair, only this rule and law and tyranny over my life? How can you speak of freedom in any life but this one, knowing there is no freedom now?
Tom: That's just it, ma'am – there can be no freedom here if there is no hope of heaven
when we're gone. It is the victory...
Cassy: Victory? Over whom? And what? And HOW? We have nothing – no power, no influence, barely even food and water and air enough. What can be victorious in that?
Tom: It is hard, I know, it is hard to suffer, to lose everything, to go on suffering, but to suffer and resist sin, that is the Lord's victory, the one that counts in the end. It is from the Lord we receive victory, and blessing, and freedom.
Cassy: (getting up, crossing back and forth half angrily, half distractedly) Freedom, ha! What is that supposed to be? I used to have such a clear picture of it – when I first came here my whole survival was based on remembering freedom, remembering the feeling of making my own choices and deciding my own fate. Now I know that even that false feeling of freedom has led me here. Inside these walls, under his thumb, every choice we make is governed by him and by what he allows and wants. He is our God now. (she stops moving, as if frozen by "his" will)
Tom: (rising painfully up) NO! No! I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't let you say that. This man, this earthly mortal man no more powerful than I am, really – he doesn't own my soul; he can't. He does not govern my fate; that job's taken. I belong to my Lord, and someday – someday soon – I'm going to see him and live in his glory.
Cassy: But how is that freedom, either, if you are owned? I say there is no freedom, if we are never able to control our own destinies. There is no hope of freedom; it cannot be.
Tom: Someday I will be so free even you must recognize it – free to worship the Lord and do nothing wicked or wrong or painful. I am free now, in a way that no one – especially no dictator or punisher – can touch, because I know only God has control of me. If he needs me to be suffering right now, so be it; I will have the victory soon, and the best I can do for now is be kind to my fellow-sufferers and try and help them to Glory, as well. (sinking back down, having spent his energy)
Cassy: Poor fellow. How can you believe such things in this world? How can you see God when all we know is the rod and the lash and the boot? How do you delude yourself so far as to believe you have choice, you have power, you have freedom here, where everything we think or say or do is dictated and restrained?
Tom: Forgive me for saying so, ma'am, but I don't think you understand me. Freedom is not
the absence of rules, or the lack of restraints – it's not even just being able to make your own decisions. Our master here, he makes his choices without regard to anyone else's rules, but does that make him free? No – he is as miserable as the lowest of us. No, he has no freedom. Freedom is the ability to do what is right and good and best for you and yours. Freedom is having rights, having those rights respected, and using them well. Freedom is having no fear of death. Freedom is responsibility for your actions and respect from those around you. Freedom is a victory, it is the victory; freedom to worship and love and live and let live. That's what I have and you don't.
(a pause, while Cassy considers this and Tom seems to sink down further)
Tom: It must be true. If not true, how could I live, how could any of us live? What would life be worth if it is not true – if there is no freedom? What would our children be worth to us, or our homes, if we cannot hope to see them again? If we cannot pray for them, and dream that someday our families will be together unopressed, why would it hurt us so much to lose them?
Cassy: What is that pain worth, then? Why is it so important that we suffer?
Tom: (smiling) We've come back around, ma'am. You know why we suffer. You know what it's worth to us. And you know what to do with it. The question is, will you do it? Will you give yourself up to freedom? Will you stop fighting so hard, and accept the victory?
(lights fade down as Cassy comes back to Tom, bringing him water)
a note: I see this happening near the end but not AT the end – there needs to be a scene
after this where someone dies (hey, it's a tragedy, we're lucky if anyone's alive at the end!), either Cassy accepts Tom's idea and carries on after him when he is beaten to death, OR she disagrees and is killed for some other offense, leaving Tom alone to continue his work. I don't know how I would want it to go – a whole play says so much more than a single scene sometimes, and this scene is all I'm willing to say right now.
"It must be true; for, if not true, how could he live? " (p. 125).
"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security." – Benjamin Franklin
Ideas, quotations, and text from Chapter XXXIV of Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852 (Norton Critical Edition, 1994)
|A Man Who Tries|
Name: Margaret M
Date: 2006-03-17 13:18:27
Link to this Comment: 18574
"Tom shows" were dramatizations of Uncle Tom's Cabin that began to be performed even as the story was being serialized (Wikipedia). Many of them included elements of blackface minstrelsy (Wikipedia). These same elements are present in The King and I. In Lauren Berlant's "Poor Eliza," she writes that the King's "voice and body are otherwise staged through a kind of generic Asiatic 'bronzeface,' his body exposed and his vernacular enjoyed in what a U.S. audience would recognize as minstrel fashion (Berlant 639). Similar to "Tom shows," The King and I itself is a musical based on both Anna Leonowens biography and Margaret Landon's fictionalization of it (Berlant 638). Both The King and I and many "Tom shows" take many liberties with the works they are based on. Tuptim's "Tom show" in The King and I is similarly an excellent example of this. In her version, Eliza runs away from King Simon. In the actual novel, Eliza never even met Simon. The King and I tells its own version of Uncle Tom's Cabin with its characters taking the place of one or more characters from the novel.
Donaldson and Berlant agree that evil King Simon of Legree in Tuptim's play is a representation of the king of Siam. The King himself plays the role of each of Tom's three masters. His role as Simon is best seen in Tuptim's depiction of him in her play. Another example of this role is in his interactions with Anna, who I will later argue plays the role of Tom. For example, near the beginning of The King and I, the King attempts to remind Anna of her place in his household and tells her that she is his servant. Her insistence that she is not the King's servant is similar to Tom's insistence that Simon doesn't own his soul (Stowe 309). When Tom refuses to whip an old slave woman, Simon attempts to remind him of his place and asks him, "An't yer mine, now, body and soul? (Stowe 309)" In both instances, the Simon character believes that the Tom character has disobeyed him and tries to reestablish his position of power.
The King's role as St. Clare can be seen in his comments about Moses. He questions Anna about why Moses, a scientific man, unscientifically writes that the world was created in a week. The ensuing discussion between him and Anna regarding the difference between men of faith and men of science is similar to the discussion between St. Clare and Tom regarding the difference between the reality of faith and the reality of science (Stowe 263). In both situations the Tom character is explaining to the St. Clare character how to reconcile the two realms of faith and science.
The King also plays the role of Shelby. Throughout the first half of The King and I, Anna is continually reminding the King of the house he promised her. The King has, conveniently for him, forgotten that he had ever promised her a house. This is similar to Shelby's behavior in the beginning of Uncle Tom's Cabin. He had promised Tom his freedom "a hundred times," but, conveniently for him, forgotten that promise when he sold him to Haley (Stowe 28). The freedom promised to Anna was the freedom to raise her son "outside of a harem" and not in the captivity of the King's palace. The King is similar to Shelby in another way. When both the King and Shelby die, their sons, having been greatly influenced by Anna and Tom, begin to free their slaves. Shelby's son, George, feed all of his family's slaves and began paying them for their labor (Stowe 379). The King's son, who is the new King, declares that the people of Siam shall no longer prostrate themselves on the ground to show reverence to the King, but will retain their dignity and bow and curtsy instead.
Anna plays the role is of Tom. Interestingly, Anna's dead husband's name was also Tom. When Anna first arrives at the palace, she tells the King that she will be returning to England immediately if he does not give her the house he had promised her. She is convinced to stay, and takes off her bonnet, after she meets her pupils. Later she tells Sir Edward, a former suitor who is visiting Siam, that her heart is "very much alive" in Siam "among people who need me, people I can help (TK&I)." Her desire to stay where her teaching is needed parallels Tom's desire to stay at Simon's plantation although he is treated so badly. When Cassy asks Tom why he doesn't run away, he informs her that "the Lord's given me a work among these yer poor souls, and I'll stay with 'em (Stowe 345)." Tom believes that it is the Lord's intention for him to stay at Simon's plantation and help his fellow slaves become Christians (Stowe 359). Both Tom and Anna stay where they believe their teaching will be of the most help.
Anna's role as Tom is perhaps best seen in her interactions with the King. Several of these interactions have already been mentioned. One of the best examples occurs when Tuptim has been captured and the King is about to whip her. Anna pleads with the King not to punish Tuptim and says, "I beg of you not to take revenge on this girl. If you do you will be throwing away everything good you have accomplished for yourself and your country (TK&I)." This is similar to Tom's pleading with Simon when Simon is about to beat him. He pleads with Simon not to do so for Simon's own sake and implores him not to "bring this great sin on your soul! (Stowe 358)." In both situations, the Tom character pleads with the Simon character in order to save someone from being beaten for the Simon character's own sake.
Another interesting aspect of Anna's role is the song "Hello, Young Lovers" that she sings her first night at the palace. In the song she recalls a pleasant memory of her dead husband, Tom. She sings to the "new lovers now on the same silent hill" and implores them to "be brave, young lovers, and follow your star, be brave and faithful and true." She also sings that she will "remember this, and I always will (TK&I)." When one considers Donaldson's argument that "Liberation-for women, anyway-becomes less a struggle for political and social freedom than a desperate desire to be with the man you love," Anna's song takes on a new dimension of being about freedom (Donaldson 64). This is quite similar to George's speech to his newly freed slaves. He tells them to "think of your freedom, every time you see UNCLE TOM'S CABIN; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful a Christian as he was (Stowe 380)." In both instances, what Anna and George learned from their Toms about freedom serves as an inspiration to them whenever they "think of Tom (TK&I)."
Other elements of Uncle Tom's Cabin are woven throughout The King and I. For example, in the middle of the night when the King asks Anna to take a letter for him she asks, "Now?" to which he responds, "Now is always the best time. (TK&I)" This echoes Miss Ophelia's comment to St. Clare when she was asking him to sign Topsy over to her that, "Now is the only time there ever is to do a thing in (Stowe 268)." Donaldson and Berlant both argue that Tuptim plays the role of Eliza. She is a slave in that she is a woman in the King's harem and was actually a present, or object given, to the King from the Prince of Burma (Donaldson 58). In many ways she is also an Emmeline character. In the novel, Eliza is a slave of Shelby, but it is never implied that they have any sexual contact. As a new member of the King's harem it is implied that Tuptim and the King will have sexual relations. Emmeline was purchased by Simon as an attractive addition to his household and not as a field laborer (Stowe 298). It is implied that if there hadn't been any sexual interaction between them before she ran away, there certainly would have been. Another similarity between Emmeline and Tuptim is that they play a more passive role in their escape. Eliza's escape across the ice "makes the spectator merge awe at the woman's power in the face of danger she endures for freedom, love, and family (Berlant 645)." She plays an active and powerful role in her flight across the river. Emmeline and Tuptim are greatly assisted in their escapes and play a more passive role. Emmeline escapes with Cassy who had created an elaborate plan for their escape (Stowe 346). Tuptim's escape was planned by her lover, Lun Tha. Donalson remarks that in her escape, Tuptim is "passive and invisible in the rickshaw pulled by an active and visible Lun Tha (Donaldson 64)." Although Tuptim sees herself as Eliza, the passive role she plays in her escape leads me to consider her as playing the role of Emmeline instead.
Of what use is it to consider The King and I as a "Tom show"? Not only does it help us examine The King and I in another light, but it also helps us see the moral of Uncle Tom's Cabin differently. Many people find the Christian message of doing the right thing by freeing the slaves not only overwhelmingly Christian, but also a daunting one (class discussion; Stowe 202). Indeed the task of ending slavery seems as difficult as turning Siam into a modern, Westernized country. The moral in The King and I is easier for the audience to enact in their own lives. It is not that you must face and overcome this challenge, but that you should, like the King, at least try to do so. To paraphrase lady Thiang, it is alright to be a man who stumbles and falls as long as you are a man that tries (TK&I).
Berlant, Lauren. "Poor Eliza." American Literature, Vol. 70, No. 3, No More Separate Spheres!. (Sep. 1998), pp. 635-668.
Donaldson, Laura. " 'The King and I' in Uncle Tom's Cabin, or on the Border of the Women's Room." Cinema Journal, Vol. 29, No. 3. (Spring, 1990), pp. 53-68.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Ed. Ammons, Elizabeth. New York: Norton & Company, 1994.
The King and I. dir. Walter Lang. Perf. Yul Brenner, Deborah Kerr. 1956. DVD. 20th Century Fox, 1999.
|"Blinking" to a Better World: The Theories of Malc|
Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-03-17 13:23:08
Link to this Comment: 18575
Throughout his 1855 narrative Douglass gives example after example of the masters he has served whose very nature has changed due to the negative effects of owning another human being. St. Clare appears to have had experiences similar to Douglass' in that members of his family are defined by the slave system to which they subscribe. Douglass writes that a "man's character greatly takes its hue and shape from the form and color of things about him" (54) and St. Clare explains this phenomenon to Miss Ophelia by giving the example of their fathers. He says to Miss Ophelia, "this whole business of human virtue is [...] for the most part, of latitude and longitude, and geographical position, acting with natural temperament" (198). It is only by chance that St. Clare's father settled in Louisiana while Miss Ophelia's father chose to live in New England. St. Clare recognizes that the ability to be a slaveholder has little to do with predisposition and is far more dependent on environment. St. Clare furthers this point by expounding on the differences between he and his brother Alfred. Alfred is able to be a successful slaveholder because he grew up under the tutelage of their father. St. Clare, on the other hand, spent most of his childhood learning the sensibilities of his mother and growing to value the people that served him as individuals rather than slaves. Although Miss Ophelia adamantly denounces slavery, she is not exempt from Douglass' prediction. She grew up in the North and has therefore adopted the sentiments and feelings towards slavery as those around her. Yet, as St. Clare so aptly points out, although she denounces slavery and believes that slaves should be taught to live as free Christians, she herself is not willing to undertake the work required to bring about this change.
In the character of Simon Legree Beecher Stowe presents an extreme example of the way slavery negatively affects a master. Legree occupies the other end of the spectrum from St. Clare and Miss Ophelia. He treats his property in the worst manner and his behavior towards Tom is of the cruelest nature. It is in his interactions with Tom, however, that Legree begins to feel the smallest glimmers of guilt about his actions. In the instant before Legree beats him to death Tom admonishes Legree, telling him that his sins will be with him forever. For a split second Legree understands the finality of Tom's words. Yet, "it was but a moment. There was one hesitating pause, - one irresolute, relenting thrill, - and the spirit of evil came back, with seven-fold vehemence" (Beecher Stowe 358). Legree has only brief moments of clarity in which he understands the immorality of his actions, yet just like St. Clare and Miss Ophelia he continues to subscribe to a system that he knows to be inherently sinful.
St. Clare, and particularly Miss Ophelia, remark over and over again about the sinful nature of slavery and condemn those around them who brutally mistreat their slaves. When reading of their disgust at the slave system, it puzzled me as to why the cousins still remained active participants of the system. Both St. Clare and Miss Ophelia own other human beings, and regardless of their gentle treatment they are still perpetuating what they speak out against. St. Clare, however, seems to resolve this discrepancy within himself through a number of arguments. He agrees with his brother Alfred "when he says that his slaves are better off than a large class of the population of England" (Beecher Stowe 200). He later claims that while he does not believe that slaves should be held for money-making, it does not seem "quite" so bad to use them to help spend his money. Miss Ophelia is equally as guilty when it comes to convincing herself that while slavery is wrong, slaves are actually better off in the system than out of it. When presented with Topsy as a gift, Miss Ophelia does not free the girl according to her anti-slavery sentiments, but instead takes on Topsy as a challenge. Like St. Clare, Miss Ophelia believes that slaves are inferior and too uneducated to survive without the aid of their masters. Miss Ophelia therefore agrees to educated Topsy and teach her how to be a good Christian, however, she continues to use Topsy as a slave and abuses her like one as well.
The discrepancies between the beliefs and the actions of St. Clare and Miss Ophelia baffle me. They both seem to be able to "talk the talk" but are completely incapable of "walking the walk." This inconsistency nearly ruined the book for me because in class we had equated Harriet Beecher Stowe with Miss Ophelia. For the writer of an anti-slavery novel to preach about the sin of slavery, yet write her main characters as continuing to accept the system, undermined her entire anti-slavery message. It was not until I read Gladwell's introduction to Blink that Uncle Tom's Cabin regained some of its credibility. Just as Frederick Douglass claimed, slavery victimizes both slave and slave master. Both St. Clare and Miss Ophelia recognize this, and Simon Legree perfectly exemplifies this victimization. Why, then, do these seemingly aware characters continue in a path of self-ruination by owning slaves? Applying the theories put forth by Gladwell in Blink, however, I can begin to understand how and why the characters of Uncle Tom's Cabin continue to support slavery.
Gladwell claims that we "believe that we are always better off gathering as much information as possible and spending as much time possible in deliberation" (14). Both St. Clare and Miss Ophelia clearly place more worth on their deliberations than their gut instincts. Their conversations together regarding slavery are well informed and they both have ideas and theories about the means necessary to end the system. Regardless of whether or not they are aware of it, St. Clare and Miss Ophelia subscribe to the idea that thinking things through is always the best way to make judgments. Rather than listen to their gut instincts, they value the long and arduous thought process through which they reason that it is better to keep their slaves than set them free. They effectively talk themselves out of what they know to be moral and right.
Reading Gladwell, I can identify with his insistence that we often place too little value on our snap judgments and therefore resort to long, carefully thought-out decisions. St. Clare and Miss Ophelia suffer from the same mistrust of their gut instincts and as a result an entire household full of slaves suffer. Perhaps if St. Clare and Miss Ophelia had had the opportunity to learn that "decisions made very quickly can be ever bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately" (Gladwell 14) they would have freed their slaves according to what their gut instincts were telling them was moral and right. Gladwell believes that if more value was placed on first impressions and snap judgments that the "we would end up with a different and better world" (Gladwell 17). In the case of the slaveholders in Uncle Tom's Cabin, listening to their instincts would have created a better world for the slaves in their possession.
Beecher Stowe, Harriet. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.
Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom. Ed. William L. Andrews. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
Gladwell, Malcom. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. (2005).
|Larger Than Life: The Influential Power of Reputat|
Name: Lauren Swe
Date: 2006-03-17 14:04:53
Link to this Comment: 18576
It may seem strange to compare apply the words of a late 20th century boy band to one of the most illustrious of the 'Great American Classics,' but there is an undeniable connection between the Backstreet Boys' meditation on celebrity and the reputation of Herman Melville's Ahab. Indeed, the mad captain of the Pequod has become one of the successful celebrities of the literary tradition. The carefully constructed image he projects and chooses to maintain throughout the novel helped to make him a legend among his peers. His appearance, actions, passion and obsession are the subject of his fellow characters' fascination, and Ahab himself has come to serve as an archetypical figure of the insanity of vengeful ambition. His quest for transcendence through the act of killing Moby Dick creates a persona that his bigger than the bodily manifestation of his presence and the attractiveness of his pure charisma and energy are the elements that entice the crew to follow him to the bitter end.
The character of Ahab is slowly revealed through the text like an oncoming vessel emerging slowly from a veil of fog. His name is first mentioned by Captain Peleg, one of the two retired sailors and chief Nantucket shareholders of the Pequod. When Ishmael agrees to join the crew, he requests to meet the ship's captain, but receives an ambiguous response from Peleg:
"Anyhow young man, he won't always see me, so I don't suppose he will see thee. He's a queer man, Captain Ahab—so some think—but a good one. Oh, thou'lt like him well enough; no fear, no fear. He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; he don't speak much; but, when he does speak, you may well listen. Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as 'mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales. His lance! aye, the keenest and surest that, out of all out isle. Oh! he ain't Captain Bildad; no, and he ain't Captain Peleg; he's Ahab, boy; and Ahab of old thou knowest, was a crowned king!...I know Ahab well; I've sailed with him as mate years ago; I know what he is—a good man—not a pious, good man, like Bildad, but a swearing good man—something like me—only there's a good deal more of him. Aye, aye, I know that he was never very jolly; and I know that on the passage home he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that about as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he's been a kind of moody—desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young man, it's better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one. So good-bye to thee—and wrong not Captain Ahab because he happens to have a wicked name. Besides my boy, he has a wife—not three voyages wedded—a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man has a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted if he be, Ahab has his humanities!" (Melville, 77.)
Peleg describes Ahab with a distinct kind of reverence and respect, mentioning the mysterious elements of his character, but glossing them over and placing emphasis on his achievements rather than his eccentricities. Peleg speaks energetically about the absent captain; he attempts to justify his faults by assuring Ishmael of Ahab's ultimate, overriding goodness. Peleg acknowledges that some people think Ahab is "a queer man" but he is still "a good man." He calls him "an ungodly, god-like man", "a swearing good man", and "stricken, blasted though he be, Ahab has his humanities." Peleg praises Ahab's knowledge and the variety of his experiences, from college to cannibals, as well as his hunting skill. When he tells Ishmael that Ahab has not only seen, but has grown accustomed to "wonders deeper than the waves" and faced enemies "mightier, stranger than whales" Ishmael is meant to interpret this as a mark of true experience. From the very beginning of the book there is discussion of the absolute power and mystery of the ocean. If there is something is deeper, mightier and stranger than this element of nature, then it is beyond the realm of Ishmael's comprehension. In Ahab, Peleg paints a portrait of a man who has seen all and who knows all. He makes him out to be more than a mere man. He is "a crowned king!"
From the moment of this introduction onward, Melville creates an interesting and powerful dichotomy between the danger of Ahab's obsessive madness and its strange attractiveness. Immediately following this exchange with Peleg, Ishmael confesses to the reader that he feels the magnetic pull of Ahab's presence:
"As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfulness; what had been incidentally revealed to me of Captain Ahab, filled me with a certain wild vagueness of painfulness concerning him. And somehow, at the time, I felt a sympathy and a sorrow for him, but for I don't know what, unless it was the cruel loss of his leg. And yet I also felt a strange awe of him; but what sort of awe, which I can not at all describe, was not exactly awe; I do not know what it was. But I felt it; and it did not disincline me towards him; though I felt impatience at what seemed like mystery in him, so imperfectly as he was known to me then"(Melville, 77.)
Ishmael acutely describes his sense of anticipation and recognizes the intriguing nature of the mystery of Captain Ahab due to the little information with which Peleg supplies him. This sense of mystery and anticipation is further increased when he is offered another perspective on the captain.
The prophetic (or perhaps senile) old sailor Elijah accosts Ishmael in the street and offers a somewhat more ominous description of the captain. When Elijah asks Ishmael what he knows about the captain, he replies that he doesn't know much, only that Ahab is a good hunter and treats his crew well.
"That's true, that's true—yes, both true enough. But you must also jump when he gives an order. Step and growl; growl and go—that's the word with Captain Ahab. But nothing about that thing that happened to him off of Cape Horn, long ago, when he lay like dead for three days and nights, nothing about that deadly skrimage with the Spaniard afore the alter in Santa?—heard nothing about that, eh? Nothing about the silver calabash he spat into? And nothing about his losing his leg last voyage, according to the prophecy? Didn't hear a word about them matters and something more, eh? No, I don't think ye did; how could ye? Who knows it? Not all Nantucket, I guess. But hows'ever, mayhap, ye've heard tell about the leg, and how he lost it; aye, ye have heard of that I dare say. Oh yes, that every one knows a'most—I mean they know he's only one leg; and that a parmacetti tool the other off"(87.)
This description creates a bit of confusion for Ishmael because it does not conflict with anything that Peleg says. Though Ishmael longs to know more about Captain Ahab, the information he receives from Elijah only confuses him further, intensifying the mystery.
Upon close reading, one comes to realize that Elijah does not disagree with Peleg, but dwells on the darker points of Ahab's character and reputation. The old man gives the narrator the impression that there is some vital information about Captain Ahab that Peleg intentionally withheld from him. Elijah references legendary tales about Ahab's past with something like a mystical air; the fact that he lay as though he were dead for three days then came back to life in Christ-like fashion; the incident which resulted in the loss of his leg as the fulfillment of a prophecy. Without directly saying it, he encourages Ishmael to question his decision to board the Pequod and fills his head with confusion and doubt, which only makes him more curious to see the captain and to decide for himself whether or not he is crazy, trustworthy, or both.
In most stories, characters are introduced with one description by the author or narrator, but in this tale, Melville uses conflicting reports, stories and rumors about Ahab to increase the "hype" surrounding his appearance and to allow the reader's experience of simulated anticipation to mirror Ishmael's. Because both Peleg and Elijah speak with authority on the subject of Ahab's character, Ishmael is conflicted about whom he should believe. Might Peleg try to sell the captain's strengths, for the sake of his own gain? Should he believe the man who has a financial interest in the ship and wishes to secure a crew, or the stranger in the street who appears mad, but has nothing to gain by providing him with information?
Both Peleg and Elijah give Ishmael the sense that there is something strange and indescribable about Captain Ahab. Both men agree that there is something very mysterious about him but Peleg's attitude was one of awe and respect, whereas Elijah's is rather ominous and fills Ishmael with doubt. While pondering these two descriptions, Ishmael's confusion about the captain increases. He describes his growing apprehension in the days preceding the voyage:
"During these days of preparation, Queequeg and I often visited the craft, and as often as I asked about Captain Ahab, and how he was, and when he was going to board his ship. To these questions they would answer that he was getting better every day; meantime, the two Captains, Peleg and Bildad, could attend to everything necessary to fit the vessel for the voyage. If I had been downright honest with myself, I would have seen plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed to this way so long to voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was supposed to be the absolute dictator of it., so soon the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing"(90)
Ishmael attempts to control his anxiety by putting all thoughts of Ahab from his mind until he can meet the man face-to-face make his own assessment of Ahab's character.
When Ahab finally enters the text, several days after the Pequod leaves Nantucket, he surprises the crew by entering silently. Ishmael describes a premonitory chill just before laying eyes on the figure of the captain standing on the quarter-deck.
"There seemed no sign of bodily illness about him, nor of recovery from any. He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole thigh, broad form, seemed made of sold bronze and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini's cast Perseus. Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom, ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded. Whether that mark was born with him, or whether it was he scar left by some desperate wound, no one could certainly say. By some tacit consent, throughout the voyage little or no allusion was made to it, especially by the mates. But once, Tashtego's senior, an old Gay-Head Indian among the crew, superstitiously asserted that not till he was full forty years old did Ahab become that way branded, and then it came upon him, not in the fury of any mortal fray, but in an elemental strife at sea. Yet, this wild hint seemed inferentially navigated, by what a grey Manxman insinuated, an old sepulchral man, who, having never before sailed out of Nantucket, had never laid eye upon wild Ahab. Nevertheless, the old sea-traditions, the immemorial credulities, popularly invested this old Manxman with preternatural powers of discernment. So that no white sailor seriously contradicted him when he said that if ever Captain Ahab should be tranquilly laid out—which might hardly come to pass, so he muttered—then, whoever should do that last office for the dead would find a birth-mark on him from crown to sole." (110)
Contrary to Ishmael's previous belief, the appearance of Ahab only confound him further. The mark on his face only leads to more confusion, discussion, rumor, and mystery.
Ahab's power over his crew comes from the fact that he embraces the mysterious parts of his personality that lend themselves to superstition and legend. He uses the crew's awe and respect to his advantage and acts slowly and carefully so as not to break the illusion of him that they create for themselves in their own minds. Ahab is nothing without the crew. He knows that he needs them to complete his quest successfully, and he understands that the only way to be an absolute dictator is to allow his followers to believe that he is greater than them, that he is more of a man then they are. There is an element of theatricality to all of Ahab's public appearances; he performs the character of "Captain Ahab" that he knows the crew expects to see. It is only by becoming larger than life and by banking on his own celebrity that Ahab is able to successfully monopolize the Pequod.
|The Complex Augustine St. Clare|
Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-03-17 14:05:09
Link to this Comment: 18577
James Baldwin writes that Uncle Tom's Cabin is "a bad novel" because it stereotypes characters and portrays them and the institution of slavery in much fewer dimensions than was the reality. Jane Tompkins praises Uncle Tom's Cabin, arguing that the characters are larger than life. Opinions aside, the general consensus remains, and is also blatantly clear in any reading of the novel, that most characters in Stowe's novel are not complex and exhibit specific characteristics of slavery and different one-dimensional characteristics of different individuals involved in varying ways with the institution: the slave, the master, the mistress, the slave trader, the northerner, etc. Additionally, each of these characters has a different orientation towards religion which is blatantly connected with that character's opinions on and involvement with slavery.
Virtually every character in the novel fits into this formula. For example, Tom and Eva are both Christ-like Martyrs. Eva is a deeply religious child. Eva dies, and some time before this she tells Tom, "I can understand why Jesus wanted to die for us... I've felt that I would be glad to die, if my dying could stop all this misery. I would die for them, Tom, if I could" (240). Similarly, Tom, throughout the novel, appeals to the bible and encourages other people to look to it for guidance and solace. For example, his decision at the beginning of the novel not to run away when he discovers that he has been sold is largely to do with his acceptance of fate, and his belief that he will go to heaven.
Topsy is a "bad" slave child. Right from her entrance into the text, she steals from those who are kind to her. She is bitter and hateful towards the slavery system and she is completely miserable. This is because she has been so abused by slavery that is has almost taken away her humanity. Topsy also has no religious education: "'Have you ever heard anything about God, Topsy?'/The child looked bewildered" (210). But Topsy stops stealing and being so "bad" from living in the St. Clare household. This is, presumably, from a combination of her education, (and implicitly, religious education) from Miss Ophelia and from her interaction with the Christ-like Eva. Through Topsy, lack of religion is associated with being "bad."
Marie is very religious but she is blatantly cruel to her slaves. She is one of the representations of the cruelty of holding slaves. She truly believes that slaves are lesser beings than are white people. For example, she tells Ophelia, "Now St. Clare really has talked to me as if keeping Mammy from her husband was like keeping me from mine. There's no comparing in this way. Mammy couldn't have the feelings that I should" (151). Marie truly believes that slaves do not have as deep and complex feelings as do white people. Legree, too, represents the pure evil that can come of slavery. It is he who orders the brutal whipping of Tom which eventually results in his death. Like Marie, Legree uses the bible to justify his treatment of his slaves: "Here, you rascal, you make believe to be so pious,--didn't you never hear, out of yer bible, 'Servants, obey yer masters'? An't I yer master?"
Throughout the novel, the reader learns the religious beliefs and attitudes towards and involvement with slavery of virtually every character. To analyze each character in the book would be beyond the scope of this paper; however, the preceding examples give a clear indication of the typological categories that Stowe is representing. As with all of the other characters, Augustine St. Clare has an attitude toward Christianity and attitudes towards slavery: he believes in God but does not follow many church practices and he feels that slavery is harmful to the slavery but helpful to their masters; he understands his own hypocrisy in knowing the evil of the institution but still participating in it.
St. Clare does have a Christian religious education, and he does not disbelieve in the Christian bible and its teachings. He says to Eva, "O, Evangeline! Rightly named...hath not God made thee an evangel to me?" (157). However, St. Clare does not hold many of the qualities preached by American Christianity of the nineteenth Century. Most obviously, he does not attend church. Stowe describes Tom's paradoxical feelings towards St. Clare:
"Tom regarded his gay, airy, handsome young master with an odd mixture of fealty, reverence, and fatherly solicitude. That he never read the Bible; never went to church; that he jested and made free with any and every thing that came in the way of his wit; that he spent his Sunday evenings at the opera or theatre; that he went to wine parties, and clubs, and suppers, oftener than was at all expedient,--were all things that Tom could see as plainly as anybody, and on which he based a conviction that "Mas'r wasn't a Christian;"" (177).
Just as St. Clare does not act according to his religious beliefs, so too does he not approach slavery according to his beliefs about slavery – if he did, he would not have any slaves at all. He tells Miss Ophelia, "I am one of the sort that lives by throwing stones at other people's glass houses, but I never mean to put up one for them to stone." He hypocritically recognizes the pure evilness of slavery, yet he continues to hold slaves for his own benefit. He rejects the idea exhibited by other characters that slaves enjoy slavery, proclaiming, "It's all nonsense to talk to me about slaves enjoying all this! To this day, I have no patience with the unutterable trash that some of your patronizing Northerners have made up, as in their zeal to apologize for their sins. We all know better" (199).
St. Clare does not blatantly profess that religion rejects slavery (as do, for example, the Quakers and Mrs. Shelbey), but he does blatantly reject the idea that religion justifies slavery:
"Now, when one speaks up, like a man, and says slavery is necessary to us, we can't get along without it, we should be beggard if we give it up, and, of course, we mean to hold on to it,--this is strong, clear, well-defined language; it has the respectability of truth to it; and if we may judge by their practice, the majority of the world will bear us out in it. But when he begins to put on a long face, and snuffle, and quote Scripture, I incline to think he isn't much better than he should be" (159-160).
Throughout his appearance in the novel, St. Clare recognized the unfairness of slavery and points out common humanity (feelings, abilities, etc.) of slaves and masters. During Tom's purchase, he ponders how much a human being is worth. As he is buying Tom, a slave, he wonders hypothetically how much money he would be worth. This forces white readers to think of whites and blacks on the same plane and to put themselves in the slaves' shoes. Throughout the novel, Stowe constantly asks her white northern readership what they would do were they in the slaves' position, forcing them to think of themselves and slaves on the same plane, an idea which now seems so obvious but at the time was probably radical. But when she does this, she often addresses the reader in the second person, for a minute stepping out of the narrative in order to call upon their support for her abolitionist cause. When Eliza and her son escape, Stowe literally asks the reader:
"If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that were going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, to-morrow morning,--if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o'clock till morning to make good your escape,--how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom,--the little sleepy head on your shoulder,--the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?" (44).
Although St. Clare's character fits into the two-dimensional formula exhibited by other characters, the dimensions of the two qualities explored in his character (religion and slavery) are more complex and interwoven than the other characters. It seems to me that the tensions and paradoxes that he tries to work out within himself in order to reconcile his ideas about religion and slavery make him a more believable character than most of the others. Slavery was an evil and cruel institution, but white Southerners were willing to be slave holders anyway in order to benefit themselves financially, etc. They manipulated the bible to justify the institution. St. Clare is a slaveholder aware of this contradiction. He urges readers to recognize it.
If any single character is telling the story of slavery, I feel that it is St. Clare. Stowe uses St. Clare in order to explain why slavery exists the way that it (in the antebellum South) does. I, a modern reader, would probably have been able to guess Stowe's purpose of writing the book, or at least her views on slavery, simply based on her portrayal of Augustine St. Clare. But Stowe uses much more blatant devices in order to get her message across. Almost everything that every character in the book says or does helps to get her abolitionist message across. Moreover, she often confronts the reader directly, exhibiting her experiences with the slavery system and urging through Christian arguments to abolish slavery.
So why am I so preoccupied with the character of St. Clare? He only exists in the novel as part of Stowe's abolitionist purpose. Perhaps it is because I am living in 2006. I already know that slavery was cruel, racist, and unjust – and that is a huge understatement. What we can look at now is the possible reasons that slavery existed for as long as it did. St. Clare helps us with that.
The characters of Uncle Tom's Cabin are formulaic in that they represent the different individuals involved with the institution of slavery in different ways; specifically, they show the ways that different attitudes towards Christianity interact with attitudes towards slavery. It is my opinion that although Augustine St. Clare fits into this formula, his character is much more complex than the others. This could be because his explanation of slavery fits into my own understanding of the psychology behind the institution, which, in turn, might be because he fits in more with my twenty-first century ideas. Did Harriet Beecher Stowe intend for St. Clare to be a more powerful character than any other? Probably not. But in 2006, the our understanding of St. Clare helps to keep Uncle Tom's Cabin one of the "big books" in American literature.
Baldwin, James. "Everybody's Protest Novel," Notes of a Native Son (1949). [From class lecture and discussion.]
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. 1852; rpt. Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons. New York; W.W. Norton, 1994.
Tompkins Jane, Sentimental Power:Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Politics of Literary History," Glyph (1978). [From class lecture and discussion]
|Letter of Consideration to Ms. Harriet Beecher Sto|
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-03-17 14:06:13
Link to this Comment: 18578
March 17, 2006
Ms. Harriet Beecher Stowe
63 Federal St.
Brunswick, Maine 04011
Dear Ms. Stowe:
Thank you for your recent submission to Otten & Co. Unfortunately, we are unable to take your work in its current stage. However, Uncle Tom's Cabin is a striking and poignant novel. I would strongly suggest that you continue with revisions and keep in contact with our publishing house.
As the female head of this company, I have very strong opinions about the power of women. I chose to run this company with those standards and I would like our work to represent the values I hold true. The reason that our company is hesitant to endorse your book at this time is because I personally found certain aspects of the novel difficult to interpret. I felt that your novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, presented many mixed messages about the role and power of women. As a fellow, female businesswoman, I understand that you and I must be similar in mind. Therefore, I question your choice to set forth such contradictions about our sex in your own work.
I must make my decisions based on the best interest of my company and the values our institution upholds. Currently, we cannot afford jeopardizing our relationship with our customers by supporting this novel and the mixed messages it presents about women.
In the following pages, I have included several points from the novel that illustrate the type of contradictions that were confusing to me. Perhaps through these comments and your explanations, we may have further conversation about your intent and the future of this piece.
I wish you the best of luck with your work. Thank you for giving Otten & Co. a chance to review your writing.
Otten & Co.
Ms. Stowe, certain points in the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin portrayed women very negatively. The unfavorable views of women showed them as being overly emotional, cruel, selfish, unintelligent and spoiled. I found these views to be offensive because they contrasted harshly against the complimentary attitude awarded to women throughout the rest of the novel. I was confused as to why a book meant to enlist the help of women would criticize them in an unflattering way. Perhaps you hope female readers will become enraged by these characterizations and work to disprove them.
In Uncle Tom's Cabin, you categorize women, men and slaves as 'womanly' for being overly sentimental. This is offensive because it suggests that expressing emotion is a sign of weakness, and therefore classifies women as 'weak'. For example, when telling the story about his brother advising him to give up his part of the family plantation, St. Clare recalls that "'he told me that I was a womanish sentimentalist,'" (pg. 201). This incident, of a man giving up power, describes St. Clare as being woman-like. This is not an empowering message that will rally female readers. It is insulting. However, earlier in the novel, Mrs. Shelby argues with her husband about the fate of Eliza and exclaims, "'Feel too much! Am not I a woman, – a mother?'" (pg. 62) Her comment counters the belief that emotion is a disadvantage. Instead she believes that feeling will lead to empathy for others. It is unfortunate that she seems to identify 'feeling' as a feminine quality because then she excludes the idea that others (men) may be able to learn to empathize for others.
Marie St. Clare represented women negatively because she was selfish. Unfortunately, her attitudes seemed generalized to women of high class and status. This unflattering depiction is disadvantageous when you are hoping to appeal to women of that same socioeconomic status. After the death of Eva, an event she uses to highlight her own 'hardships', Marie is at her worst.
"Marie St. Clare felt the loss of Eva as deeply as she could feel anything; and, as she was a woman that had a great faculty of making everybody unhappy when she was, her immediate attendants has still stronger reason to regret the lost of their young mistress, whose winning ways and gentle intercessions had so often been a shield to them from the tyrannical and selfish exactions of her mother." (pg. 266)
Through the unbecoming illustration of Marie, I believe you are trying to set your female readers against acting in such a self-absorbed manner.
Marie also represents the cruelty of women. Oftentimes she urges her husband to beat and whip the slaves. At one point St. Clare notes her meanness by saying, "'I don't doubt it...Tell me of the lovely rule of woman! I never saw above a dozen women that wouldn't half kill a horse, or a servant, either, if they had their own way with them! – let alone a man.'" (pg.244). Her unkindness is horrifying and hopefully will repel your readers from acting this way or accepting this kind of behavior in others.
In the novel, when men classified women as unintelligent, I became angry. Mr. Shelby addresses his wife saying, "'O, ridiculous, Emily! You are the finest woman in Kentucky; but still you haven't sense to know that you don't understand business; - women never do, and never can.'" (pg. 220) I do not think you should include disrespect against women in your novel. This is only beneficial if you mean to enrage your readers, as you did me, because then they will take these insults as a challenge to prove themselves otherwise.
Women in your book oftentimes appear to be leisurely and spoiled. When Miss Ophelia decides to clean and re-organize the St. Clare household, the slaves "agreed that she was no lady; ladies never kept working about as she did; - that she had no air at all; and they were surprised that she should be any relation of the St. Clares." (pg. 206) The novel assumes that white women do not engage in work involving effort and therefore implies that these women have little motivation or power to create change. Ms. Stowe, this insinuation counters the movement you are attempting to promote among white women. How are your readers expected to garner strength if you write as though you have no faith in their capabilities?
Most often, when you described women in the novel, I found your intent confusing. It was difficult to discern whether or not you were complimenting the female sex or adding insult.
The character of Cassy was central in this mess of both the positive and negative sides of woman. You write, "But, as time, and debasing influences, and despair, hardened womanhood within her, and waked the fires of fiercer passions, she had become in a measure his mistress, and he alternately tyrannized over and dreaded her." (pg. 348) The female slave, Cassy, is a 'hardened' woman and the meaning of this is perplexing. Is this an insult because she is 'less' of a woman for having experienced failure? Or, is 'hardened womanhood' a compliment because its negative connotation means that women usually symbolize hope? Her master both 'tyrannizes' her and 'dreads' her. So is this a passive woman or a dominant woman? Why did you choose this juxtaposition? Perhaps you hope the readers will forgive Cassy's weaknesses and ultimately find strength in her power.
When Cassy describes her past to Tom, she offers another baffling comment, "you can do anything with a woman, when you've got her children." (pg. 317) I was at first angered that this comment implied women were malleable and easily manipulated. Then the comment's truth struck me, a truth that I know would strike your female readers. In the end, Cassy's quote admits that women are fiercely loyal, protective and selfless when it comes to the wellbeing of their own children. I believe your readers will be able to identify easily with this maternal role.
Ms. Stowe, when you write about the positive forces that women possess, the negative indications about the female sex fade in comparison. In a positive context, the women in Uncle Tom's Cabin are empathetic, strong, honest and high capable. If your goal in writing this novel is to rally the women of America to action, then with such depictions alone I believe you could succeed.
Throughout the novel, you directly address the mothers who may be reading and call upon them to exude empathy. You plead, "mothers of America...I beseech you, pity the mother who has all your affections, and not one legal right to protect, guide, or educate, the child of her bosom!" (pg.384) You have faith that your readers will feel empathy and be moved fight the injustice imposed on slave mothers and families.
The women in the novel possess strength and honesty. You refer to "all the honest blood of womanhood," (pg. 278) as a virtue that will help the women of America fight the war against slavery. When discussing the relationship between Cassy and Legree, you write, "the most brutal man cannot live in constant association with a strong female influence, and not be greatly controlled by it." (pg. 348) With this comment, you infer that the women of America are strong and hold great influence over their husbands. While I would rather you state that women themselves have the power to take action, I understand your logic in urging these women to use their influence over their powerful husbands to change the course of slavery. Even though they will then rely on help from their husbands, these women are still devoted to a good and just cause.
However, you also demonstrate your belief that women are highly capable of creating change themselves. Of Mrs. Shelby you write, "though her husband had stated she was a woman, she had a clear, energetic, practical mind, and a force of character every way superior to that of her husband" (pg. 220). You call women to action by stating that, "Had his wife been a whole woman, she might yet have done something – as woman can – to mend the broken threads of life," (pg. 133). You obviously have great faith that women are the backbone of America and you want them to take charge of the fight against slavery. "South as well as north, there are women who have an extraordinary talent for command, and tact in educating. Such are enabled, with apparent ease, and without severity, to subject to their will, and bring into harmonious and systematic order, the various members of their small estate, - to regulate their peculiarities, and so balance and compensate the deficiencies of one by the excess of another, as to produce a harmonious and orderly system." (pg. 178)
Ms. Stowe, I believe this novel is enormously affective, with the potential for great success. It is the vehicle needed for change in our nation and I would like to see it published by our company. I know this novel was not intended as a sexiest piece but, as in several of the points I mentioned above, you need to be careful and preferably alter your language, so as not to confuse and discourage your readers, thus pushing them away from your call. Again, thank you, I look forward to reading your second draft.
|What Really Matters|
Name: Emily Feen
Date: 2006-03-17 14:10:09
Link to this Comment: 18579
Douglas, Frederick. "The Hypocrisy of American Slavery." The History Place: Great
Goodell, Rev. William. Slavery and Anti Slavery; a history of the great struggle in both
hemispheres; with a view of the slavery question in the United States. William
Harned Pub. New York: 1852.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Airmont Publishing Company, Inc. New
Wikipedia. "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
|Cry Me a River|
Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-03-17 15:03:23
Link to this Comment: 18580
The first time we witness Uncle Tom crying is just after Eliza has informed him that Mr. Shelby has sold him: "He leaned over the back of the chair, and covered his face with his large hands. Sobs, heavy, hoarse and loud, shook the chair, and great tears fell through his fingers on the floor: just such tears, sir as you dropped into the coffin where lay your first-born son" (Stowe, p. 34). He does not cry in hope that his tears will restore his happiness again, he cries precisely because he's lost all hope. Uncle Tom had just decided that it was not fitting for him to attempt to escape with Eliza and by choosing to stay to be sent with the trader, the only thing left for this slave is the despair of knowing that he is doomed to be separated indeterminately from his family and loved ones.
We see him crying for very similar reasons once he has been bought by St. Clare while he contemplates the possibility of sending a letter home: "the mail for him had no existence, and the gulf of separation was unbridged by even a friendly word or signal. Is it strange, then that some tears fall on the pages of his Bible, as he lays it on the cotton-bale, and, with patient finger, threading his slow way from word to word, traces out its promises?" (p. 125). Again, Uncle Tom cries not because he expects his tears to miraculously bring him closer to his family and he is not redeemed after he finishes sobbing. He cries simply because he acknowledges that he has been defeated by the distance keeping him away from his loved ones and by his condition as a slave.
Another character who cries out of despair when she realizes she has been defeated is little Eva who, knowing her death is near, tries to encourage the slaves at her house to become good Christians by reading the Bible: "'O, dear! you can't read,— poor souls!' and she hid her face in the pillow and sobbed, while many a smothered sob from those she was addressing, who were kneeling on the floor, aroused her" (p. 251). When little Eva becomes aware that none of those slaves who are so dear to her are able to read, she looses all hope that her friends will be saved. She consequently cries as she knows that everything is lost as she cannot do anything that will guarantee the salvation of such slaves and that their redemption is no longer in her hands.
The loss of a loved one seems to be the common factor present in all those characters who cry upon witnessing the death of another: Miss Ophelia and Marie cry when Eva dies, all of St. Clare's slaves sob when their master comes home mortally wounded, and Master George cannot help the tears in his eyes as he watches Uncle Tom pass away. But although all these characters welcome defeat with tears as they know death takes away their loved ones forever, their dying friends and/or relatives face their end without shedding one tear as they have hope in the after life. Eva, St. Clare, and Uncle Tom are all empowered by their Christian faith not to fear death and to become victims of utter despair, but to welcome the possibility of another better life in heaven.
While little Eva lies in her deathbed during her final moments, it is said that "a bright, a glorious smile passed over her face, and she said, brokenly,—'O! love,—joy,—peace!' gave one sigh, and passed from death unto life!" (p. 257). Her father, although he did not live his life with as much faith as his young Christian daughter, asks Uncle Tom to pray for him and as he is passing away, it is accounted: "Just before the spirit parted, he opened his eyes, with a sudden light, as a joy and recognition, and said 'Mother!' and then he was gone!" (p. 256). Even Uncle Tom, the most pious believer and most loyal servant of the Lord in the novel, is described in his death scene as to "with a smile, he fell asleep" (p. 363). The faith in the afterlife that these three characters posses provide them with hope at such a crucial moment and consequently prevents them from crying as they do not perceive death as the ultimate defeat.
Despite all his faith in the Lord, Uncle Tom is seen crying while he prays for both little Eva and St. Clare while they lay in their deathbeds. When the former is passing way, Uncle Tom "with tears streaming down his dark cheeks, looked up for help where he had always been used to look" (p. 257). Furthermore, when St. Clare is bleeding to death, he obeys his master's final wish as it is said that "Tom did pray, with all his mind and strength, for the soul that was passing... It was literally prayer offered with strong crying and tears" (p. 275). Does this mean then that Uncle Tom lost all hope in Christianity during these two moments as he figured that his prayers were useless in saving his friends' lives? As the good Christian he was, Uncle Tom knew that the lives of his two dear friends were no longer in his hands, but that it was God who now would decide over their lives. Although he was defeated in his attempts to save them, Uncle Tom cried because Eva and her father would no longer be with him, not because he feared they would be left out of Heaven after they left this mortal world.
Uncle Tom's faith is actually so strong that it empowers him with hope even in the most adverse of situations when he is under the cruel oppression of Simon Legree. Even after being abused, tortured, and whipped, he does not loose his faith or break down in tears as he has hope that whether he lives or dies, the Lord will always look after him. When Legree confronts him about it, Uncle Tom responds: "I an't a grain afeard to die. I'd as soon die as not. Ye may whip me, starve me, burn me,—it'll only send me sooner where I want to go" (p. 330). His faith in Christianity is such that it keeps him comforted in the most abominable of situations, when any other would have already despaired and accepted their defeat with tears.
Another case in the novel in which hope enables a character to hold up her tears is present in the episode on board of the boat going down the river when Haley sells the only son of one of the women he hoped to sell as a slave. It is described that when this mother realized that she had lost her son forever, "the woman did not scream. The shot passed too straight and direct through the heart, for cry or tear. Dizzily she sat down. Her slack hands fell lifeless by her side... the poor, dumb-stricken heart had neither cry nor tear to show for its utter misery. She was quite calm." (p. 113). Like Uncle Tom lost in Legree's plantation, this woman had nothing left but utter despair without her only son and joy. She, however, did not give into tears as he saw some hope further ahead, although not in religion. By jumping into the river and committing suicide, she had a chance to end her suffering and acted upon it.
Eliza, like this mother on the boat, is one of the few character in the entire novel who when confronted by a threatening situation, instead of becoming a victim of useless tears, opts to take some action to avoid defeat. Upon hearing that her son Harry will be sold, it is mentioned that "no tear dropped over that pillow; in such straits as these, the heart has no tears to give,—it drops only blood, bleeding itself away in silence" (p. 31). Instead of wasting time crying, she grabs her son and escapes, not even stopping to lament her hopelessness when trapped between a frozen river and her pursuers, but instead, "with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap—impossible to anything but madness and despair" (p. 52). There is no doubt that Eliza was a desperate woman and that her situation as a fugitive runaway with a child in arms offered her very little hope of surviving or escaping. But recognizing the uselessness of crying, she acts to change her fate and not be defeated.
Her husband George is one of the other few examples of characters who are not overcome by weeping. When his master's abuse becomes intolerable, he makes a run for it and when his family is in danger, he says: "am I going to stand by and see them take my wife and sell her, when God has given me a pair of strong arms to defend her? No; God help me! I'll fight to the last breath, before they shall take my wife and son. Can you blame me?" (p. 164). Both George and Eliza see their endeavors pay off as they gain their liberty in the end. Had they decided to remain sobbing and lamenting their desperate situation, they would have been defeated by tears blinding them from seeing the little hope they still had.
Although these few characters strongly revolt against crying, thus avoiding being trapped by its worthlessness, most of the other characters present in Stowe's novel are victimized by tears. As it was previously stated, the novel does present over three dozen instances when to one extent or another, a character sheds some tears. Why are so many passages in the novel devoted to describing these episodes if crying is as pointless as it has been demonstrated to be? Since the uselessness of weeping is due to its acceptance of defeat, the novel seems to make use of this to help us sympathize with these suffering characters. Therefore, the text of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', by recognizing that tears are a manifestation of hopelessness, accounts numerous instances where someone cries desolately or sobs uncontrollably to help readers in their effort to empathize with such characters.
Harriet Beecher Stowe. 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'. 1852; rpt. Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons. New York; W.W. Norton
|Jesus vs. Tom and Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin|
Name: Marina Gal
Date: 2006-03-17 16:26:08
Link to this Comment: 18582
|The Right Moral Path of Uncle Tom's Cabin|
Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-03-17 16:54:29
Link to this Comment: 18584
The Right Moral Path of Uncle Tom's Cabin
Uncle Tom's Cabin is famously a book written for a purpose; Stowe admits as much (388). It is a pamphlet for abolition, but it's also an evangelistic text. It is both an exhortation to justice and to religion. It's an exhortation to what Stowe views as Christian (and therefore Christlike) behavior both for this earth (ending slavery) and for spiritual concerns (salvation). She plays this out in her strongest two Christ figures, Little Eva and Tom. Eva and Tom's deaths are two allegories of Christ's death; though they each have inconsistencies, together, they function to direct readers towards what Stowe regards as true Christian behavior.
Tom makes a conscious choice to offer his life up to save Emmeline and Cassy, which is the thing that ties him most strongly to Christ's death. Like Christ, Tom was tortured and had multiple chances to save himself that he didn't take (357-8). Eva, for all that she says she would die for the slaves (240), doesn't choose to have tuberculosis. She is going to die whether or not she helps anyone, and whether or not she wants to. She may not want to make an effort to survive the disease, but it's out of her hands. Because she's not choosing to sacrifice herself, it becomes less of a Christlike action; it still matters and is still an allegory of Christ, but it's not a self-sacrifice. Both Eva and Tom's manners of death are highly religious and spiritual; Tom spends his death forgiving Simon Legree,while Eva, with nobody to forgive, manages to be true to her name and evangelize until the end; her last words are of the love and peace of Heaven (257). They are, to the last, focused one more on the afterlife and one on the present life.
Both Eva and Tom face doubt, although Tom faces it, and persecution, to a much greater degree. He is actively discouraged and forbidden from continuing to be a Christian by Simon Legree, who says that he's Tom's church by virtue of being Tom's owner (293). Tom rejects that statement and continues being an active Christian, and trying to bring other slaves on Legree's plantation into Christianity (and being kind to them when he can't bring God to them, at least). He's undaunted by temptation, and by the brutal beatings he recieves from Legree. Legree's offers to Tom, that he should give him power as the highest of overseers on his plantation, if only Tom would give up his morals about whipping others (and thus, presumably, his religion) are a parallel to Christ's temptation, by Satan, during his forty days in the desert. Tom, like Christ, resists the offers of evil. Eva, on the other hand, has certainly less punishment for her faith, and much less overt doubt. She copes with more emotional doubt, from her father, who cannot cope with her dying; he even complains angrily to God (252), which pains Eva. Neither her father nor her mother are Christians anything but nominally, and Eva has dealt with that atmosphere of doubting her beliefs her entire life--she tries to save and bring to God her parents, and only succeeds with one, and after her death.
Eva and Tom are united in practicing universal love. Tom loves even his enemies, like Simon Legree, who he is willing to save at the cost of his own life, a strong echo of Christ (358), but Tom's love pales in comparison to Eva's. She loves not just her friends, but seemingly everyone who she comes into contact with. She even loves and wants to save slaves she's never met (240). It's an echo of the manner of loving that Christianity preaches, and of the concept of the all-loving grace of God; Eva and Tom together embody that forgiveness and love.
Both Eva and Tom engage in last suppers; Tom at the beginning of the novel, in an actual supper, the last time he dines in his home, and Eva in a more metaphorical sense, when she gathers all the household and gives them pieces of her hair. It's nearly a direct echo of Jesus giving bread and wine and telling his disciples to do this in remembrance of me; Eva even says that she's giving them her hair because she wants to remind them that she'll be waiting for them in Heaven (251). It's reminiscent of both the actual Last Supper, with the doomed Eva giving spiritual instruction, and of the reenactment of the Last Supper, communion; Eva is dispensing her hair in much the same way as communion is dispensed. Tom's supper, compared to Eva's, has a much more practical and earthly nature (there's actual food involved, for one thing); it's the same with their deaths and the people they save. Tom saves in a practical, solid way while Eva saves spiritually.
It's important to look at Tom and Eva's sacrifices in the Christian context that Stowe intended, but not in the same light as Christ's crucifixion (wherein the entire world, or at least all believers, was redeemed simply because of the sacrifice). Tom and Eva's sacrifices aren't on the same level; nobody can be saved by their deaths alone. It is the effects of their deaths that matter. Their blood buys no salvation; it's what happens because of their deaths that saves anyone. Tom chooses to die rather than betray Emmeline and Cassy, and his death saves them from recapture by Simon Legree. Eva says that she would die and wants to die to save all the slaves (240); it's an impractical desire, and she doesn't accomplish it in the end. There's still slavery after her death; in fact, her death only freed one slave, Topsy, and her indirectly. From that angle, Eva's death seems useless. But from a spiritual angle, there's more to Eva's salvation. When she's dying, she exhorts the slaves not to become free or saved for this life, but to try and achieve salvation after death. She tells them to pray, and have the Bible read to them, and to try and join her in Heaven (251). And in saving them in a spiritual sense, she's successful. Her Christlike love for everyone finally converts Topsy (245). She saves St. Clare; he sees his mother as he dies, and as we know his mother was a devout woman, we can assume she's in Heaven, and that it's also where St. Clare goes, because he's begun to believe (276). Eva's example also inspires Miss Ophleia to greater heights of Christian love; she says "I hope I've learnt something of the love of Christ from her [Eva]" (259). It's untold if her love and her death inspires any of the other characters into religion, thus saving them, but even if she has only saved
Topsy and her father, she's still accomplished the same amount of salvation as Tom has. Eva's accomplishment is the spiritual half that, added to Tom's earthly accomplishment, completes a whole example of what Christlike behavior should be.
It's not entirely that Eva's sacrifice and Eva's Christlike qualities are stronger than Tom's. They're both equally strong, in their own ways, but Eva's are more spiritually oriented, while Tom's are focused on this world. But Stowe's goals are equally spread between Heaven and Earth; she wants both abolition and salvation. The path she is really directing her readers to is both at the same time (followed most closely in the book by Miss Ophelia, who frees Topsy and instructs her in Christianity). Americans and Christians must free the slaves both physically and spiritually. Tom and Eva as two examples of Christlike behavior must merge into the right course of action. And everyone can follow this path; both young and old, rich and poor, white and black, male and female, slave and free, embodied by the contradictions of its two pillars, Tom and Eva. By creating two Christ figures and two exceptional Christians that seem to be each other's polar opposites, Stowe welcomes everyone who fits between those two extremes. She's showing that everyone can become a Christian (and a good Christian, which, to her means being an abolitionist as well); furthermore, by placing Tom and Eva where they are in relation to each of those power dichotomies, she shows that neither is stronger. Women aren't weak, because Eva also holds power by being rich, white, and free; older and wiser people aren't better, because Tom is a poor slave. By merging the two ends of the spectrum, and merging their two paths, Stowe directs her readers into what she regards as the proper moral and spiritual course.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons. Norton & Company: New York, 1994.
Date: 2006-03-17 16:59:52
Link to this Comment: 18585
Two women are sitting across from one another in two large over stuffed chairs. They appear to be chatting amiably, although the audience of hundred or so can't quite make out what they are saying. Suddenly a man shouts, "We're on in fifteen." The women immediately sit up a little straighter, and begin preening; making sure not a strand of hair is out of place for when the cameras begin to roll. They hear a voice in their earpiece say, "Camera two wide shot of the stage. Get ready to cue the lights and music in three... two... one... Ok Camera three start zooming in on their faces. Cue the mics in three... two... one... All right we're on, take it away Josie.
"Welcome back to Literature in Revue." Josie said with a dazzling smile. "I'm sure my next guest requires no introduction. Born not far from here in Litchfield, Connecticut, she was the seventh child of Lyman and Roxanna Foote Beecher. Lincoln once said she was the little lady who made this big war-"
Harriet began tuning Josie Lariat out. She was a sweet woman but Harriet had already heard this speech countless times before. She looked down out her dress and gave a little frown. She wished she were wearing something a little less dated. The network insisted only this would do though. She doubted very much she would be comfortable wearing a dress quite as flashy and revealing as Josie's was anyway.
"First of all Mrs. Stowe let me just thank you for being on the show." Harriet looked up quickly; Josie had obviously stopped speaking while she hadn't been paying attention. "Even today your most famous piece, Uncle Tom's Cabin, is a contentiously debated book. We're so glad that you could stop by and help us shed light on the subject."
As if she had had the choice. Three years ago the network had rematerialized her body, an idea she still didn't quite understand, but whatever the process was it had been expensive. To pay her debt she was now under contract to appear wherever the network told her to. She did not think that was strictly fair, it wasn't as if she had been clamoring to be brought back to life. Now she wasn't even her own person. Lord, She identified with Tom a little more every day. Her only consolation was that ol' Mel had been brought back too. Part of her thought it was worth it to see him try to contain his ire while some barely literate high school student told him the book he wrote about the whale was boring.
"Mrs. Stowe, I'm sure you are well aware that critics argue whether your book has done more harm than good. You advocated for the abolishment of slavery, which is of course admirable. Yet your characteristics are essentially simplistic and individuals are placed into types. The tone of your book at certain instances seems to imply that African Americans remain in a submissive role to whites. Was that your intention?
Her characteristics were simplistic? Harriet would have loved to ask Josie when the last time she wrote a best selling novel with the type of wide success she had experienced was, but managed to control the urge. She pondered the question a moment before answering. "I believe my characters are well defined, as the story develops the reader understands why each character thinks, feels and acts in the ways that they do. We have no doubt where the characters stand.
"Perhaps it is easy to place my characters into categories. I would argue, however, that this in turn makes them more complicated. Take St Clair for instance. He is not what we would call an evil man, especially when compared to Simon Legree. St. Clare doesn't believe it is his moral right to own slaves, as his wife does, and yet there he is with a plantation full of slaves. Ophelia constantly admonishes St Clair's contrary attitudes and he readily admits that, 'my forte lies on talking,' action is for others (274)."
"Then you view the typing that occurs, the binaries as something useful?"
"I wanted this book to be accessible to a wide audience. I took the basic characteristics of I had seen in acquaintances, friends, neighbors and relatives and translated them into something everyone would be able recognize. When I first wrote the novel everyone knew a Mr. Shelby or a Mr. Haley. To quote Melville I believed people were wearing masks and viewing only part of the world in a clouded manner. We all have personality traits we wished we didn't. I wanted to hold a mirror up to the reader and ask what he saw. Was there something there that caused he or she shame?"
"You wanted to change the world?"
"Just the part I was dissatisfied with."
"And do you believe you were successful?"
Harriet shrugged a shoulder, if one person was forced to re-evaluate themselves or their actions, if they then changed, I suppose my answer would be yes."
"You said you decided to create characters your readers would be able to recognize does this mean you believe you have accurately portrayed the what it was like for an African American to live in this system?"
"Robert Crossley argues that the American Slave narrative lives within fixed boundaries, 'while first person narratives about oppression and exclusion will persist as long as racism persists, slave narratives ceased to be written when the last American citizen who had lived under institutionalized slavery died.' (Introduction to Kindred, p ix). I don't know that I can say I accurately depicted the system of slavery or fully conveyed what it meant to be an African American slave because I was never one myself. I never feared I would be taken away from my loved ones, or would be beaten for not working in the fields fast enough."
"Do you consider yourself as taking advantage of the reader's emotions? Tom, Eliza, George, St Clare, Eva, Topsy, Miss Ophelia, their were difficult to read?"
"They were difficult to write..."
"But the whole novel seems to tug unrelentingly on the heart strings. Were you afraid the readers would miss the point you were trying to make?"
"Tell me what point you thought I was trying to make." Flustered and surprised she has been put on the spot Josie replies she believed the novel had been trying to allow the reader to get a sense of what slaves must have been feeling. "I didn't want the reader to have distance. Sometimes we are obsessed with remaining a neutral observer, issues like this need passion. If I had to clobber the reader over the head with the sentimentality of it all to get he or she to feel what they ought, well then... so be it."
"Do you think Uncle Tom's Cabin has value today? Why?"
"I would certainly hope so. Just because slavery has been outlawed does not mean problems of oppression, exclusion and racism have vanished. If nothing else my novel should be held as a historical piece. The stories are not ones I simply pulled out of thin air, they could have happened to anyone. The novel can still be useful in giving your generation an insight into how Americans were thinking of and discussing race. How different Americans responded to the issue of slavery."
"Right," Josie said, "the generation thing is something I would like to go back to. There is clearly a divide between our generations and most of the kids today who are reading Uncle Tom's Cabin have a hard time wrapping their around the overt religious themes of the novel. What would you say to them?"
"I don't necessarily believe it is a generational difference. Many of the characters I wrote about in the novel have a complicated relationship with religion, St Clare and Cassy are two obvious examples."
"Yes but there seems to be a clear theme in your book, if you were really a good Christian you would be against slavery, you would do everything in your power to bring about its end."
"I suppose that's true."
"Do you think it detracts from the book?"
"It wouldn't for me but then again I wrote the it. Each reader will of course be different and will as a result bring their own emotions and interpretations to the book. But I believe it is possible to read Uncle Tom's Cabin and separate the religious aspects of it. There is still enough to be gained from Tom's story to make the book worth reading."
"Well we have to cut to a commercial but before I do one final question. Out of all the characters in the book who would you least like to be?"
"Well I know everyone will probably expect me to say Legree but I would have to go with Marie St. Clare. I think Simon knows on some deep instinctual level that what he is doing is wrong. I don't think people like Marie St Clare ever do. They go through the world willfully obtuse and selfish. People like her very rarely experience any kind of change simply because they refuse to. They are quite content being ignorant."
"Well thank you Mrs. Stowe."
"Always a pleasure to work for the network."
Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. Boston: Beacon Press, 1979.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
|see how fast they run|
Name: anna mazza
Date: 2006-03-19 00:18:30
Link to this Comment: 18591
"They" can be the words on the page or Eliza and her son..."Run, Eliza, run! Run, Eliza, run!" (The King and I). The slow and careful movements of the dancer portraying Eliza in The King and I do not appropriately mimic the panic that Eliza must have been feeling. Rather than expressing Eliza's shear terror through leaping, bounding, and jogging, the dancer gives us a controlled, paced, depiction of a crafty, lucky escape. Often, the dancer-Eliza would freeze on one leg while other dancers swarmed around her, or climbed on others' backs to simulate climbing a mountain. In order for a dance such as this to be possible, the dancer herself needs to be physically conditioned so that her muscles are completely in her control. This portrayal is almost counter-intuitive because in such a situation, one would be anything but in complete control; fleeing for her life, Eliza is probably not remaining calm, cool, and collected as is the dancer-Eliza.
What the control in the dancer's movements does parallel, however, is the control one must have over one's concentration while reading Uncle Tom's Cabin; we therefore see that this muscular dancing is closer to the reading tempo of the book as opposed to the running tempo of the actual events within the book. Both the dance and the text act as a metronome to slow down Eliza's harsh reality. What I now attempt is to create a language that follows her emotional, mental, and physical state – a tempo. The words come almost as percussion; as if whispered and played on a drum.
HEART: Bump. Bum-bump. Bum-bump-bump. Bum-bump; bum-bump. Bum-bump-bump. Bump.
HEART: Bump. Bum-bump; bum-dada-bump. Bum-bump; bum-bump. Bum-dada-bump; bum-bump.
FEET: Pitter-patter; pitter-patter. Pitter-pitter; patter-patter; swish-swish. Pitter-swish; patter-swoosh; pitter-patter-swish-swish; pitter-patter-swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh. Swish-swish-swish.
MIND: Must run, must...run! My feet must stay fast...fast...fast...faster...give more...which way?! This...no...here? I don't think...
NARRATOR: But that's just it, she can't think!
THROAT: *muffled cough*. Gulp.
MIND: ...I can't seem to find...shh-shh-shh! No, no, no, stay quiet, stay asleep. Stay just as you are in my arms, light as a feather, soft as velvet, dark as the shadows that hide us...behind a tree, up a tree – anything to stay out of the dogs' noses!
FEET: Patter-patter-patter. Step. Step. Step. Swoosh-swoosh-swoosh-swoosh...Swoo-swoo...
MIND: SHHHHHHhhh! Don't make so much noise!
NARRATOR: The air is too thick to breathe; the atmosphere is swallowing her up, right up with the sounds of her heart beating out of her chest. Everything is getting swallowed up...
MIND: Down, calm down...in and out – deep breaths, deep breaths...think! Try to think!
NARRATOR: But the breaths are shallow and her head spins because it cannot breathe.
MIND: Stay calm, must...must...stay...here? Oh no, no, no, no, no...dogs!? No...no, no...
FEET: Thump! Tinker-tinker-tot. slip-slip-slip.
MIND: Stay on your own two feet!
FEET: Slip-slip. Sliiiiide.
FEET: sweesh-sweesh-sweeeesh! Slip-slap-slop.
HEART: Thump, thump, thump. Thu-thump...thu-thump...thu-thump...
MIND: Oh you're getting heavy, you know that?! How am I supposed to carry you all this way. My feet must stay fast but my arms must stay strong. Hold onto me – help your mother: lie quiet, stay still, hold tight, breath often...please keep breathing...me too, I'll keep on if you do...
NARRATOR: If not, all would be for naught, no?...
MIND: – if you don't, I'm through!
NARRATOR: The faster her feet move, the faster her heart beats, and the faster she breathes.
THROAT: *gasp*... gulp...*gasp*...*gasp*
HEART: Thuhh-thuhh-thuhh-thump. Thah-da-bump; thah-da-thump. Thum-pah-da-thump-thump; thump-thump-thump...
HEART: Bump-dada-bump-bump. Thuhh-thuhh-thump; dada-bump.
HEART: Thuhh-da-dump. Bump-bump.
THROAT: Gulp *cough* gulp
THROAT: *Cough* gulp *cough*
HEART: Diddy-diddy-dahh-dahh. Bump. Bump. Bump. Bum-bump; bum-dada-bump.
FEET: Step. Step.
THROAT: *gasp*... gulp...*gasp*...*gasp*
HEART: Thuhh-thuhh-thuhh-thump. Thah-da-bump; thah-da-thump. Thum-pah-thump-thump; thump-thump-thump...
HEART: Bump-dada-bump-bump. Thuhh-thuhh-thump; dada-bump-dada-bump. Thuhh-thuhh-thump.
MIND: Down, calm down...in and out – deep breaths, deep breaths...think! Try to think!
FEET: Patter-patter-patter. Step. Step. Step. Swoosh-swoosh-swoosh-swoosh...
NARRATOR: But the breaths are shallow.
NARRATOR: But the breaths are shallow.
FEET: Patter-patter-patter. Pitter-patter-pitter. Patter-pitter-pitter-swoosh. Swish-swish-patter. Swoosh-swoosh-swoosh-swoosh...
FEET: Step. Step. Step. Step-step-step. Step...step...
MIND: Sloooowwww down...caaaaalm downnn.
FEET: Step. Step.
HEART: Thahh-da-thump; thahh-da-thump...
FEET: Step; step-step.
MIND: Imagine I'm going the wrong way! What could I do then!?
|A Black Jesus?|
Name: Jackie O'M
Date: 2006-03-19 14:48:19
Link to this Comment: 18594
The stories of The Bible are some of the oldest and, to many, most sacred stories in human history. In the time of the publishing of Uncle Tom's Cabin, religion – Christianity in particular – was one of the driving forces of the United States. Politics, especially between the North and the South, were another. So when Harriet Beecher Stowe juxtaposed religion and politics in Uncle Tom's Cabin, she was sure to strike a chord in American society that could not be ignored. Along with the obvious issue of slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe attempts to move her readers on a spiritual level by depicting the protagonist, Uncle Tom, as a Christ figure. The story of Jesus Christ is often retold in various forms in literature, which has the effect of using it as a way to interpret and understand many of the issues that face society. Stowe reconfigures the tale of Jesus to give Tom's life story a special significance. By touching on some of the most central beliefs of her audience, Stowe ensures that her message regarding slavery will not go unheeded.
The similarities between the story of Uncle Tom and the story of Jesus are striking. Tom uses Jesus' own words at critical moments in his life. When Tom is going to be whipped to death for not disclosing the whereabouts of Cassy and Emmeline, he quotes the final words of Christ on the cross (Stowe, 357). Tom also speaks the words of Jesus when talking to St. Clare after the death of Eva (262). The use of Christ's actual words as quoted from The Bible by Tom ensures that the reader will understand the comparison. A tactic that remains effective even in modern editions, which include this information in separate notes. In addition to direct quotations, Stowe replicates situations for Tom that Jesus also experienced.
At Simon Legree's plantation, Legree tempts Tom with promises of being an overseer, saying that Tom would "have been better off than Sambo, or Quimbo either, and had easy times" if he had not refused to beat one of the older, female slaves (Stowe, 339). Legree implores:
"Come, Tom, don't you think you'd better be reasonable? – heave that ar old pack of trash into the fire, and join my church!" (339)
This is similar to the way in which Satan tempts Jesus in the desert:
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. (St. Matthew 4.8-9)
The classic example of overcoming temptation proves to be a strong comparison between Christ and Uncle Tom.
Another, even more powerful association between Tom and Jesus comes as Cassy and Emmeline are planning their escape. Cassy asks Tom to go with them: "Would you try it with us, Father Tom" (Stowe, 345)? Tom has the opportunity to get himself out of a deadly situation, but he says that his place is with the rest of the Legree's slaves:
"No," said Tom; "time was when I would; but the Lord's given me a work among these yer poor souls, and I'll stay with 'em and bear my cross with 'em till the end." (345)
In this quote, Tom makes the clear reference to the bearing of a cross, but he also makes the choice to stay in a situation that is sure to lead to his death. In The Bible, Jesus has the ability to save himself from his own crucifixion: "If thou be Christ, save thyself" (St. Luke 23.39). Other stories with a Jesus figure have similar incidents. The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, has the character of Aslan as a representation of Christ. As Aslan is being killed, he could, at any moment, jump up and fight back, but he chooses not to in order to save the boy Edmund (Lewis, 181). Making the choice to die for others is arguably the most moving image of Christ in the Bible. Stowe makes certain that the reader sees this image in the death of Uncle Tom.
Uncle Tom's Cabin has another character that is similar to Christ – Eva "The Little Evangelist" St. Clare (Stowe, 242). Eva enters the novel as an ethereal presence and leaves it as an angel: "the rays of the sun formed a kind of glory behind her, as she came forward in her white dress, with her golden hair and glowing cheeks" (240). Tom and Eva read The Bible together and discuss its meanings, and Tom "almost worshipped her as something heavenly and divine" (224). Eva can very easily be seen as a Jesus figure in the novel, and yet she lacks many of the direct analogies to Christ that Tom has. She says that she "can understand why Jesus wanted to die for us" (240), but her death does not result in the salvation of the slaves as Tom's does later on (380). Eva does play an important role in Stowe's message for her readers, however. The strategic placement of Eva and all of her heavenly qualities sets the stage for some of the more crucial incidents with Tom. Eva makes it possible for the audience to see Christ in another character. It is not much of a stretch to view an angelic, blonde, little white girl as an imitation of Christ. When Eva dies, Tom can take over as the true Jesus figure, and his story has all the more power because it has been foreshadowed.
What does a retelling of the story of Christ do for a novel like Uncle Tom's Cabin? On a broader scale, why are there so many stories that retell or reconfigure the story of Jesus in some way? What good does this accomplish? To look at The Bible alone, there are many people who experience situations similar to that of Jesus. Temptation, miracles, healing, and teaching are common themes throughout The Bible. The emphasis that is created by this type of repetition illustrates how this story that can be applied to many situations. It is not unique to the Son of God. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, for example, the literal story of Jesus would not accomplish Stowe's ultimate goal for the novel. She must therefore, while still using the powerful tale of the life of Christ, modify it to give a comprehensible meaning to the life and actions of a poor, old, black slave. As quoted by Burton Mack, author of Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of a Christian Myth:
[Early Christian's] reasons for telling their stories are not good enough to be our reasons for continuing to tell the stores just as they told them.
We as an audience can still "appreciate the mythmaking" (Mack) that is the repetition and restructuring of traditional Bible stories. This appreciation is what Stowe was hoping to evoke in her readers, and with it, an understanding of the similarities of human situations.
It is relatively easy to argue dogma and rhetoric. The words of The Bible can also be used to justify many things, such as slavery (Stowe, 107). It is the qualities and experiences of Christ – shown in Uncle Tom's Cabin through the life of a slave – that can transcend time. By setting up two possible comparisons to Jesus, as well as strikingly clear parallels between the stories, Harriet Beecher Stowe makes it nearly impossible for her Christian audience to refuse the anti-slavery message of Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is a common strategy, but an immensely powerful one.
|Gazing at the Whale|
Name: Chris Haag
Date: 2006-03-19 15:25:40
Link to this Comment: 18595
The ocean goes on farther than comprehension. In a world of limits, it is the contradiction. While it is appears constant and so much the same, the eyes cannot help but gaze at it, feeling a pull towards it. I feel so natural submitting to the pull, I feel a calm staring at the leviathan in front of me. Every morning it comes in, swallows up the beach, and drifts away in the afternoon. The waves will always break fifteen feet from the shore, and the tide will come circling around my toes. The ground will become wet, my feet will sink in, wet sand engulfing them. Each time and every time. The sky today is the blue that fades into the ocean's horizon, blurry any distinction. I love the ocean. I love the moment, looking at the ocean, feeling the cold water splash against my naked skin. The moment is complete in as much as any moment can be completed. This place is where I want to be, this sight is what I want to see.
I used to view the ocean with fear. I would look upon it as that which could tear me away, bringing me out into a new world that was unsafe and would probably kill me. I stood away from the ocean, safely on the beach with my concerns focused on my sand castles. I wanted to construct something powerful, something that would last to the next day. My enemy, other than an older brother who might stomp it out, was ocean whose high-tide would most certainly be too much. Walls got higher, moats got deeper, but each and every time, the surf would humble the bulwarks and fill the deeps. Each morning the castles was nothing more than a dent in sand, barely a fingerprint. After many attempts to withstand an ocean, I choose instead to move farther back, building castles closer to the dunes, farther from the ocean. It was safer to put it farther away, it was able to last.
Going to the beach is not staying in the dunes. The majesty, the force pulling us is the ocean. The books we read there, the day-trips we go on are not what draw us. There is a pull that makes no sense when we trying to explain it, we are unable to push our passion through the crude translation of language.
The ocean is not a swimming hole, not a fishing pond. Our attempts to make sense of all of its capabilities still do not explain its allure. There are swimming pools all around. There are place to fish that are a minutes drive, not several hours. My relationship is much more removed much more distant. I come to sit and watch. What is the purpose? It is not a calm I am looking for, as calm can be found in many songs, many soft afternoons. I am not calmed by the leviathan in front of me. I am perplexed, but only perplexed in the naturalness of the moment. Even in coming for just a week, I feel as though the years before were just a boarder around the sacred truth of the current moment.
I want to understand this moment, because sitting here is awe is no ground to build from. I do not want to be the gazer upon those who gaze, but the one who experiences the truth. How can we be so close to what is so right, and allow it to wash away? I want the water to come over and anoint me, be the bright epiphany that destroys the old and creates the definite and certain new. I do not care for words of rebirth or virginity in this moment. I care for only what the ocean whispers in its splashes against the surf and banter with the sky.
I can not decide if the years before I have waited were a waste, or all building towards this moment. Could a younger man had seen and heard the call of these waves, or am I too expired to live a life speaking in this language? Am I too ripe, or too expired?
Words lose their meaning when they are stripped down through repeating them over and over, and reveal certain honesty. An H is just a breath of air, but in the breath we attribute so much meaning. The more we repeat, the more peculiar, the more disenchanted we are with the reliance on the illusion. What are we that care so much for silent breaths?
When you stare at the ocean for long enough, the waves do disappear. The broken shingled surface becomes a flat stage, a solid platform that the mind can walk on and dance over. The new form it takes is more real, more natural than one could ever expect. It is not an illusion that has gained authority arbitrarily, but it is the apriori to which we should build ourselves entirely upon. This is not a limited existence, or fading delusions, but real full growth and recreation in every waking moment. But what does all of this mean? I can walk into it, but am I any closer? I know that it is something; I know it exists, but I can find no way to penetrate it more than a doting gaze. I cannot be happy with my reliance on a gaze. I don't even understand my gaze! The distance is immense.
I know the force exists, I know there is a pull, but which way am I being pulled? The tide would take me out, pull me down to the bottom, but the desire to live takes me back to shore. The only place I can stand comfortably is in the surf, equally distant from land and sea.
The sun breaks through the clouds and I am overcome. The sky now has a beauty incomparable to any other. The sky's pupil looks down on me. I know not how to respond, I know not what it is saying. My stance is faith, faith being the only rock I can stand on. The brightness of the beauty is inspiring, but overwhelming as I know not what to do with the presence. What do you inspire me to do? Nothing these eyes have seen, hands have touched hold a resemblance to the kingdom I am among . All the battles of light and darkness are being fought above me, and all that is good is revealing in its victory. Am I a part of the victory, or am I that which is being defeated?
All this joy tries to rush through shrunken pupils and an over perceiving mind only to find it is too full. The messiah has come to find there is no room for him here, and I must order him to lie in the manger . I am not ready for what he has to say, I am not ready for what he can show me. His visions fall on eyes that see them as God's foot upon the treadle of the loom . In my state of drowning, I allow myself to sink, to stop treading water and am taken by the waves, floating on the surface.
I know I see a truth, and in the language of the mind it all makes sense. But like all ideas of truth, the path from thought to speech strips away all the poetry draining too much blood from the idea. It cannot exist outside the body. I know what I have discovered is truth; I know that in the space between the Sun and the Sea I exist in a plane the recreates time and space. But in this sacred space, I know that I will have to leave. The shore calls me back. When I leave, nothing will exist as it had, as the attempt to speak or remember to myself will kill the experience in the form it had existed. In the moment everything danced together, so happily, so purely, frolicking in a way only that which understands its own impending expiration. The fading light becomes brighter by the darkness it creates.
Dreams are formed not by dreaming alone, but how we decided to remember them. Our memory of the dream makes sense in the context of the dream, but when we wake and try to communicate them, our language is unable to explain them in the form thy originally existed. They are either full of holes or too illogical. Instead we fabricate a combination of the dream and the awake one's interpretation. Authenticity is destroyed by a need for control.
I left the moment not because I did not like what I saw, but because I had no way of existing in the moment. I live in a world of sharing, and unfortunately the world I found was destroyed by an attempt to bring it to the world I know. The moment is now just a finger print, much like the washed away sand castles. The washing away does not cause me not to want to try again and be content to go back to the dunes, but to go back and try to hear the words spoken in tongues. Whatever existed in the place was exciting and real. I want it not like I desire for a lover, not like I desire for a greater image of myself. I desire it for what it was and what it will become. I desire the entity unto itself. Its power reintroduced me to the performance of my thought and cornucopia of possibility. The wonderful thing about this world is the very fact of how many things can be wonderful about it. In the meantime, I will continue to sit and watch the ocean, as it comes in, and drifts away.
Name: Marie Sage
Date: 2006-03-20 00:19:36
Link to this Comment: 18607
Stowe's famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, chronicles the daily horrors of life in the time of slavery. Written in hope of ending this brutal practice, Stowe appeals to people's inner morality through the personal narratives of her characters and religious sentiments. For me, the novel "worked" and elicited a great emotional response, but based on class discussions, I do not think this holds true for everyone; many branded the book as too "Christian and simplistic." I find this labeling very upsetting, not on the basis of agreement, but because I view it as a flawed perspective. As a result, I seek to discover just how "Christian" the book truly is and to dismiss the notion that Stowe believes Christianness automatically implies goodness. I also hope to overturn the religious simplicity assigned to her characters. Overall, keeping in mind Stowe's ultimate goal of action, I argue that it is not necessarily through Christianity that she tries to move the reader, but through acting upon basic human morality inherent in us all.
In a statement posted online, Emily wrote, "I feel like it's too black and white, with little or no gray area. You're either Christian and kind, or a nonbeliever and basically evil." I disagree with this comment, and do not think Stowe perpetrates this sentiment in her novel. In looking at Simon Legree, we see one of the most evil men in literary history-more specifically, one of the most evil Christian men. Writes Stowe,
Hard and reprobate as the godless man seemed now, there had been a time when he had been...cradled with prayers and pious hymns, -his now seared brow bedewed with the waters of holy baptism. In childhood, a fair-haired woman had led him, at the sound of the Sabbath bell, to worship and pray (322).
Despite his Christian upbringing, Legree is a man of cruelty and vileness. Marie St. Clare presents a similar example, for though a woman of the Christian faith, she treats her slaves and her family poorly, and thinks of only herself. Though neither character embodies the true spirit of Christianity, or even morality, it is not the aspects of their religion that qualify them as "bad," but rather their actions towards others.
Augustine St. Clare presents a different kind of example. Like Legree, St. Clare is both a Christian and a slaveholder. However unlike Legree, St. Clare acted compassionately and humanely towards his slaves. Still, the real difference between the two men lies not in their actions towards the slaves, but rather St. Clare's inaction. States St. Clare, "Being myself one of the laziest mortals...there was a time in my life when I had plans...of doing something in this world, more than to float and drift. I had vague, indistinct yearnings to be a sort of emancipator" (201). He goes one to say that he believes many people hold similar feelings, but do not act upon them. Thus, Stowe stresses the importance of action, without regard for religion. It is easy to go to church every Sunday, to read the Bible and to preach it's lessons, but it is another thing entirely to actually put its words of morality into practice. Consequently, despite St. Clare's good intentions, Protestant upbringing, and recognition of the evils inherent in slavery, his inability to act causes further continuance of the brutal practice, and restricts a portrayal of real "good." Chris agrees and posted, "Once people take their arms up and accept that they need to act to do what is right, the evil institution will end and the true spirit of equality and morality will reign." Thus, throughout the novel, Stowe refutes the notion of goodness as synonymous with Christianness and instead stresses action as the ultimate "good."
Labeled as symbols of Jesus Christ, the characters of Tom and Eva are yet another illustration of goodness in the novel. Yet, many students made comments denoting the simplicity of these characters. For instance, Catherine posted, "The character of Uncle Tom is basically a one way street...also, using Eva is a cop out." But Eva and Tom are not simplistic, and by assigning one of the most religiously significant people in history to her characters, Stowe takes a major risk. In presenting a girl and a black man as representations of Jesus, Stowe crosses the boundaries of race and gender, and again stresses the importance of action. Jesus' basic efforts of humanity, apparent through his treatment of others, that made him a good person and likewise, Eva is good because of her constant compassion to both her slaves and her family. Similarly, Tom is good because, despite his tragic circumstances, he treats everyone with respect and kindness. They both help the unfortunate, and within each of them exists great moral strength. Indeed, though these may seem like generalizations, they are not simplistic at all, for to exemplify these traits is not easily accomplished and in fact, rarely realized. Whatever your religion, living one's life like Tom, Eva, and even Jesus is no "simple" task and requires true character and ethical strength. Again, Stowe speaks of a higher morality possessed by all human beings and surpasses the boundaries of religion.
Somewhat outside of the characters of the novel, Stowe makes her own statement on religion and goodness. In a very important passage she writes,
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows up the soul! And yet, oh my country! These things are done under the shadow of thy laws! O, Christ! the church sees them, almost in silence!
In this quote, Stowe presents a critique against the church, which, though an essential institution for all Christian faiths, is liable for blame as it does not speak or act against slavery. Thus, Stowe illustrates the need for people, when confronted by inaction in the face of an obvious evil, especially on behalf of the trademark establishment of the Christian religion, to look beyond it, and transcend to the level of human morality. Furthermore, by breaking away from strictly religious ties, one finds a more valuable and universal ethic standard. This is apparent also through her use of the terms "brother-man and brother-Christian," for she though she mentions Christianity, she also mentions man, which one can then relate to humanity, and, more specifically, to a common thread found in us all.
Some may continue to read Uncle Tom's Cabin through a religious context, for it does stress the importance of the Christian notions of charity, forgiveness, and love. Furthermore, as Emily wrote, "Every argument made against slavery is based on Christianity." However, in reality these are not solely Christian values, and the effort against slavery is not solely a Christian issue- instead, and much more significantly, they are moral issues. Accordingly, viewing the novel as Christian is a choice made by readers, but not demanded by Stowe. When the reader looks past the Christianness, and
considers what truly makes a person good, they find not memorization of the scripture or weekly church attendance, but rather one's choices and actions. Again, the books real concern is one of moral goodness, not Christian goodness. Still, seeing that so many people in America were Christian and religion supposed stress on morality, Stowe was clever to include the numerous biblical references and the portrayal of Jesus-like characters. However, this technique of relativity worked only because it appealed to their morality within their religion. Consequently, I think that in a contemporary reading of the novel, a person of any religious affiliation or even no religious affiliation, can still read the text and see it through terms of universal morality and not as an inflexible Christian work.
Through often considered a fervently Christian piece of literature, Uncle Tom's Cabin speaks to all people, regardless of religion. The determinant factors of good and evil found within the characters are not based on their Christianness, but rather the morality of their actions. Throughout the text, Stowe moves away from the Puritanical aspects of religion and perpetuates the belief that Christianity does not save people-actions that save people. Keeping in mind the existence of slavery less than one hundred and fifty years ago, we cannot underestimate the importance of reading a novel that emphasizes a call for action in correcting the evils of society, and rallies for the triumph of morality, whether religious or not.
|Mary Sue and Little Eva|
Name: Alison Rei
Date: 2006-04-02 21:29:02
Link to this Comment: 18796
As a biblical allegory, Uncle Tom's Cabin could be seen as a type of fanfiction written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, reinterpreting old events with new perspectives. Stowe's morally good characters all share the patience and inner purity that is typical for Christians in literature but little Eva has risen above other characters in ways that are past merely Christ-like. Both Tom and Eva are Christ figures, but Stowe has a special affection for Eva, to the point of self-insertion.
There are many tests available on the Internet for fanfiction writers to see if their characters are Mary Sue's. Several questions apply directly to the author's intentions or are specific to popular stories like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but despite the time difference, many are applicable to Uncle Tom's Cabin.
+ Does the character's name describe her/his personality? (e.g. Tristan means sad, Darcy means dark, Charity means charity, etc.) [1 points] Among several translations, the name "Evangeline" means "like an angel" or "the bearer of good news." Between characters, there is no dispute that Eva is angelic and to Tom, she is certainly the bearer of good news and blessings.
+ Is the character highly attractive? [3 points] Stowe introduces Eva as "the perfection of childish beauty, without its usual chubbiness and squareness of outline" (153).
+ Are one or more other characters attracted to her/him? [1 point] Eva makes "the ideal start when they looked at her, and by which the dullest and most literal were impressed, without exactly knowing why" (153).
+ Is an otherwise chaste or stoic character immediately attracted to her/him? [3 point] Although not in the sexual way most characters in fanfiction relate to modern Mary Sues, Miss Ophelia, though described having a "stony grimness" (167) and "a severe and somewhat gloomy cast" about her, "she loved the little girl" (168).
+ Does the character have an unusual eye color, or otherwise exceptional eyes? [3 points] + And are these eyes a color that does not occur in nature? [1 point] Eva has "violet blue eyes" (153), quite uncommon and questionably natural.
+ Does the character have eyes that somehow reflect hidden depths or experience or sorrow? [4 points] Eva's eyes contain a "deep spiritual gravity" (153) and when she peers at Tom, "he half believed that he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament" (154).
+ Does the character get a disproportionate amount of physical description compared to the rest of the characters? [2 points] While it is debatable how much time is spent describing Eva, her first introduction on page 153 is nine complex sentences long, and other people's reactions to her beauty are nearly two pages.
+ Does the character have unusual or exceptional hair, or does her/his hair get a disproportionate amount of description compared to that of the other characters? [3 points] Eva has "long golden-brown hair that floated like a cloud" (153).
+ Is the character rich or well-to-do, although she/he doesn't work? [1 points] Although Eva is a child and therefore, not expected to work, her father is "the son of a wealthy planter" (160) and lives in "an ancient mansion" (171).
+ Is the character heir to a large fortune? [1 points] + The sole heir? [1 points] Eva is St. Clare's only child and although not explicitly stated, one can assume she is his sole heir.
+ Does the character have angst in the present? [1 point] Among many examples of painful empathy for slaves, upon hearing about Old Prue, "She grew pale, and a deep, earnest shadow passed over her eyes." She "sighed heavily" because "these things stick into my heart" (230).
+ Does the character collect things you consider intellectual or cultured? [1 point] Harriet Beecher Stowe describes all of Eva's surroundings lovingly as having a beauty and sophistication not normally associated with children. In Eva's bedroom, there is "curtains of rose-colored and white muslin," matting from Paris (298), "graceful bamboo lounges," a "Parian vase," and "two or three exquisite paintings" (299).
+ Does the character have any particular area of study/information/etc. in which she/he is the most knowledgeable or among the most knowledgeable? [2 points] + And is she/he widely known for having this knowledge? [2 points] Eva's devotion and knowledge of the Bible is well known and even Tom, the second Christ figure, defers to Eva. Eva says she has seen "the glories" and the "spirits bright" and Tom "had no doubt at all" (274). In fact, "If Eva had told him she had been to heaven, he would have thought it entirely probable" (275). She is "such a reader of the Bible as Tom had never before heard" (273)
+ Does the character have the same religious or spiritual beliefs as you? [2 points] Eva appears to subscribe to the same Christian beliefs as Stowe, though specific denominations are not mentioned.
+ Has everyone significant heard of the character? [2 points] While it is debatable as to which characters are significant, St. Clare, Marie, Miss Ophelia, Tom, Topsy, and Mammy are all acquainted with Eva.
+ Do all of the important characters end up liking/respecting/fearing her/him? [3 points] + Did they all like/respect/fear her/him from the beginning? [1 point] Every character acquainted with Eva instantly cherishes her. No character dislikes Eva.
+ Does the character reform a villainous character? [3 points] + And does the villain become evil again after the character dies or leaves, but retain some last vestige of goodness from his/her interaction with the character? [2 points] Eva's relationship with Topsy is her greatest reformation in the novel. Stowe describes how "the sweet tone and manner strangely on the wild, rude heart" (259). Upon Eva's death, Topsy pleads that she is trying to be good (305) and later, Miss Ophelia claims she "has improved greatly" (324). Questions taken from "The Original Fiction Mary-Sue Litmus Test"
The character of Eva ends with a score of forty-three points, qualifying her as a Mary Sue according to the test. Other debatable questions are if Eva dies or suffers punishment for a crime she did not commit and if her "empathy" or "prophecy" qualify as "special powers," or if her glimpses into heaven qualify as "Transdimensional travel or communication." It probably would have surprised Stowe to see her characters traits reappear in modern fanfiction. Eva is undoubtedly a Mary Sue character in the Harriet Beecher Stowe's fanfiction version of the Bible but it does not devalue her. There is a pervading opinion that Mary Sues are not legitimate characters in literature because they are not realistic. However, most fanfiction writers agree that Mary Sues can be improved by adding human flaws and have the potential to be legitimate moral leaders if they are freed from perfection.
I hope you enjoyed my paper. I know there's plenty more to be said and I know a lot of people at Bryn Mawr are knowledgable about fanfiction, so any comments or suggestions would be welcomed. Thanks!
Date: 2007-09-28 22:49:24
Link to this Comment: 21960