Big Books of American Literature: Alchemies of Mind
Day 13: Thursday, February 25, 2006
Uncle Tom's Cabin (final quarter)

Welcome to the Promised Land!

(From Kate Patchett's " A Common Sense,"
which Jackie danced this weekend):
I. The Slippery Slope
"The heavenly account of what we are constrains what we may legitimately seek to be."
II. The World Used to Mean Something
III. All This is What It Is
"We can make the sun stand still. We make a star as we make a constellation, by putting its parts together and marking off its boundaries."

From Mt. Nebo, from Biblical Study Tour

From Erzsebet Korb, The Promised Land, c. 1922

"I looks like gwine to't thar where white folks is gwine? Suppose they'd have me thar? I'd rather go to torment, and get away from maw'r and missis" (the old rusk-woman, p. 189).

"I must be thar, Miss Feely; for when that ar blessed child goes into the kingdom, they'll open the door so wide, we'll all get a look in at the glory" (Uncle Tom, p. 255).

"Reality...can only be changed by conversion in the spirit because it is the spirit alone that is finally real." (Jane Tompkins, Reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, in her essay on "Sentimental Power")

Jillian: I was looking at the novel in terms of how it must have worked when it was published....I can now see not only how it applies in our contemporary culture (...such as racial equality and distribution throughout social, economic, religious, and political sectors), but also how it applies in more recent situations the world over....can UTC be applied to other factors...? How does Stowe's work speak to all people of all kinds, and how do her ideas tranform when put up against the modern day melting pot in America?

Let's see! Bill T. Jones, Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land (1990)

Reactions? What have you just seen? Experienced? Felt? Thought?
Had "The Promised Land" come to Cincinnati (or your hometown)--
would you have danced? Why/why not?

Murphy, Jacqueline Shea. "Unrest and Uncle Tom: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land." Bodies of the Text: Dance as Theory, Literature as Dance. Ed.Ellen W. Goellner and Jacqueline Shea Murphy. New Brunwick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995. 81-106: ...performance whose meaning is largely embodied in its relation with an audience and its dependence on bodies, rather than in the plot climax or story it tells....

"'Now, Jim, show this gentleman how you can dance and sing.' The boy commenced once of those wild, grotesque songs common among the negroes, ...accompanying his singing with many comic evolutions of the hands, feet, and whole body....'here, Topsy...give us a song, now, and show us some of your dancing'....the thing struck up, in a clear shrill voice, an odd negro melody, to which she kept time with her hands and feet, spinning a wild, fantastic sort of time...." Little Harry, like Topsy, dramatizes ways that race is an act. clearly not the slave he is depicting.... of Stowe's envisionings seems to be for the slaves in the book to be able to dance refined Europeans....[cf. Adolph and Jane]....Stowe reinforces this describing her a ballet....[" fairly introduced into our
corps de ballet, and will figure, from time to time, with other performers" ]....Stowe's book has...been long and fiercely criticized....conforming readily and submissively to European American culture is a large part of what it meant to be an Uncle Tom in twentieth-century America...Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land...performs live, vulnerable, naked bodies. The non-narrative form of this performance resonantes with non-Eurocentric dance forms...takes Stowe's "ballet" and turns it into the best kind of postmodern critique....
Let's return to Stowe's work, and see how much critique is built into the novel itself.

Remember my using Tina Zwarg's explanation of the blackface "signifyin" of the novel (Black Sam's humorous manipulation of the chase of Eliza...) to unsettle both Baldwin's and Tompkins's types of types (both stereotypes and archetypes), to say that however we are "scripted," we can go "off script," re-write the script, "signify" the script, "interpollate" the script...?

More from Zwarg: the most surprising aspect of the text is the way that Tom moves from an interesting and cunning subversion of the patriarchal system imposed upon the slave community to a complicity with the overarching patriarchy of Christianity....Tom is a Christ in blackface....the resurrection of a "black" Christ can no more displace the dangerous hierarchy of Christian rhetoric than Eliza's escape in men's clothing can displace the hierarchy between men and women....Tom's death reveals too suddenly the sacrifice at the center of the social contract.

Beverly Wildung Harrison, "The Power of Anger in the Work of Love," Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, ed. Judith Plaskow and Carol Christ (1989): Sacrifice, I submit, is not a central moral goal or virtue in the Christian life....the aim of love is not to perpetuate crucifixions, but to bring an end to them in a world where they go on and on and and on!...Mark the point well: We are not called to practice the virtue of sacrifice.

Let's look a little more closely @ this matter of sacrifice:

Caravaggio, "Sacrifice of Isaac"

The Death of Uncle Tom, from
American History Lithographs

Erin: In Christianity there is good and there is evil, God and the Devil, black and white....the simplicity of this scheme...bores me more than anything. I know that life is never so simple.

Allie: In the sense that Melville's message to his readers is 'to do', Stowe's message tells her readers exactly 'what to do'....Trust in her readers is completely out of the question, they had in fact continued to support slavery in the United States one hundred years after declared that is was self-evident that all men are created equal...Stowe absolutely could not risk her readers missing the point for the sake of character development and subtlety.

Alice: This book will have more Christ-figures than I can keep track of soon! What is going on there, that Stowe, who we believe to be a devout Christian, would put in multiple Christ-figures, some of them black, some of them children, and one of them female?

Jessica: The devices Stowe uses can be read as "cheesy" or "unbelievable," but she doesn't... ask us to believe blindly.

Sky: I put myself in a different framework.... UTC makes me want to be a better person - and I think I've found the use-value of the story for me....I want to be more like Eva; generous and observant and compassionate and simple in loving everyone.

From any kind of rational-choice position, self-sacrifice makes NO sense:

"And what are these miserable yellow 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...there's no use in your suffering to keep from hurting them" (Cassy to Tom, p. 312).

From what construction of the world and self MIGHT it make sense??

Marina: I don't see why people just think that they understand what the author's intended meaning was.

Margaret: reality is the same, it's the way that the people interpret the reality that is different.

"She thought with great strength within certain narrow limits. Her theological tenets were all made up, labelled in most positive and distinct forms, and put by, like the bundles in her patch trunk; there were just so many of them, and there were never to be any more" (Miss Ophelia, p. 137).

"It must be true; for, if not true, how could he live? To poor Tom, there it lay, just what he needed, so evidently true and divine that the possibility of a question never entered his simple head" (p. 125).

"'Don't call me poor fellow!...I'm right in the door, going into glory!..I've got the victory....He an't done me no real harm,--only opened the gate of the kingdom for me; that's all!'" (Uncle Tom, 362-363)

Is our resistance to the logic of sacrifice premised on a notion of self-possession? Let's take some time to reconsider human nature, not as fundamentally spiritual, but as economic: life (and rights) as a matter of "property," in terms of who owns what:

Frederick Douglass

Patricia Williams

"...what a blessing it is for a man to feel that his wife and child belong to him ! I've often wondered to see that men could call their wives and children their own fretting and worrying about anything else. Why, I feel rich and strong" (George, p. 161)

"now I'm a free man...and my wife and my child I claim as mine" (George, p. 170)

"there, now, she's yours, body and soul"...."No more mine now than she was before..but I can protect her now"..."Well, she's yours by a fiction of law, then" (St. Clare and Ophelia, regarding her purchase of Topsy, 269).

"The law regards him as devoid of rights as a bale of merchandise....that soul immortal, once bought with blood and anguish by the Son of God...can be sold, leased, mortaged suit the phases of trade, or the fancy of the purchaser" (276, 283).

"'I'm your church now!'ve got to be as I say.' Something within the silent black man answered No! and, as if repeated by an invisible voice, came the words...'Fear not! for I have redeemed thee....Thou art MINE!'" (Legree and Tom, p. 293)

"No! no! no! my soul an't yours, Mas'r! You haven't bought it,--ye can't buy it! It's been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it,--not matter, no matter, you can't harm me!" (Tom to Legree, 309).

"...there is no making him realize the rights of property, or feel that his master's goods are not his own, if he can get them" (St. Clare, on the necessary deception of slaves, p. 185)

"'It would be stealing'....'They who steal body and soul needn't talk to us'" (Emmeline and Cassy, p. 353).

"It's commonly supposed that the property interest is sufficient guard in these cases. If people choose to ruin their own possessions, I don't know what's to be done." (St. Clare, p. 191).

"A human soul is an awful ghostly, unquiet possession for a bad man to have...What a fool is he who locks his door to keep out spirits, who has in his own bosom a spirit he dares not meet alone" (regarding Legree, p. 366).

To return, once again, from the economic to the emotional self...
what has feeling gotten us? Any use value? Any action?

"'We can't reason from our feelings to those of this class of persons,' said the lady" (107).

"What can any individual do?...they can see that they feel right" (385).

Catherine: I cannot help but notice...the "whiteness" of the book....if I were a black woman reading the novel, I'd feel empty.

Lauren: crying is useful....makes me feel better...also allows me to arrange my thoughts more clearly...calms me down

Erin: I agree...crying acts as a physical relief of tension that helps you to refocus

Margaret: Crying...serves quite a valuable purpose... helps us get what we want

Laura O: I can't help feeling a bit offended that Stowe was depending on the 'emotionality' of women to propel her cause

Jillian: "Feeling right" leads us to "right action"

Marie: tears...makes you feel's a release...

Jackie: Crying is beneficial...the release of emotions...can help to transport you to a state of mind where you...can move forward to change

Chris: crying may be... a method for social apparent call for help....a survival tactic of the social being...the basis of most sadness coming in the form of fear of abandonment or separation from the social realm.

Jorge: Is art defined by what is real?...So what if it's melodramatic...? This doesn't diminish the artistic value of Stowe's writing... I am not entirely sure how useful it is for our appreciation judge it from the standard of realism.

Laura O: "These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is....from this arose a desire to exhibit it in a living dramatic reality. She has endeavored to show it fairly....but, oh! Who shall say what yet remains untold in that valley and shadow of death, that lies the other side?" From this quote, I can assume that Stowe believed her account to be accurate.

Laine:if we were to read UTC in a way that was both enjoyable, but also allowed us to analyze it as we do in a class, what are the elements/feelings/concepts that we would take away and are they different from what we are getting out of it now?

Keep on thinking, mulling....
Enjoy your break!
Pay for packet!
Sign up for writing conference!
Catch up on postings!
Do mid-semester evaluation!
And start reading The Scarlet Letter (first quarter, for Tuesday, 3/14)

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