The Right Moral Path of Uncle Tom's Cabin

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The Right Moral Path of Uncle Tom's Cabin

Alice Bryson

Page 1
Alice Bryson
March 17, 2006

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.

Works Cited
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin: A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons. Norton & Company: New York, 1994.

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