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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin: A Symbol of Freedom

Uncle Tom's Cabin cover
Near of the end of the novel, Master George returns to his Kentucky farm from Legree's plantation, having found Tom beaten and close to death.  After Tom dies, George threatens to sue Legree, though such an action is not plausible.  Upon his return, George details the death of Tom and resolves to grant his slaves their freedom, telling them to thank Tom for the gesture.  Ultimately, the title edifice comes to symbolize that freedom.

Uncle Tom's Cabin is described earlier in the novel as a small log cabin adjacent to the main house and covered with a miscellaneous floral arrangement.  Though the inhabitants are enslaved, within the four walls of the cabin, there is much freedom to be enjoyed there.  The Shelby family is no intrusive and allows the slaves some autonomy.  Having a small farm and not a major plantation, slave labor is at a minimum.  The inhabitants of the cabin are allowed to have parties, prayer meetings, and make music.  It is here that Tom is taught to read and write.  Interestingly, Master George as a young boy prefers to hang out at Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Tom and his fellow laborers are more familial than servile in their relationship with George.  Nevertheless, according to the system, they are still slaves and subject to being sold at any time.  The financial troubles of Mr Shelby prove that even with a "good master," slaves are susceptible to the evils of slavery.

After the death of Tom, which follows the death of Mr. Shelby, George retrieves Tom's body and gives him a proper burial.  He proceeds to go home, where he tells the slaves they are free and will receive wages for their labor.  He also reminds them to use the cabin as a reminder of their freedom.

"It was on his grave, my friends, that I resolved, before God, that I would never own another slave, while it was possible to free him; that nobody, through me, should ever run the risk of being parted from home and friends, and dying on a lonely plantation, as he died. So, when you rejoice in your freedom, think that you owe it to that good old soul, and pay it back in kindness to his wife and children. 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 honest and faithful and Christian as he was" (Ch. 44).

Once a symbol of enslavement, Uncle Tom's Cabin has become a relic of freedom.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Body and Soul

The Couchburners (1910), Arthur Hacker
One of the main evils of slavery that Stowe attacks in UTC is the dehumanization of the slaves through cruelty, such as physical abuse or the selling of one's children.  It is this reason that Cassy feels justified in killing her baby in order to prevent it from ever living under the system of slavery.  Such a system can cause one to question everything one believes in.  Ultimately, the goal of the slavemaster was to gain control of the body and soul of the slaves to strength the grasp of control.  Stowe shows that the system of slavery sought to strip slaves of their faith in order to dehumanize them and make them more submissive.

Cassy calls herself "a lost soul" due to the slave trade .  Slaves do not belong to themselves; instead, "your souls belong to whoever gets you" (Ch. 36).  Simon Legree has a similar philosophy in his ownership of Tom.

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? Didn't I pay down twelve hundred dollars, cash, for all there is inside yer old cussed black shell? An't yer mine, now, body and soul?" he said, giving Tom a violent kick with his heavy boot; "tell me!" (Ch. 33).

Because Legree has paid money for Tom, he believes he has full ownership over Tom, including his actions and thinking.  Casey uses this argument to justify stealing money from Legree to fund her and Emmeline's runaway attempt.

"Stealing!" said Cassy, with a scornful laugh. "They who steal body and soul needn't talk to us. Every one of these bills is stolen, -- stolen from poor, starving, sweating creatures, who must go to the devil at last, for his profit. Let him talk about stealing!" (Ch. 39).

Casey refuses to feel bad for steal from one who has stolen from her.  Casey has been desensitized to morality because of the horrors she has had to live.  Legree describes how he had planned to desensitized Tom:

"And now," said Legree, "come here, you Tom. You see, I telled ye I didn't buy ye jest for the common work; I mean to promote ye, and make a driver of ye; and to-night ye may jest as well begin to get yer hand in. Now, ye jest take this yer gal and flog her; ye've seen enough on't to know how" (Ch. 33).

Legree wanted to harden Tom by forcing him to be physically abusive to other slaves, thus causing him to forsake his religion.  Nevertheless, Legree is unsuccessful in his attempt to persuade Tom that there is no use believing in God.  Taunting Tom with the following:

"You see the Lord an't going to help you; if he had been, he wouldn't have let me get you! This yer religion is all a mess of lying trumpery, Tom. I know all about it. Ye'd better hold to me; I'm somebody, and can do something!" (Ch. 38),

Legree seeks to coerce his slaves to renounce their religion because doing so will lessen their resistance to brutal tasks, thus giving him control over "body and soul."  But Tom refuses to relinquish body or soul, even to the point of death.

Mas'r Legree, as ye bought me, I'll be a true and faithful servant to ye. I'll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won't give up to mortal man. I will hold on to the Lord, and put his commands before all, -- die or live; you may be sure on 't. Mas'r Legree, I ain'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" (Ch. 36).

Tom ultimately dies having never given in to Legree's demands.

Slaves were often placed in situations where they had to deal cruel masters.  Giving in to the master made life somewhat easier, though they had to abandon any previous beliefs they held in morality.  Though Stowe describes Tom as one who refused to give in, many masters managed to gain full control over their slaves through a process of dehumanization that encouraged animalistic behavior.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Problem of Emancipation

A Golden Eagle, Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935)
"But, suppose we should rise up to-morrow and emancipate, who would educate these millions, and teach them how to use their freedom? They never would rise to do much among us. The fact is, we are too lazy and unpractical, ourselves, ever to give them much of an idea of that industry and energy which is necessary to form them into men. They will have to go north, where labor is the fashion, -- the universal custom; and tell me, now, is there enough Christian philanthropy, among your northern states, to bear with the process of their education and elevation? You send thousands of dollars to foreign missions; but could you endure to have the heathen sent into your towns and villages, and give your time, and thoughts, and money, to raise them to the Christian standard? That's what I want to know. If we emancipate, are you willing to educate? How many families, in your town, would take a negro man and woman, teach them, bear with them, and seek to make them Christians? How many merchants would take Adolph, if I wanted to make him a clerk; or mechanics, if I wanted him taught a trade? If I wanted to put Jane and Rosa to a school, how many schools are there in the northern states that would take them in? how many families that would board them? and yet they are as white as many a woman, north or south. You see, Cousin, I want justice done us. We are in a bad position. We are the more obvious oppressors of the negro; but the unchristian prejudice of the north is an oppressor almost equally severe" (Ch. 28)

Up to this point, Stowe seemingly advocates the emancipation of the slaves.  She describes the horrors of the system and satirizes the so-called "good masters" who are not as cruel to their slaves as most but allow the system to perpetuate.  Nevertheless, Stowe examines the problem of emancipation through the character of Augustine St. Clare and shows that emancipation without education results in continued enslavement.

Stowe advocates the proliferation of education among the slaves.  St. Clare asserts that emancipation alone is injustice in that it must be complemented by education.  In order for this venture to be successful, St Clare contends that northerners must abandon their prejudicial tendencies and agree to provide shelter as well as the necessary training.  His fear is that northerners' unfamiliarity with blacks will cause the former to be intolerant though they willingly perform missionary work abroad.

This fear may figure significantly in Stowe's advocacy of a back to Africa movement.  George, who reaches Canada with his wife, thus securing his freedom, envisions going to Liberia, a nation of free blacks.  From there, George believes he can help his African brethren by condemning slavery and getting support from other world powers. 

"If Europe ever becomes a grand council of free nations, -- as I trust in God it will, -- if, there, serfdom, and all unjust and oppressive social inequalities, are done away; and if they, as France and England have done, acknowledge our position, -- then, in the great congress of nations, we will make our appeal, and present the cause of our enslaved and suffering race; and it cannot be that free, enlightened America will not then desire to wipe from her escutcheon that bar sinister which disgraces her among nations, and is as truly a curse to her as to the enslaved" (Ch. 43).

In this way, George believes he can help blacks in America better from Africa than from America or Canada.  Similarly, Miss Ophelia educates Topsy in America and the latter travels to Africa as a missionary.
Apparently, Stowe sees no place of refuge in America for the slaves. 
Do you say, "We don't want them here; let them go to Africa"?

That the providence of God has provided a refuge in Africa, is, indeed, a great and noticeable fact; but that is no reason why the church of Christ should throw off that responsibility to this outcast race which her profession demands of her (Ch. 45).

Nevertheless, she believes that education should precede any exodus.

Let the church of the north receive these poor sufferers in the spirit of Christ; receive them to the educating advantages of Christian republican society and schools, until they have attained to somewhat of a moral and intellectual maturity, and then assist them in their passage to those shores, where they may put in practice the lessons they have learned in America (Ch. 45).

Stowe also believes it to be the duty of white Americans to provide the necessary assistance.

What do you owe to these poor unfortunates, oh Christians? Does not every American Christian owe to the African race some effort at reparation for the wrongs that the American nation has brought upon them?  (Ch. 45).

Ultimately, Stowe has little faith in the ability of the two races to co-exist.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Power of Love

Love the Conqueror (1899), John Byam Liston Shaw
In UTC, Stowe highlights the evils of slavery but she also emphasizes the importance of love in combating the evils.  Many of the slaves had been torn from their families and sold to strangers from whom they received little or no love.  Even when they did fall in love and marry, those relationships were fragile, as the master could sell their spouses or children at any time.  Therefore, love proved an unreliable entity in the lives of the slaves.  Nevertheless, Stowe contends, through the character of Topsy,  that the absence of love dehumanizes slaves in their own eyes as well as those of their owners.

Love is an absent element for most slaves.  George, for example, has only experienced familial love before meeting his wife Eliza.

"Till I knew you, Eliza, no creature had loved me, but my poor, heart-broken mother and sister" (Ch. 17).

Similarly, Topsy has never known love, having no memory of her family but only cruel masters.

"What does make you so bad, Topsy? Why won't you try and be good? Don't you love anybody, Topsy?"
"Donno nothing 'bout love; I loves candy and sich, that's all," said Topsy. 
"But you love your father and mother?"
"Never had none, ye know. I telled ye that, Miss Eva."
"O, I know," said Eva, sadly; "but hadn't you any brother, or sister, or aunt, or -- "
"No, none on 'em, -- never had nothing nor nobody."
"But, Topsy, if you'd only try to be good, you might -- "
"Couldn't never be nothin' but a nigger, if I was ever so good," said Topsy. "If I could be skinned, and come white, I'd try then."  (Ch. 25)

Topsy (whose name sounds farcical) sees herself as "nothin' but a nigger," which is how her masters have seen her.  To her thinking, only whites can be good, so she has no choice but to be bad.  Nevertheless, Topsy is not a bad person, but she is vengeful.

It was very soon discovered that whoever cast an indignity on Topsy was sure to meet with some inconvenient accident shortly after; -- either a pair of ear-rings or some cherished trinket would be missing, or an article of dress would be suddenly found utterly ruined, or the person would stumble accidently into a pail of hot water, or a libation of dirty slop would unaccountably deluge them from above when in full gala dress; -- and on all these occasions, when investigation was made, there was nobody found to stand sponsor for the indignity (Ch. 20).

Topsy causes trouble for those who trouble her, but she is generally "good-natured":

Topsy, to do her justice, was goodnatured and liberal, and only spiteful in self-defence (Ch. 20).

As a result of cruel masters, she has adopted evil ways.  Eva attempts to explain the evil ways of the slaves to her cousin Henrique, who is abusive to one of his slaves Dodo.

"And you have taken Dodo away from all the friends he ever had, and now he has not a creature to love him; -- nobody can be good that way" (Ch. 23).

Love, according to Eva, can cover a multitude of sins.

Stowe also shows that the lack of love has a negative effect on the slave owners.  St. Clare believes that punishment of slaves must become increasingly violent in order to maintain control.

"In many cases, it is a gradual hardening process on both sides, -- the owner growing more and more cruel, as the servant more and more callous. Whipping and abuse are like laudanum; you have to double the dose as the sensibilities decline" (Ch. 20).

While the punishment may get harsher, slaves do not generally become more obedient but instead grow more indifferent and unfeeling. 

Nevertheless, Eva believes that love can combat that indifference and successfully tests her theory on Topsy:

"O, Topsy, poor child, I love you!" said Eva, with a sudden burst of feeling, and laying her little thin, white hand on Topsy's shoulder; "I love you, because you haven't had any father, or mother, or friends; -- because you've been a poor, abused child!  (Ch. 25)

The above statement causes Topsy to cry, provoking to Eva to evoke a religious tone.

  "Poor Topsy!" said Eva, "don't you know that Jesus loves all alike? He is just as willing to love you, as me. He loves you just as I do, -- only more, because he is better. He will help you to be good; and you can go to Heaven at last, and be an angel forever, just as much as if you were white. Only think of it, Topsy! -- you can be one of those spirits bright, Uncle Tom sings about."
 "O, dear Miss Eva, dear Miss Eva!" said the child; "I will try, I will try; I never did care nothin' about it before" (Ch. 25).

Love changes Topsy and causes her to want to be good.  Suddenly, the indifferent and vengeful little girl allows her good-natured side shine through and the antidote is love.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Miss Ophelia Travels South

Southern Portrait, Daniel Huntington (1816-1906)
In the character of Miss Ophelia, Stowe introduces the perspective of a Northern visiting a southern farm for the first time.  She is the cousin of Augustine St. Clare, Tom's new master.  Forty-five and unmarried she is independent, making all decisions for herself, and very direct in speech, reminding one of the American Henrietta Stackpole in The Portrait of a Lady.  Additionally, she is orderly and methodical, established in her ways, and not open-minded to new ideas, having a "clear, strong, active mind" (Ch. 15).  Making no sense to her is an unsystematic approach to life:

  "There is no such thing as getting anything like a system in this family!"
   "To be sure, there isn't," said St. Clare.
   "Such shiftless management, such waste, such confusion, I never saw!" (Ch. 18).

She cannot hide her aversion to aimlessness and "shiftlessness," a word she pronounces with much disapprobation.  Her strongest principle is conscientiousness, and as one very aware of her duty, she is not to be deterred in anything to which she sets her mind. 

Though a supporter of the abolitionist cause, having called slavery "a barbarous thing" (Ch. 19), Miss Ophelia functions as a condemnation on a certain sect of Northern abolitionists.  While believes that blacks should be liberated, she herself cringes  at the thought of any physical contact. 

"Well!" said Miss Ophelia, "you southern children can do something that I couldn't."
 "What, now, pray?" said St. Clare.
 "Well, I want to be kind to everybody, and I wouldn't have anything hurt; but as to kissing --
 "Niggers," said St. Clare, "that you're not up to, -- hey?" (Ch. 15).

According to Ophelia's beliefs, one should perform his Christian duty towards blacks and educate them, yet any endearing contact should be avoided.  St. Clare takes his assessment of Miss Ophelia's views even further:

"You would not have them abused; but you don't want to have anything to do with them yourselves. You would send them to Africa, out of your sight and smell, and then send a missionary or two to do up all the self-denial of elevating them compendiously. Isn't that it?"
 "Well, cousin," said Miss Ophelia, thoughtfully, "there may be some truth in this." (Ch. 16).

She can champion the liberation of blacks but cannot live in close proximity to them.

Nevertheless, as Eva, St. Clare's daughter, points out, a possibly positive influence of slavery is the presence of more people to love.  Unfortunately, Miss Ophelia's abolitionist beliefs are not the result of her love for blacks but the result of her northern idealism. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Dream World of UTC

A Golden Day Dream, Emily Mary Osborn (1828-1925)
Stowe describes life on the run for two characters, who are on separate journeys.  Eliza runs away with her young son to protect him from being traded while George, her husband, had run away before she did, growing tired of being subject to another man.  George promised to send for his wife and child, but circumstances forced the latter two to run away before he could do so.  In describing the escape of both parties, Stowe uses language that creates a dream-like quality.  For George, the dream world illustrates his search for a new identity while for Eliza, the dream world gives her a respite from a harrowing reality.

The dream-like existence George embraces shows his desire to disassociate himself with the slavery system and develop a new identity as a free man, which is available by reaching Canada.  At the beginning of the novel, George struggles with his identity, asking questions like "Who made this man my master?" and "What right has he to me? I'm a man as much as he is" (Ch. 3).  George fails to see skin color as a justifiable reason for his dejected state. 

Nevertheless, when he adopts a new identity, George, as a mulatto, appears to be a non-black European.  He checks into an inn on a "drizzly afternoon," a detail that contributes to the dreamy atmosphere of the place, as Henry Butler with a slave of his own.  He recognizes another lodger as Mr. Wilson, for whom he used to work, though the latter struggles to recognize him.  Mr. Wilson greets him without knowing who he is, "like one speaking in a dream," and later "followed him, as one who walks in his sleep" (Ch. 11).  Unknowingly he becomes a part of George's dream by failing to realize who he is.  The dream represents the gap between George's past as a slave and his intended future as a free man.  That future cannot happen in the United States, for which reason George states:

Sir, I haven't any country, anymore than I have any father. But I'm going to have one. I don't want anything of your country, except to be let alone, -- to go peaceably out of it; and when I get to Canada, where the laws will own me and protect me, that shall be my country, and its laws I will obey (Ch. 11).

Under the system of slavery George has no identity and no rights, but he assumes a false identity so that when he reaches Canada, he can attain true citizenship and legal rights.

For Eliza, the dream-like state she encounters allows her a brief rest from an arduous journey.  After being on the run for a few days, Eliza is taken in by a group of Quakers who promise her safety.  Stowe describes her state as a "dreamy, delicious languor" as she finally reclines into a pervasive tranquility. 

The tension of the nerves, which had never ceased a moment since the first hour of her flight, had given way, and a strange feeling of security and rest came over her; and as she lay, with her large, dark eyes open, she followed, as in a quiet dream, the motions of those about her (Ch. 13).

The dream world acts as a strengthening elixir that allows her to recoup for the rest of her journey.  As weary as Eliza is from her journey, she has trouble perceiving the difference between the dream world and reality:

She dreamed of a beautiful country, -- a land, it seemed to her, of rest, -- green shores, pleasant islands, and beautifully glittering water; and there, in a house which kind voices told her was a home, she saw her boy playing, free and happy child. She heard her husband's footsteps; she felt him coming nearer; his arms were around her, his tears falling on her face, and she awoke! It was no dream. The daylight had long faded; her child lay calmly sleeping by her side; a candle was burning dimly on the stand, and her husband was sobbing by her pillow (Ch. 13).

For Eliza, the dream world and reality have converged.  No longer alone and reunited with her husband, she can now rest and face reality at the same time.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Motherhood in UTC

Mother and Child, James John Hill (1811-1882)
In UTC, Stowe describes a setting in which mothers play dominant role in the lives of their children while the father's role is less prominent.  In the case of Eliza, her role in the live of her son Harry is obvious, as she fights to save his life.  Her fear of losing her son is compounded by the fact that she has already lost in "two infant children to whom she was passionately attached."  That attachment is based on the fact that many slaves are torn from family members, real and adopted, several times during their lives.  No mention is made about Eliza's family, so she may not remember them, having been brought up by Mrs. Shelby since girlhood.  Therefore, every attachment she has in life is connected to the Shelby plantation.  Even her husband is from a neighboring estate.

Nevertheless, Eliza recognizes that those attachments are fragile for someone in her social position.  As her husband points out, a slave's marriage is subject to the interest of the master.

"Don't you know a slave can't be married? There is no law in this country for that; I can't hold you for my wife, if he chooses to part us. That's why I wish I'd never seen you, -- why I wish I'd never been born; it would have been better for us both, -- it would have been better for this poor child if he had never been born (Ch. 3).

Slaves have very little autocracy in their own lives.  Even the family unit is not held sacred.  Therefore, having been separated from family by way of the trade and death, and knowing that the threat of both is always there, Eliza is willing to do whatever is necessary to protect her young son.  He is the only thing to which she can confidently grasp and when she overhears conversation of his impending sale, she runs away, thinking foremost not only of her love for him but also of her Christian duty as a parent to protect him.

 "She said, herself, one soul was worth more than the world; and this boy has a soul, and if I let him be carried off, who knows what'll become of it? It must be right: but, if it an't right, the Lord forgive me, for I can't help doing it!" (Ch. 5).

Eliza believes that she has a moral obligation to do whatever is necessary to protect her son from the evils of the slave trade.

Mrs. Shelby seems to have fulfilled her moral obligations to her son George as well.  Strangely, in the opening chapters mother and son do not appear together, as George's only appearance takes place in the titular location with the slaves.  Nevertheless, her influence can be detected, as Stowe tells us he is "well trained in religious things by his mother" (Ch. 4).  Once again, the mother is the one that instills the Christian morals.  George chooses to eat dinner in Uncle Tom's Cabin rather than at the main house, and from his interaction with the inhabitants thereof, it is easy to see that he does not consider himself superior to them.  Such an attitude he likely also learned from his mother who is able to empathize with Eliza's desire to protect her son when she tells Eliza, "I would as soon have one of my own children sold" (Ch. 1).  There is no distinction made between the feelings of a slave and the feelings of free whites.

The role of the mother in the early part of the novel is to provide a moral compass for their children.  Religion is of great significance as it teaches one mother to protect her own while it helps another mother to instruct her family.  In both cases, women are victims of slavery in that one has to deal with the possibility of being traded and the other has no control over the presence of the evils of the institution within her realm.  Both are forced to accept their position and find ways to adjust.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Stark Contrast

The book opens with a stark contrast of two men from the antebellum south, one a slave trader, the other a slaveholder.  The trader, Haley, has a less than complimentary introduction:

He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which marks a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world. He was much over-dressed, in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, bedropped gayly with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man. His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings; and he wore a heavy gold watch-chain, with a bundle of seals of portentous size, and a great variety of colors, attached to it, -- which, in the ardor of conversation, he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction. His conversation was in free and easy defiance of Murray's Grammar, and was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe (Ch. 1).

Haley is referred to as a "low man" while his dress is out of the ordinary.  His ostentatious display shows a lack of good judgment and his colloquial way of speaking shows, perhaps, a lack of education, as demonstrated by the following quote:

 "Well, I've got just as much conscience as any man in business can afford to keep, -- just a little, you know, to swear by, as 't were," said the trader, jocularly; "and, then, I'm ready to do anything in reason to 'blige friends; but this yer, you see, is a leetle too hard on a fellow -- a leetle too hard" (Ch. 1).

Haley's dialect depicts the unrefined stereotype of a white southerner.

Mr. Shelby, on the other hand, is called a "gentleman" and whereas Haley's gaudy raiment is ridiculed, opulent is the word Stowe uses to describe Shelby, suggesting that though Shelby is having financial trouble, he carries himself with more dignity than his counterpart.

Shelby, though forced to sell for financial reasons, views his slaves as family while Haley sees slaves as mere commodities.  Shelby refers to them by their names or with such phrases as "my boy," but Haley speaks more generally about slaves as a group, calling them "niggers."

'Tan't, you know, as if it was white folks, that's brought up in the way of 'spectin' to keep their children and wives, and all that. Niggers, you know, that's fetched up properly, ha'n't no kind of 'spectations of no kind; so all these things comes easier" (Ch. 1).

Haley doesn't see slaves as human and doesn't expect them to be capable of emotion attachments to familial units.  Shelby has grown up with and live among his slaves all his life and can relate to them.  One idea that Stowe establishes is that children are more likely to empathize and grow emotionally attached to slaves than are their adult counterparts, such as is the case with "Mas'er George," who spends more time with the slaves than with whites in the opening chapters.  Ultimately, Stowe advises that slavery is an ugly system, no matter the attempts to beautify it:

So long as the law considers all these human beings, with beating hearts and living affections, only as so many things belonging to a master, -- so long as the failure, or misfortune, or imprudence, or death of the kindest owner, may cause them any day to exchange a life of kind protection and indulgence for one of hopeless misery and toil, -- so long it is impossible to make anything beautiful or desirable in the best regulated administration of slavery (Ch. 1).

Despite Shelby's humane treatment of his slaves, he still lends his support to a reproachful system that his wife rejects:

" I was a fool to think I could make anything good out of such a deadly evil. It is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours, -- I always felt it was, -- I always thought so when I was a girl, -- I thought so still more after I joined the church; but I thought I could gild it over, -- I thought, by kindness, and care, and instruction, I could make the condition of mine better than freedom -- fool that I was!" (Ch. 5).

Her assertion is Stowe's belief as well, that nothing good can come of slavery, no matter how good the people involved.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Reception of Uncle Tom's Cabin in Victorian Europe

Uncle Tom's Cabin was wildly popular in Europe, particularly in England, leading to the coinage of the term Tom-mania.  The popularity of the novel is reflected by the production of 11 different stage productions in the first year following its publication.  The character Uncle Tom as used in non-slavery related marketing as well, advertising china and coffee.  The novel's popularity revolved around British interest in American society.  The foreign mannerisms as well as the practice of slavery caused British readers to snag copies of the book voraciously.  Among the reading public, Uncle Tom was an instant hit. 

Nevertheless, the press was wary of the novel's possible influence among the English working class.  One periodical in particular, the London Times, relentlessly attacked the work on social grounds.  According to the Times, the slaves of America lived much better lives than the English working class, and the fear was that advocating the emancipation of the slaves would lead to an uprising among the lower classes of England.  Through this reasoning, the Times discredits the abolitionist cause as political ploy for one  group to seize control of the country.  Ultimately, the paper views Stowe's object in writing the novel as an attempt to get the masses riled up to promote social unrest.  Nevertheless, another periodical viewed the novel as an attack on American society that proves the superiority of the English. 

Among her literary companions, Stowe received mixed reviews.  Tolstoy praised Stowe's unparalleled writing acumen while George Sand noted Stowe's "genius of goodness."  Heinrich Heine read a German translation while in Paris and had a religious experience.  Others, however, were not impressed.  Dickens, who championed social causes himself, called the book "noble but defective."

Sources:  Runaway to Heaven (1963), Johanna Johnston
American Slaves in Victorian England (2000), Audrey Fisch

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fugitive Slave Law

From website of Dickinson College
One of the major issues facing slaveholders in the antebellum period was runaway slaves.  The law protected the right of masters to their property and required those who came in contact with runaways to report them and assist in returning them to their masters.  Despite this law, many northern abolitionists refused to comply and many state passed laws in opposition to the national fugitive law.  Consequently, many slaves fled to the north and lived as free citizens without much fear of being forced to return to the southern plantations.  Because of this conflict between northern and southern constituencies, Henry Clay of Kentucky developed the Compromise of 1850, which included a tougher Fugitive Slave Law.  Among its provisions, the right to a jury trial was denied to all fugitives, more federal help assisted in securing warrants, and up to a $1000 fine and six months in jail for those assisting runaway slaves.

One of the consequences of the law was more intense sectionalism and disdain between the north and south.  Whereas the law sought to bring peace, it created more conflict as northerners refused to comply.  Another result was a rapid increase in the activity of the Underground Railroad, with many of the slaves deciding to leave the country altogether and live in Canada.  The country was clearly traveling down the slippery slope to war.  In UTC, Stowe vividly describes the conflict between those trying to retrieve fugitives and those trying to assist their escape.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96) was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the daughter of Lyman Beecher and Roxana Foote.  Her father was a well-known Congregationalist minster who preached against dueling, drinking and Unitarianism, which denied the Trinity.  She was a well-loved child, despite the fact that her father did not hide the fact that he wished Harriet had been a boy.  Her mother died when she was five and, despite her father's remarrying, lost her stepmother at 24.  During her youth, the writings of Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott piqued her interest in literature. 

At the time of Harriet's birth, slavery was legal in Connecticut though strongly condemned by Lyman Beecher.  In the early 1830s, the family moved to Cincinnati upon Beecher's acceptance of a position as head of the new Lane Theological Seminary.  While in Cincinnati, Harriet first encountered slavery, which was legal across the Ohio river in Kentucky, and was horrified at the marketing of slaves as commodities.  The images she saw never left her and would be recreated in her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.

In 1836 Harriet Beecher married Calvin Stowe, a professor of religion at her father's seminary who, despite not being very handsome, was very intelligent.  The couple had seven children between 1836 and 1850, when the couple moved to Maine where Calvin Stowe accepted a position at Bowdoin College.  In addition to her earlier mentioned novel, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Dred (1856), about a slave rebellion,  The Minister's Wooing (1859), and Lady Byron Vindicated (1870), which detailed Lord Byron's infidelities.

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) is the conception of a series of visions Stowe received from God.  She had never traveled south but was able to describe vividly the lives of slaves on plantations because of her interaction with free and enslaved blacks while in Cincinnati.  Upon publication, the novel sold out immediately, and eventually sold over 150,000 copies in its first seven months.  The book received praise from as far away as Russia from Leo Tolstoy, who view it as literature in its highest form.  Critics gave the book mixed, politically charged reviews.  Stowe received much hate mail, one of which contained the severed ear of a disobedient slave.  Nevertheless, the influence of the work is undeniable, as characterized by Abraham Lincoln's only half-jocular supposed greeting when meeting Stowe for the first time in 1862:  "So this is the little lady who started this big war."

Source:  Runaway to Heaven by Johanna Johnston

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Ending

Domestic Bliss (1863), W. Muschamp
Trollope must like happy endings.

There are a number of curious marriages.  Aside from the marriage of Marie Melmotte and Hamilton Fisker detailed in the previous post, another strange marriage involves Georgiana Longestaffe.  After her previous engagement to Brehgert dissolves, Georgiana frets about growing older as a single woman and starts up an imtimacy with a curate from a nearby parish who is not introduced to the reader until and appears only in chapter 95.  The two grow close and elope in a matter of weeks.  Upon their return, they are accepted as husband and wife and Mr. Longestaffe helps them purchase a small living and the couple that only recently met lives in "connubial bliss" (Ch. 95). 

Another strange though humorous marriage occurs between Madame Melmotte and Herr Croll, the German assistant of the former's late husband.  Croll and Madame Melmotte both have been victim's of the late financier and use this common thread to strike up an intimacy.  The humorous part is that Madame Melmotte, who, like Croll leaves England after the debacle, decides that she cannot go to New York, where her husband is known, as a Melmotte, so she decides she must marry to change her name and that "Croll would do as well as any other" (Ch. 98).  Obviously, love is not a motive in this marriage, as Madame concludes that both have money, thus making the match a desirable one. 

Lady Carbury rejected Mr. Broune earlier in the novel and he appeared relieved at her rejection, but the two end up as a couple as well.  However, whereas Trollope had satirized her earlier in the novel, at one point calling her "false from head to foot," he makes her a figure of sympathy at the end, particularly with the line "at last real peace should be in her reach" (Ch. 99).  Broune rids her of Felix, sending the latter to Germany to help (trouble?) a clergyman.  Broune also has money, so she no longer has to pursue a futile literary career to take care of her family. 

Finally, the one marriage that seemed determined to happen from the beginning, despite a number of road blocks is that of Paul and Hetta.  Roger proves his worth when he gives Carbury Manor to Paul and Hetta, with the condition that their future son carry the Carbury name.  Ultimately, Roger decides he must do what will make Hetta happy:

But then over these convictions there came a third,—equally strong,—which told him that the girl loved the younger man and did not love him, and that if he loved the girl it was his duty as a man to prove his love by doing what he could to make her happy (Ch. 100).

Consequently, everyone (except maybe Felix) seems to enjoy a somewhat happy ending.


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