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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.

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