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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.

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