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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.

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