|Categories:||Slavery American literature|
Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin portrays slavery in its mildest and most cruel forms. According to Stowe, one of the greatest evils of slavery as brought out in her novel is the impact it has on the family and relationships. Her depiction of slaves sold and torn away from their families, slaves forced to run away and leave their homes to avoid being sold, slaves tortured, raped, beaten up and broken in front of their families shows how slavery is brutal on the slave families.
At the beginning of the novel, Arthur Shelby decides to sell off Uncle Tom and Harry to offset some debts. Stowe depicts how the slave masters have no regard for the families of the slaves they sell off. Eliza is separated from her husband George who is hired off and she decides to run away with her son Harry to avoid being separated from him and is homeless and in fear of both of their lives since they are being pursued by Haley, who purchased Harry. George's master also urges him to take another wife without regard for the wife he already has. The slaves are also not allowed to have lawful marriages
Another great evil of slavery is the cruelty it inspires. Cruelty in its many forms is portrayed in the novel through beatings, lashings, psychological torture, sexual abuse and exploitation. The greatest form of cruelty is perhaps the bondage and unjust holding of people as property (Channing). Despite the right to live and be free, the slaves were seen as commodities and the property of their masters and could be sold and bought on a whim. The slaves are branded and robbed of their identity as they are identified by signs of their masters. Prue, in the novel, is beaten to death by her master, Rosa is also mercilessly beaten and Emmeline is bought for pleasure while Legree takes all that Tom possesses.
Another great evil worth mentioning is how slavery erodes the intellectual power of the slaves. The slaves cannot read or write, even Stowe uses negro dialect to show how the whites and the half- black, half- whites speak better English than the black people. Few of the can read but the majority are reduced to manual labor. Even if they had the desire to read and gain knowledge, their masters would not allow it (Channing).
The slavery had a negative impact on family life, marriage, and childhood. Chapter II introduces us to George, the slave who married Eliza and was separated from her when he was hired out to work in another factory. George's master also urges him to marry another wife which implies that the slaves family lives were dependent upon the decisions and sometimes whims of their masters. Eliza, who has lost two children already, opts to run off with her son Harry to avoid being separated with him when he is sold off. She is thus separated further from her husband and forced to live on the run, hunted down by slave catchers. Emmeline's mother tries to make her ugly so she would not be bought for pleasure but it happens anyway. Topsy, who is only a child, has developed a character and behavior that portrays the cruelty she endured while growing up.
Stowe depicts grim accounts of the family lives of the slaves and how despite their attempts to hold them together, the evils and cruelty of slavery drive them apart. Slaves were not allowed to legally marry. They were seen as mere commodities and property who could not contract on any level. Some slaves could live with their families as slaves of the same master while other had husbands who were slaves of other masters and referred to their relationships as abroad marriages. Children were left under the care of one designated slave and could only see their parents in the evenings. The children were also put to work early in life (Williams).
Stowe portrays slaveholders as either ruthless and cruel or accommodating and kind. The ruthless slaveholders belong mostly to the South while the kind ones belong to the north. The kind slaveholders believe that since they are accommodating to the slaves and do not beat or subject them to cruel treatment, they are better than the cruel slaveholders in the South. The truth of it is that the slaveholders from both sides infringed on the rights of the African Americans by treating them as property and commodities and subjected them to labor and service without due consideration. The kind masters view them as morally upright owing to the fact that they are not as cruel but they are in the same position as the cruel masters.
In the novel, Shelby, who initially sells Tom and Harry is a kindly master who does not mistreat his slaves. The common argument would be that he acted in the best interests of the slaves at heart when he was kind to them and when he asks Haley to treat Tom well. Even though they seem well- meaning, they still tolerate slavery and deny the slaves their freedom. St. Clare is portrayed as kind and intelligent, though the fact that she tolerates slavery makes her hypocritical and morally corrupt. Anyone with moral character would not sell a human being or subject them to servanthood without any form of compensation. The fact that some slaveholders are kind does not mean they are any better than the cruel ones. Slavery in whatever form or degree is still slavery.
Uncle Tom is portrayed as a submissive slave. He is pious and hardworking and a portrays a more passive character who is unhappy with his slavery but uses Christian values to help him love everyone and treat them kindly. He is not the kind of slave that actively seeks to fight slavery and free himself, but he has a kind of passive resistance that allows him to love everyone and maintain his values even when he has to defy his master Legree, when he orders him to beat a slave girl. Uncle Tom also spreads Christianity and the love of God wherever he is sold as a slave. He uses his position, no matter how low, to reach out to others and even dies as a martyr.
George, on the other hand, is displeased and agitated about his position as a slave and seeks ways to free himself and be joined to his wife and son. He is intelligent, intellectually curious and a slave willing to fight for his freedom. He forges a plan to escape to Canada and work to buy his freedom. George is not as pious as his wife or Uncle Tom and does not subscribe to Christian beliefs or ways of life which are why he has no problem confronting and killing Tom Locker, the slave hunter who threatens his wife and son. The slaves react differently to their positions of slavery. Some are resigned to it as a way of life while others dream of freedom and fight for it.
The 19th Century love for melodrama and unambiguous morality is satisfied in the novel by Stowe's exaggeration of the characters and how she uses language, different dialects, and stylistic devices to evoke feeling and appeal to people's emotions. Melodrama also provides a situation in which there is good and evil and in the end, good triumphs over evil (Bush). In the novel, Uncle Tom is more or less the hero who is resilient, kind and endures all the suffering and hardships that befall him then dies a martyr's death. The novel also plays into the various stereotypes of African American slaves, Whites, half- white, half- black Americans. Stowe uses melodrama to get the readers to relate to the characters. The novel is also so direct that there is no ambiguity as to the authors intentions. She sought to reveal the rigors and evils of slavery and her use of the 19th Century style helped her achieve this. The scenes in the novel are also well over- emphasized to convince the readers of the evils of slavery. Uncle Tom's Cabin is, therefore, relatable and very appealing to emotions.
Bush, Matthew. Melodrama and the Latin American Social Narrative (2016). Web April 18, 2016. http://www.academia.edu/10605495/Pragmatic_Passions_Melodrama_and_Latin_American_Social_NarrativeChanning, William Ellery. Slavery Chapter IV. The Evils of Slavery. (1999). Web April, 2016. http://www.transcendentalism.tamu.edu/authorsWilliams, Heather Andrea. How Slavery Affected African American Families. (2016). Web April, 2016. http://www.nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/freedom/1609-1865/essays/aafamilies.htm
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