Sunday, April 27, 2008

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Conclusion

It is sad for me to think the public saw this work of Harriet Beecher Stowe as overly sentimental melodramatic. But, looking at the world in which we live, I am not surprised. I have found this work to be powerful and thought provoking.
The theme of Stowe's book is carried on through the second part of the book into the conclusion. Uncle Tom takes his circumstances and continually asks God to use him in the way He sees fit. Uncle Tom continually was looking for his salvation both in a worldly way and in a spiritual way. As with all of us, our plans for salvation don't match with a higher plan that brings more than what we had bargained for. Uncle Tom, being sold in the notorious New Orleans slave auction, could only rely on the benevolence of his new owner and God. Little did he know that the deaths of Eva and her father would eventually lead to his own death. But even to that end, he relied on his faith and belief to lay down his life for another as Christian scriptures teach. His death brought about the subsequent reunion and freedom for other slaves. He had no way to know the effects of his own actions.
I believe Harriet Beecher Stowe was asking her audience to think outside their own interests to the greater good of humanity. She used her circumstances of the death of her own child to look into the suffering around her. She was able to see beyond her own grief and use it to step into the grief of those slaves whose suffering was ignored by the dominant white race, both slave owner and those northern abolitionists that were prejudiced and judgemental.
I think the religious theme of this book is the Christian belief to live as Christ lived. The characters of the book that serve as "good guys" all do this in their own way;
Mrs. Shelby, her son George, the Quakers that give shelter to Eliza and her family, Eva and even Miss Ophelia as she learns to love Topsy.
Uncle Tom, of course, lives as Christ lived by dying for another when we died to save the lives of Emmeline and Cassy. Even as he died Tom was pleading Legree to save his own soul by repenting . The author then asks the reader, the country and the church to also save their souls when she writes, "And yet, oh my country! these things are done under the shadow of thy laws! O, Christ! thy church sees them, almost in silence."
The powerful scenes depicted by Stowe are referred to as sentimental and melodramatic. These scenes were meant to pierce the heart and emotions of a country that was trying to be oblivious to the social injustice of the times. Instead of admitting to this injustice, the country responded by trying to discredit the author. The comments regarding the hope to evangelize Africa were made by a Christian woman intent on acting on her faith. That intent to evangelize Africa was realized with many missionary groups traveling and living there to serve that very purpose.
I think it is human nature to dismiss the truth that will cause us to look inside our hearts. It means admitting that we are wrong and that our actions are self serving. Racism still exists even though there are those that refuse to believe this.
In my last post I said that I could not believe I was not exposed to this book in school. I have thought about my own comment over this past week. Was I not exposed because of the continued refusal to see the racism that continues. I grew up in the volatile 60's. As I think back, it would have probably been a little too controversial to read this book amid race riots in the neighboring cities. We didn't talk about those riots or the social injustice that fueled those riots.
Harriet Beecher Stowe has written a book that continues to be relevant. It not only addresses continued racism in our country but also the global racism that we see daily. I think the author still has a message for the world.


Amy H. said...

I agree -- I found the novel enlightening and powerful and did not even think about it being "melodramatic." I think that is the reason this novel continues to be relevant. If it were overly sentimental and melodramatic, I do not think it would have inspired so many readers.

EE said...

Great post! I agree that this book can continue to have meaning for us in the world today. I think those that find this too melodramatic are the people that fear to believe what really took place during slavery and will never fully understand the pain it causee.

NurseKim said...

I agree that if the book were overly melodramatic that it would not have made the impact it did. I thnk Tom alwasy knew he was going to die. But he knew that by his death he would be saving many more people... Boy that sounds familiar!! I think I read that in another book I call the Bible. Eva's death just broke my heart. What a saint in such a young girls body. She wanted to save the world. She relied on her faith just as much as Tom. They were both inspirational.

Phyllis said...

I also grew up in the same time period as you did. I agree that Uncle Tom's Cabin would have been controversial but for different reasons. As I said before in different posts, although Stowe's heart was in the right place and her accomplishment major, the book contains much that is condascending and could be interpreted as racist.I just can't imagine the Black Panthers identifying with a woman who feels that they need the white race to save them. This was also a time when black people were promoting awareness and pride in their African roots and culture.Stowe makes it very clear that she feels it is Christian missionaries that will "civilize" Africa.To me,this just doesn't go along with the black power movement of the 60's and 70's.As for the sentimentality, that was the power of the book that enabled it to speak to America's humanity.

Kelly Hall said...

I agree that the themes of this book are still relevant and meaningful today. Perhaps it was not taught earlier because we were not far enough removed from the Civl Rights Movement. Yes, we still have racism, but we are making progress. Now might be the perfect time to add this book to our curriculum.

If the truth be told... said...

I wonder how many of today's "country club" Christians would hold fast to their faith if they were to live the life of Tom or Eva? It seems as if adversity can often present a proving ground for faith.

ANaturalBeauty said...

It's sad to say that some people think that racism doesn't exist. These are the people who chose to live life with blinders. Avoiding reality because it's to harsh. It's ever present. This book is amazing. I never read it in school and I'm glad that I read it. Had I read it then it may not have carried the same weight with me that it is carrying now.

eli korthanke said...

It is definitely human nature to dismiss anything that puts us on the wrong end of things. It means that we have to change...have to let down our wall of pride and open ourselves up. That is tough but has to happen for injustices to be dealt with fairly.

Ocho said...

Little did he know, indeed! Isn't is sad and strange that because of his owners' deaths, Tom was to be free, but due to bad timing/luck, he was instead sent to a condition that was the extreme opposite. Instead of being free to live his life, he was condemned to be more captive and then die under Legree's hand. It's pretty sad.