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.