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Uncle Tom's Cabin | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Uncle Tom's Cabin how are Eva and Uncle Tom both Christlike figures in death?

Eva's death scene in Uncle Tom's Cabin has often been compared to the Last Supper in the Bible. During Jesus's meal with his disciples the night before his crucifixion, he gave the disciples bread and wine, and he advised them to share bread and wine with fellow believers after his death "in remembrance of me," to keep their faith alive. Before Eva dies everyone in the St. Clare household comes to her bedside. She gives each person a lock of her hair, saying, "When you look at it, think that I loved you and am gone to heaven, and that I want to see you all there." She especially admonishes the enslaved people to practice Christianity daily and to call upon Jesus for help. Uncle Tom's death scene shares many elements of Jesus's crucifixion. Like Jesus, Tom dies as a martyr who will not compromise his faith or admit to any wrongdoing. Also like Jesus, Tom forgives his murderers as he dies. Finally, through his patient suffering and kindness to the end he converts the evil Sambo and Quimbo to Christianity. Similarly, as Jesus dies on the cross between two criminals who formerly mocked him one of them becomes a Christian.

How does Stowe's comment about Uncle Tom's Cabin, "The Lord Himself wrote it ... I was but an instrument," support critics' assertions of the purpose to link Christianity to abolition?

Because Harriet Beecher Stowe came from a prominent family interested in social reform, many critics read her works as tools for achieving that. Strong Christians, the Beechers used the pulpit to speak out against slavery, so Stowe was certainly comfortable with the idea of using one's career and fame to assist in supporting causes. In her preface to Uncle Tom's Cabin Stowe states that the arts must work in concert with the "master chord of Christianity" to further its "great principles." Specifically, she says that Christianity cannot support slavery. She surely thinks that Christianity is the best force to throw at the institution of slavery and to support the abolitionist cause. The novel is her rallying cry, as revealed in her concluding remarks: "What do you owe to these poor unfortunates, oh Christians? Does not every American Christian owe to the African race some effort at reparation for the wrongs that the American nation has brought upon them?" So it is not a great leap, given her statement that the novel was divinely inspired, to believe its main purpose was to link Christianity to abolition.

How did theatrical productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin swing the tide of opinion from positive feelings about Uncle Tom to claims he is a negative, racist stereotype?

Because of its wild popularity as a novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was soon turned into a play and performed all around the country. At first white actors played all the roles, appearing in blackface, and this practice led to the development of caricatures that moved away from Stowe's careful character developments. Posters advertising the play showed Uncle Tom—strong and virile in the novel—as elderly and mild-mannered, groveling and subservient, instead of proud and unbroken as he is in the novel. As more and more people saw the productions they associated this contrary image with Uncle Tom's character. It was an especially unsavory image for African Americans, who came to see Uncle Tom as a cowering, feeble person who would do whatever his master told him rather than standing up for the rights of his own people. Nothing could be further from the truth in the novel itself, but the dramatic interpretations continued with the onset of film, and the caricature was perpetuated.

How does the description of Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe's home in Uncle Tom's Cabin reflect the couple's goodness?

Tom and Chloe's cabin is neat and tidy. Hard work is apparent from the inside out. A carefully tended garden yields pretty flowers and healthy vegetables. The kitchen is always full of bustling energy and wonderful smells. Food is abundant. A rug, art on the walls, clean and lovely linens, and colorful dishes show attention to detail. And the ease with which the living quarters can be turned into a community meeting place speaks to the comfort others find in the home. A home like this reflects owners who put family and home first and who welcome others to join in their comfort and joy. A home like this reveals the fine character traits of hard work, responsibility, and generosity in action.

How is Stowe's personal sorrow at the loss of her young son, Charley, evidenced in Uncle Tom's Cabin?

Many of the novel's most heart-wrenching scenes depict mothers being separated from their children. Stowe said the loss of her own "sunshine child," Charley, filled her with nearly unbearable grief. A comparable grief is evident in the novel's auction scenes; in each a mother and child are ripped apart. This maternal grief also reaches a fever pitch in which Lucy drowns herself after Haley sells Lucy's baby. In addition Eliza's desperate resolve to escape her owner so she can keep her son, Harry, and Cassy's loss of her children emphasize how widespread the practice of separating families was, even among "kind" slave owners.

What details from Uncle Tom's Cabin support the assertion that slavery brings out the worst in slave owners?

Some of the novel's slave owners are characterized as relatively kind; others are evil. In all cases the owners' negative character traits are exacerbated in matters of slavery. Here is an example for each of them: Mr. Arthur Shelby does not like selling Uncle Tom and Harry, but he does it anyway. And then his weak spirit is shown again when he is unable to even be there on the day Tom is taken. Haley is a mean-spirited, self-satisfied man, and these traits are magnified when he swaggers around auctions, bragging about how harsh he is on his slaves and coldly breaking up families. Tom Loker is a similarly vile character who enjoys violence. That trait is worsened by his ability to threaten even defenseless women with his fists. Augustine St. Clare's biggest character flaw is indolence. By letting it take over his life he uses it to respond to the issue of slavery and thereby avoid any feelings of personal responsibility—a fact he comes to terms with just before he dies. Simon Legree is the most evil of all, and being a slave owner gives him an unusual opportunity to exercise his sadistic cruelty all he wants. Stowe seems to suggest that while slaves are obviously the most egregiously harmed by the institution of slavery, everyone who participates in the practice, even prosperous slave owners, suffer some emotional or moral harm.

How is the objectification of slaves made apparent in Uncle Tom's Cabin through Haley's keenness to acquire Harry?

When Haley first meets Harry, the boy is performing tricks at the request of his master, Mr. Arthur Shelby. He fetches treats, sings and dances, and mimics other people—almost like a circus act. He is clearly an object, a source of entertainment like a pet. Harry is a lovely child to look at and has a delightful manner, and this is what Haley sees. He knows he can profit by trading him since some people are in business just "to buy up handsome boys to raise for the market." When Shelby protests, not wanting to take the boy away from his mother, Haley replies, "These critters ain't like white folks, you know; they gets over things, only manage right ... Tan't, you know, as if it was white folks, that's brought up in the way of 'spectin' to keep their children and wives." He simply does not view slaves as human beings, but as objects to trade.

In Chapter 1 of Uncle Tom's Cabin how do Haley's negative comments about Tom Loker set up situational irony later on?

In Chapter 1 of Uncle Tom's Cabin, as Haley is trying to prove to Mr. Arthur Shelby that he is much kinder to enslaved people than many others, Haley uses Tom Loker as an example of unsuccessful management of slaves. He says that Loker acts without any humanity at all and it "spiles" them so that they become sad and sickly. In contrast Haley claims, "I'm never noways cruel." These words are ironic, contrary to what is expected, given that when Haley loses Eliza and Harry he turns to Loker to catch them. He chooses Loker because he knows how harsh he is. Also, later in the story as Haley buys and sells slaves it is evident that he is, in fact, very cruel.

How does the dialogue between Tom Loker and Haley in Chapter 8 of Uncle Tom's Cabin represent Stowe's desire to make readers uncomfortable?

In response to criticism that she included too many violent scenes in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe said she wanted to reveal its horrors, not hide them. Similarly, Stowe's dialogue is meant to be realistic, not edited to be "proper" or more palatable to her readers. In Chapter 8 when Loker and Haley talk so casually about how they abuse slaves and compare stories as if proud of their cruelty, Stowe intends to shock readers. By the end of the conversation, as the two men talk about dogs tearing apart escaped slaves, Stowe feels the need to apologize. She explains she is revealing this aspect of society to warn readers; she says the crude "trader and catcher" "may yet be among" them as acceptable members of society if the business of slavery is allowed to continue.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin what is similar about the exchanges between the two married couples, the Shelbys and the Birds?

The conversations in Uncle Tom's Cabin between Mr. Arthur and Mrs. Emily Shelby and Senator John and Mrs. Mary Bird do have some similarities. As the women attempt to express their opinions and even change the course of their husbands' decisions, the men initially respond by saying the women do not understand what they are talking about. Mr. Shelby tells his wife that she doesn't understand how business works and so she cannot possibly understand why it is necessary to sell Uncle Tom and Harry. Senator Bird tells his wife that she does not understand politics and therefore cannot expect him to listen to advice about lawmaking. However, Mrs. Bird is able to get her husband on her side to help the fugitives Eliza and Harry. Mrs. Shelby, in contrast, cannot budge her husband; ultimately, their conversation is a failure as the two of them remain in complete disagreement over the issue.

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