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Uncle Tom's Cabin | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Uncle Tom's Cabin which character expresses a philosophy that places the separation of church and state at the forefront?

In the philosophical discussion among Marie St. Clare, Miss Ophelia, and Augustine St. Clare in Chapter 16 of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Augustine expresses his belief in the separation of church and state. This occurs during their argument about religion's justification of slavery. After Miss Ophelia says Augustine doesn't believe the Bible justifies slavery, Augustine says, "All I want is that different things be kept in different boxes." He goes on to explain that it is all right with him when men try to justify the institution from an economic point of view, but he draws the line when they go so far as to say the institution is supported by Scripture. For Augustine the South may depend on slavery as an economic and cultural institution, but he believes that attempts to justify slavery in terms of the Bible are hypocritical.

To whom does Tom Loker owe his life in Uncle Tom's Cabin, and how does this represent situational irony?

Situational irony is when something happens that is contrary to what is expected. Although Tom Loker is nursed back to health by Dorcas, his life is saved by the very people he has made a living by hunting—the enslaved people who are trying to escape. Left to die by those who were with him in pursuing George and others, Loker is rescued at the request of Eliza. George supports her in this choice, saying it is "no more than Christian," and the old woman who is traveling with them and also trying to escape puts Loker's head in her lap to try to make the wagon ride as comfortable as possible for him.

How does Stowe make her temperance views clear throughout Uncle Tom's Cabin?

Raised in a family outspoken against alcohol use, Stowe shows she shares their belief in the evils of drinking. Whenever characters abuse alcohol in the novel, it leads to serious problems. In one scene Augustine St. Clare becomes so intoxicated he must depend on his servants to take care of him. Realizing the seriousness of his drinking problem, he promises Uncle Tom he will stop drinking, but he is in a bar when he is fatally stabbed. Stowe seems to be making the point that nothing good can happen when it is associated with alcohol. Prue becomes an alcoholic to escape her horrible life. However, her drinking leads to her fatal beating. Cassy similarly turns to drinking to numb herself from her sordid life with Simon Legree, but she comes to see it is no answer; she then use Legree's drinking as part of her scheme to escape with Emmeline. Legree's evil inclinations are exaggerated when he drinks, as represented by the ghoulish scene of his all-night party with Sambo and Quimbo.

How do Aunt Chloe and Old Dinah compare and contrast as people and servants in Uncle Tom's Cabin, and what accounts for their differences?

In Uncle Tom's Cabin the cooks Aunt Chloe and Old Dinah do not have much in common. Although they both take a great deal of pride in their cooking—and disparage others' cooking skills—they go about their jobs in very different ways. Aunt Chloe is extremely neat; she and her kitchen both glow with cleanliness. Her work seems nearly effortless as she turns out mounds of food. She multitasks as she works—cooking, taking care of children, cleaning as she goes, and conversing. Her goodness and strength of character shine in the kitchen as well as in her life as the centerpiece of her family. Her Christian beliefs are at the core of her responses to the world. Unlike Aunt Chloe's orderly kitchen, Old Dinah's kitchen is a wreck. She prefers to cook in chaos, making few plans and letting her genius emerge in the course of preparing a meal. Cleaning up as she goes does not occur to Old Dinah because she never follows a clear path in getting to her end result. She is none too neat in her personal habits either, and her tendency to smoke a pipe in the kitchen is rather disgusting. She is a tyrant in the kitchen and abusive to the other slaves. Some of the differences between the two women stem from the different environments of the households they serve. Mrs. Emily Shelby is kind to her slaves, grateful for their service, and eager to help them when she can. This makes Aunt Chloe feel her life is purposeful, and she responds with a level of professionalism to match the household's decorum. In the St. Clare household Marie threatens the slaves, and Augustine allows them to do as they please. The environment is characterized by wastefulness and a feeling of ceded responsibility, a viewpoint Old Dinah accepts as her own.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin when Eva repeatedly uses phrases such as sink into my heart, what does she mean?

When Eva says things "sink into my heart," it is her way of expressing how deeply she feels the tragedy of others' experiences. It reflects her extreme sensitivity and empathy for others. Eva cannot see people's sadness or hear of cruelty inflicted on them without wanting to do something about it. As a young child, however, all she can really do is pray and say how she feels. She fervently believes God hears her and can help, but it doesn't seem to ease the burden she carries in her heart. Eva seems truly too good to live in the world, and there is a sense that when she dies she goes to heaven and can visit people as an angel to ease their suffering. For example, the novel implies she makes an angelic visitation to Uncle Tom during his worst hours of suffering.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin what is Miss Ophelia's mood when she is knitting, and why is knitting an appropriate activity?

When Miss Ophelia is knitting in Uncle Tom's Cabin, she is usually thinking about what she is seeing and hearing around her but trying to keep her opinions to herself. Miss Ophelia is especially appalled by Marie St. Clare's words and actions, but Marie's sentiments are sometimes so amazingly selfish and obtuse that an educated person can say very little in response. That is why Augustine often takes a sarcastic route with his wife, choosing to laugh at her ridiculousness rather than trying to change her. Knitting is an appropriate activity for Miss Ophelia at these times, since she clearly supports adages such as "busy hands are happy hands" and "idle hands are the devil's playthings." Although she can't affect change Miss Ophelia can at least prevent making things worse by arguing; knitting keeps her hands busy and her mouth shut.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin which person in Augustine St. Clare's life influences him the most, and with what result?

The person who has the greatest influence on Augustine St. Clare throughout his life is his mother. He speaks of her often with great love and respect, even describing her as divine, "a direct embodiment and personification of the New Testament." He credits her with his inability to completely turn his back on Christianity, even though he does not practice his faith in any organized way. As a child Augustine related to his mother much better than to his father, and so as an adult he tends to adopt her ways. His love of art and music, his sensitive nature, and his refusal to harm enslaved people all come from her. It seems Eva is very much like Augustine's mother, and losing her too soon in the same way he lost his mother too soon is a blow from which he cannot recover.

Why was Stowe likely upset when readers came to view Topsy from Uncle Tom's Cabin as a stereotypical pickaninny instead of as a sympathetic figure?

Just as Stowe did not intend for Uncle Tom to be viewed as feeble and powerless, she did not create Topsy as a stereotype. Stowe aimed to create sympathetic characters that would lead emotional readers to take a stance against slavery. She wanted readers to empathize with Topsy's plight, not laugh at the child. Unauthorized stage versions of the novel began to appear as soon as Stowe's novel was published, and some of these versions were merely minstrel shows intended for the humorous entertainment of white audiences. The stereotype of the pickaninny was not a rounded character; rather, it was a nearly animalistic caricature. A pickaninny typically had exaggerated features, ate huge pieces of watermelon, and was food for alligators. A pickaninny was intended to make audiences laugh, not to arouse antislavery sentiments. Therefore, Stowe was likely saddened when readers saw Topsy as a caricature.

How are the differences between Augustine and Alfred in Uncle Tom's Cabin reflected in the differences between Eva and Henrique?

Although they are twins Augustine and Alfred St. Clare are opposites in some ways. Augustine tells Miss Ophelia that Alfred is an aristocrat like their father, whereas he is sensitive and sympathetic to all people, like his mother. This basic difference shows up most clearly in how the two men choose to treat enslaved people. Alfred is a harsh owner who believes it is appropriate for slaves to do his bidding and accept their place as lower creatures, and he is willing to beat them to get them to conform. Augustine owns slaves, but he takes a "hands-off" approach to his role as a master. Henrique follows in his father's footsteps, as made evident in his cruel treatment of Dodo. Eva's response to this scene, which she witnesses, shows that she would never whip a slave or even say a mean word. Eva goes beyond her father's passive approach, however, in asking that all of the St. Clare slaves be set free.

In what four scenes of Uncle Tom's Cabin are a female's curly locks of hair significant?

The curls of four different women in Uncle Tom's Cabin elicit emotional responses in other characters. The first scene occurs on Eva's deathbed, when she gives a lock of her curly blond hair to everyone in the St. Clare household. With the lock comes her instructions to be a good Christian and remember that "I loved you and am gone to heaven, and that I want to see you all there." The second scene happens at the auction where Susan and Emmeline are sold. Susan, fully aware that her daughter's beauty might lead to a life of sexual servitude, tries to hide Emmeline's beautiful curls. But Mr. Skeggs makes her take her hair down, to "make a hundred dollars difference in the sale of her." The third scene features one of Eva's curls but could not be more different from what she had imagined. Upon seeing Eva's curl, which Uncle Tom kept in a packet around his neck, Simon Legree responds with fear, throwing it into the fire. It has reminded him of a lock of his mother's hair that he received in a letter from her after her death, in which she "blest and forgave him." He has been haunted ever since by the memory of his abusive treatment of her. The fourth scene involving curly locks is a joyful one. Eliza must cut off her beautiful curly hair in order to disguise herself as a man for the final crossing into Canada. As she cuts her hair, however, her husband, George, finally begins to believe in their freedom and only sees her as more beautiful than ever.

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