I’ve stopped my writing but only for the moment because I’m reading but my reading is really research in disguise. I’m working on Ebenezer’s line and to get a better feel for the slave culture in 19th century America, I decided to read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Harriet Beecher Stowe is an amazing storyteller and this book is nothing like I expected. Yes, it is a morality lesson on the horrific nature of slavery but it is much more than that. Way much more. I was expecting the entire publication to be devoted solely on the horrors of slavery, the cultural degredation, the whippings, the chains, endless toil in the hot sun, rape, rack and ruin of an entire segment of our population, all the bad stuff that we’ve heard about. It does include every bit of this but underlying everything is something else that we don’t ever hear about and that is what I was not expecting. On every single page is hope. Every single page had hope that the Lord will get them through this time of tribulation and that someday things will be better.
While reading, I laughed, I cried, I felt anguish for the characters both black and white, I felt wonder at the actions of some, and I cried some more.
I’ve fallen in love with this book.
Harriet Beecher Stowe has an uncanny way of being able to read the hearts of humanity. Reading the hearts of her own race was easy but she also was able to read the hearts of the white characters too. She was able to look beyond the pain and despair of enslavement and realize that the devastating degredation of a race of people not only hurts the ones being degraded but it also hurts the degrader.
Every one of the white slave owners wrestled with the devilish institution in their own way. The Shelby’s did what they could to be good masters and treated their slaves well, even to the point of educating them in reading and writing and encouraging personal growth. It seemed the reason that they had slaves was because that was just the way things were done. Because of poor management of funds, however, they had to sell two of them, which brought much anguish and sorrow to everyone, master and slave alike.
Augustine St. Clare was a cynic. He was not near as encouraging with his slaves as the Shelby’s but he was indulgent with them and believed there should be change. He knew full well, however, that he was just one man and that society doesn’t listen to just one man. His young daughter finally showed him that he still had to try but by then it was too late.
Simon Legree was a brute and the most cruel slave owner that I have ever read about. I did not like him one bit. But I also felt sorry for him because his struggle seemingly impacted him more than it did the others and he was not equipped to handle it in any way. We all know deep down when something is not right. It pricks our conscience until we do something about it. It pricked the Shelby’s and St. Clare’s but as far as Simon Legree, on every page, this man’s conscience was not just pricking him, it hammered at him. It hammered him when he was awake and when he slept dreams haunted him. At first he was able to ignore it and take comfort that his brute strength was all he needed to stay in control but in the end he had to turn to the bottle to drown it all out.
The most riveting character, however, was the slave Uncle Tom. He was the fulcrum of the entire book. With the exception of one little bit close to the end, his faith never wavered. He loved and forgave and loved and forgave even more, all the while being humble, obedient and hopeful to the very end. He wanted no violence and no hatred and refused to partake in any violence or hatred, even upon pain of death. He took his lot in life and made the best of it (lemonade from lemons anyone?). He literally took Jesus’ lesson of love your neighbor as far as it could be taken and by doing so he made me feel like a second class person. When I asked myself if I would do as he did if I was placed in his position, I could not say with conviction that I would.
I turned to this book to get a glimpse of slave life in America in the 1800’s so I could better portray their struggle in my book but I got much more than that. I got lessons in humanity, humility, and hope.