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"So you " re the lady whose book started this great war. " Abraham Lincoln said this to Harriet Beecher Stowe upon meeting her in 1862. This quote shows the great influence the novel had on the minds of its readers and on a nation in turmoil. At the height of racial tension in nineteenth century America, Stowe revealed the sufferings and hardships the slave was forced to endure. Stowe used passionate and sometimes exaggerated thoughts and stories in the book in an effort to prompt abolitionist action. In the novel, Stowe used strong-minded women that sent a message to female readers that they also can take action against slavery. Although Stowe was on the side of the slave, she sometimes exhibited a paternalistic attitude that made her seem somewhat racist.
Uncle Tom's Cabin is "profoundly feminist in its implications" because of the opinionated female characters that voiced their beliefs and showed moral superiority over their male counterparts. Stowe established that both women and slaves were victims of male domination, and she depicted women in the novel that were led to their abolitionist views by their moral and Christian beliefs. Because of the stereotypes and paternalistic attitude she exhibited, Stowe sometimes seemed racist against the class she was fighting for. At times, Stowe took the viewpoint of the white and looked down on her race. By comparing whites to blacks, Stowe contradicted her main theme of the novel, equality. "It was rather natural; and the tears that fell, as he spoke, came as naturally as if he had been a white man (134). " Stowe referred to many stereotypes of blacks during the era through her descriptions of the slaves.
Aunt Chloe was portrayed as the stereotypical slave-woman. "Her whole plump countenance beams with satisfaction and contentment from under her well-starched turban (25). " Topsy was portrayed as foolish because of Stowe's description of her song and dance. "Spinning round, clapping her hands, knocking her knees together, in a wild, fantastic sort of timed finally, turning a somerset or two, and giving a prolonged closing note, as odd and unearthly as that of a steam-whistle, she came suddenly down on the carpet (260). " Although to a small degree, Stowe appeared to be looking down on her race at times. Because of the strong-minded and opinionated female characters Stowe portrayed, Uncle Tom's Cabin is "profoundly feminist in its implications. " Through their devoted Christian beliefs, Mrs. Shelby and Mrs. Bird were portrayed as holding moral superiority over their husbands. During this era, women were often forced to withhold their true beliefs, but these women used their pious ways to confront and consult with their husbands.
Mrs. Bird completely altered her husband's viewpoint of housing fugitive slaves by forcing him to look at the situation in a humane and religious way. "It's a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I'll break it, for one, the first time I get a chance; and I hope I shall have a chance, I do! Things have got to a pretty pass, if a woman can't give a warm supper and a bed to poor, starving creatures. Just because they are slaves, and have been abuse and oppressed all their lives, poor things (89). " Women taking actions into their own hands also represented feminism. Aunt Chloe and Mrs. Shelby each decided to earn wages in order to buy back their beloved Tom. "Sam he said der was one of date yer perfection ers, dey calls 'em, in Louisville, said he wanted a good hand at cake and pastry; and said he'd give four dollars a week to one, he did (278). " Women of the era were expected to be homemakers, and the husband usually disallowed his wife to earn money.
Stowe used Cassy, a slave, to show how a strong-woman can alter the behavior of a man. "Cassy had always kept over Legree the kind of influence that a strong, impassioned woman can ever keep over the most brutal man (401). " Women in the novel were used to ignite female readers to become feminists. Stowe established that both women and slaves were victims of male domination, only to different degrees. In the novel, there are many examples cited that reveal the relationship between slaves and male domination. The most horrid is the cruel treatment of Tom by his final master, Legree.
Because of his jealousy towards Tom's faith and obedience, Legree developed hatred towards him. "I hate him (442). " Although Tom was the better man, Legree ended Tom's life simply because he could. "I b'live, my soul, he's done for, finally. Yes, he is! Well, his mouth's shut up, at last, that's one comfort (447). " The domination of white males allowed them to make their own decisions regarding their "property. " Although to a much lesser degree, Stowe depicted male domination towards their wives. No matter what the feelings or heartfelt testimony given by the woman, the male had the final decision. When the verdict was given, the wife had to accept it, whether to her liking or not. "I'm sorry, very sorry, Emily.
I'm sorry that this takes hold of you so; but it will do no good. The fact is, Emily, the thing's done (41). " Mr. Shelby made it clear that woman should not cross the boundary between social and domestic dealings. As inhumane or horrid the decision was, males had the ruling hand in all affairs. In the novel, the feminism exhibited by the female characters paved the way for their abolitionist views, but it also showed that feminism and abolitionism are not directly related. Mrs.
Shelby, and Mrs. Bird both expressed their pious beliefs, which opened the door to their disregard for slavery. These powerful women preached that slavery was wrong according to the bible, and swayed or tried to sway their husband's beliefs. Mrs. Bird altered her husband's mind-set by forcing him to realize that slavery was not a Christian form of behavior. "Now, John, I don't know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate; and that Bible I mean to follow (89). " This passionate approach by Mrs. Bird was not typical during the era, for most women were subdued and uninvolved.
On the other hand, Miss Ophelia was a strong-minded woman filled with traditional Christian beliefs. Although from the north and a dream to create a missionary, her prejudice towards slaves was still there. When confronted with a small black slave to care for, Miss Ophelia became disgusted and appalled. "I don't want her, I am sure; I have more to do with 'em now than I want to (261). " Although a northerner, a strict Christian, and a morally strong woman, Miss Ophelia became prejudiced when in contact with the slaves. To Conclude, Uncle Tom's Cabin is a truly passionate novel that swayed the hearts of many readers. Although writing in defense of slavery, Stowe sometimes used stereotypes and a paternalistic attitude to exhibit racism. The strong female characters that were seen to hold moral superiority over their male counterparts prove this book to be profoundly feminist.
Stowe showed the relationship between male domination and slavery, and how feminism paved the way for abolitionist views. Stowe stirred the emotions of readers through her detailed accounts and descriptions. Many females were ignited by the separation of families that was so often explained. Harriet Beecher Stowe truly is a hero of the abolitionist period. Bibliography:
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