Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Review: Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin. Harriet Beecher Stowe. 1852. 438 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P——, in Kentucky.

Uncle Tom's Cabin is a moral-driven novel with some unforgettable characters. The hero of the novel is a slave, Uncle Tom. Readers first meet him on a Kentucky plantation. But this isn't just a story of one individual slave; it's a story of slavery, of the condition of slaves.

The story is geared to make you think of each and every slave as a person. That concept may not be groundbreaking now, it may appear obvious. But at the time it was published, it would have had shock value.

There are two storylines. One story line follows Uncle Tom as he's sold and resold. He has three masters: Mr. Arthur Shelby, Augustine St. Clare, and Simon Legree. The other story line follows Eliza, George, and their son. They are escaped, "fugitive" slaves making a run for freedom for Canada. They are helped along the way by abolitionists and Quakers. There are some dramatic scenes. Yet, while their story line offers some initial drama and excitement, it is Tom's story that resonates the most.

I think my favorite section of the novel was when Tom was with the St. Clare family. I enjoyed meeting Augustine St. Clare, his daughter, Eva, and Miss Ophelia, a Northern cousin. I did not enjoy meeting Augustine's wife, Marie. Eva was a saint. Some readers might find fault with Eva for being perfectly perfect in every single way imaginable. But when the novel is coupled with so many flawed characters, with a few downright evil ones, having one or two saints among them is okay with me. Eva's greatest strength was her big heart. She saw slavery for what it was, an unacceptable evil, and she wanted to right it. She wanted her father to free his slaves.

Between Eva and Uncle Tom, his two biggest influencers, Augustine was slowly but surely changing his mind and determining to change his way of life, to stop conforming to the norm, and start following his conscience. He had an "I'm just one man; what could I possibly do?" attitude. He claimed to hate slavery. He claimed to see the evil cruelty of it. But his way of reacting to evil was to stand by and do nothing. He never actively did a cruel thing; just passively--by refusing to act at all.

I think the hardest section of the novel for me was Tom's time serving Simon Legree. This section introduces Cassy and Emmeline. Emmeline is a newly purchased slave--as is Uncle Tom. She's mourning being separated from her mother. But that isn't her only worry. Simon Legree's interest in her is way, way, way too personal. She fears that the kind of work he has in mind for her is the WORST possible fate for a good, Christian girl like herself. Cassy is an older-and-wiser slave who has been Legree's property for enough years to be almost filled completely with hate, anger, rage, and bitterness. Her biggest fear is coming to care even the slightest for another human being. Yet, she can't help feeling something for both Uncle Tom and Emmeline.

What I loved most about the novel was the character of Tom. I loved Tom's faith. I loved Tom's reliance on God's daily-given-grace to endure. I loved Tom's hope. Hope that the Lord does indeed hear his prayers, see his miseries, care about him. Hope that the victory is the Lord's, that justice will be done. Hope that the Lord will see him through, that he'll be an overcomer, that heaven is HIS. I loved Tom's heart. He loved. He was compassionate. He was an encourager. He also forgave. He lived the gospel--day in, day out. He didn't just live it by example; he also spoke it. He was a seed-planter. Even when his words fell on "deaf ears," so to speak, he continued to hold true to the gospel. He didn't see sharing the good news of Jesus Christ as a waste of breath. He wanted to see others around him KNOW Jesus as he knew Jesus. Whether they were white or black, free or slave. He prayed for the salvation of Augustine, of Simon Legree, of Sambo and Quimbo, of Cassy. He knew that God can save anyone, no one was beyond God's ability to save. And because he believed so strongly in heaven and hell, he CARED. He didn't want to see anyone in hell. Tom is in many ways, a saint, just like Eva. Faith didn't come easy to Tom. It wasn't like he was all: bring on the suffering, bring on the pain, do your worst and I'll smile and grin through it all. He prayed for deliverance. He prayed for the suffering to go away. He prayed for better circumstances. He longed for freedom. Being a Christian didn't stop him from wanting, from needing. But he was content that the Lord was his lot, his portion, his reward. Near the end he proclaims, "The Lord’s bought me, and is going to take me home,—and I long to go."

Favorite quotes:
“Pray for them that ’spitefully use you, the good book says,” says Tom. “Pray for ’em!” said Aunt Chloe; “Lor, it’s too tough! I can’t pray for ’em.” “It’s natur, Chloe, and natur ’s strong,” said Tom, “but the Lord’s grace is stronger; besides, you oughter think what an awful state a poor crittur’s soul ’s in that’ll do them ar things,—you oughter thank God that you an’t like him, Chloe. I’m sure I’d rather be sold, ten thousand times over, than to have all that ar poor crittur’s got to answer for.”
“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.” “But in cases where your doing so would involve a great public evil—” “Obeying God never brings on public evils. I know it can’t. It’s always safest, all round, to do as He bids us.”
“I’m in the Lord’s hands,” said Tom; “nothin’ can go no furder than he lets it;—and thar’s one thing I can thank him for. It’s me that’s sold and going down, and not you nur the chil’en. Here you’re safe;—what comes will come only on me; and the Lord, he’ll help me,—I know he will.” 
“Well, George, I s’pose you’re running away—leaving your lawful master, George—(I don’t wonder at it)—at the same time, I’m sorry, George,—yes, decidedly—I think I must say that, George—it’s my duty to tell you so.” “Why are you sorry, sir?” said George, calmly. “Why, to see you, as it were, setting yourself in opposition to the laws of your country.” “My country!” said George, with a strong and bitter emphasis; “what country have I, but the grave,—and I wish to God that I was laid there!”
“My country again! Mr. Wilson, you have a country; but what country have I, or any one like me, born of slave mothers? What laws are there for us? We don’t make them,—we don’t consent to them,—we have nothing to do with them; all they do for us is to crush us, and keep us down. Haven’t I heard your Fourth-of-July speeches? Don’t you tell us all, once a year, that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed? Can’t a fellow think, that hears such things? Can’t he put this and that together, and see what it comes to?”
“Is there a God to trust in?” said George, in such a tone of bitter despair as arrested the old gentleman’s words. “O, I’ve seen things all my life that have made me feel that there can’t be a God. You Christians don’t know how these things look to us. There’s a God for you, but is there any for us?” “O, now, don’t—don’t, my boy!” said the old man, almost sobbing as he spoke; “don’t feel so! There is—there is; clouds and darkness are around about him, but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. There’s a God, George,—believe it; trust in Him, and I’m sure He’ll help you. Everything will be set right,—if not in this life, in another.” The real piety and benevolence of the simple old man invested him with a temporary dignity and authority, as he spoke. George stopped his distracted walk up and down the room, stood thoughtfully a moment, and then said, quietly, “Thank you for saying that, my good friend; I’ll think of that.”
As to Tom, he was thinking over some words of an unfashionable old book, which kept running through his head, again and again, as follows: “We have here no continuing city, but we seek one to come; wherefore God himself is not ashamed to be called our God; for he hath prepared for us a city.” These words of an ancient volume, got up principally by “ignorant and unlearned men,” have, through all time, kept up, somehow, a strange sort of power over the minds of poor, simple fellows, like Tom. They stir up the soul from its depths, and rouse, as with trumpet call, courage, energy, and enthusiasm, where before was only the blackness of despair.
Having learned late in life, Tom was but a slow reader, and passed on laboriously from verse to verse. Fortunate for him was it that the book he was intent on was one which slow reading cannot injure,—nay, one whose words, like ingots of gold, seem often to need to be weighed separately, that the mind may take in their priceless value. Let us follow him a moment, as, pointing to each word, and pronouncing each half aloud, he reads, “Let—not—your—heart—be—troubled. In—my—Father’s—house—are—many—mansions. I—go—to—prepare—a—place—for—you.” 
It had been his custom to get the Bible read to him by his master’s children, in particular by young Master George; and, as they read, he would designate, by bold, strong marks and dashes, with pen and ink, the passages which more particularly gratified his ear or affected his heart. His Bible was thus marked through, from one end to the other, with a variety of styles and designations; so he could in a moment seize upon his favorite passages, without the labor of spelling out what lay between them;—and while it lay there before him, every passage breathing of some old home scene, and recalling some past enjoyment, his Bible seemed to him all of this life that remained, as well as the promise of a future one.
“Then you don’t believe that the Bible justifies slavery,” said Miss Ophelia. “The Bible was my mother’s book,” said St. Clare. “By it she lived and died, and I would be very sorry to think it did. I’d as soon desire to have it proved that my mother could drink brandy, chew tobacco, and swear, by way of satisfying me that I did right in doing the same. It wouldn’t make me at all more satisfied with these things in myself, and it would take from me the comfort of respecting her; and it really is a comfort, in this world, to have anything one can respect.
“I defend it, my dear lady? Who ever said I did defend it?” said St. Clare. “Of course, you defend it,—you all do,—all you Southerners. What do you have slaves for, if you don’t?” “Are you such a sweet innocent as to suppose nobody in this world ever does what they don’t think is right? Don’t you, or didn’t you ever, do anything that you did not think quite right?” “If I do, I repent of it, I hope,” said Miss Ophelia, rattling her needles with energy. “So do I,” said St. Clare, peeling his orange; “I’m repenting of it all the time.” “What do you keep on doing it for?” “Didn’t you ever keep on doing wrong, after you’d repented, my good cousin?”
“Wait,—I’m coming on,—you’ll hear. The short of the matter is, cousin,” said he, his handsome face suddenly settling into an earnest and serious expression, “on this abstract question of slavery there can, as I think, be but one opinion. Planters, who have money to make by it,—clergymen, who have planters to please,—politicians, who want to rule by it,—may warp and bend language and ethics to a degree that shall astonish the world at their ingenuity; they can press nature and the Bible, and nobody knows what else, into the service; but, after all, neither they nor the world believe in it one particle the more. It comes from the devil, that’s the short of it;—and, to my mind, it’s a pretty respectable specimen of what he can do in his own line.” 
“But it’s no kind of apology for slavery, to prove that it isn’t worse than some other bad thing.”
My mother used to tell me of a millennium that was coming, when Christ should reign, and all men should be free and happy. And she taught me, when I was a boy, to pray, ‘thy kingdom come.’ Sometimes I think all this sighing, and groaning, and stirring among the dry bones foretells what she used to tell me was coming. But who may abide the day of His appearing?” “Augustine, sometimes I think you are not far from the kingdom,” said Miss Ophelia, laying down her knitting, and looking anxiously at her cousin.
Tom read, in his only literary cabinet, of one who had “learned in whatsoever state he was, therewith to be content.” It seemed to him good and reasonable doctrine, and accorded well with the settled and thoughtful habit which he had acquired from the reading of that same book.
“Mamma,” she said, suddenly, to her mother, one day, “why don’t we teach our servants to read?” “What a question child! People never do.” “Why don’t they?” said Eva. “Because it is no use for them to read. It don’t help them to work any better, and they are not made for anything else.” “But they ought to read the Bible, mamma, to learn God’s will.” “It seems to me, mamma, the Bible is for every one to read themselves. They need it a great many times when there is nobody to read it.”
“O, the Bible! To be sure, it says a great many such things; but, then, nobody ever thinks of doing them,—you know, Eva, nobody does.” 
“What is being a Christian, Eva?” “Loving Christ most of all,” said Eva. “Do you, Eva?” “Certainly I do.” “You never saw him,” said St. Clare. “That makes no difference,” said Eva. “I believe him, and in a few days I shall see him;” and the young face grew fervent, radiant with joy. 
“How do you know there’s any Christ, Tom! You never saw the Lord.” “Felt Him in my soul, Mas’r,—feel Him now! O, Mas’r, when I was sold away from my old woman and the children, I was jest a’most broke up. I felt as if there warn’t nothin’ left; and then the good Lord, he stood by me, and he says, ‘Fear not, Tom;’ and he brings light and joy in a poor feller’s soul,—makes all peace; and I ’s so happy, and loves everybody, and feels willin’ jest to be the Lord’s, and have the Lord’s will done, and be put jest where the Lord wants to put me. I know it couldn’t come from me, cause I ’s a poor, complainin’ cretur; it comes from the Lord; and I know He’s willin’ to do for Mas’r.”
“Singular!” said St. Clare, turning away, “that the story of a man that lived and died eighteen hundred years ago can affect people so yet. But he was no man,” he added, suddenly. “No man ever had such long and living power! O, that I could believe what my mother taught me, and pray as I did when I was a boy!” “If Mas’r pleases,” said Tom, “Miss Eva used to read this so beautifully. I wish Mas’r’d be so good as read it. Don’t get no readin’, hardly, now Miss Eva’s gone.” The chapter was the eleventh of John,—the touching account of the raising of Lazarus, St. Clare read it aloud, often pausing to wrestle down feelings which were roused by the pathos of the story. Tom knelt before him, with clasped hands, and with an absorbed expression of love, trust, adoration, on his quiet face. “Tom,” said his Master, “this is all real to you!” “I can jest fairly see it Mas’r,” said Tom. “I wish I had your eyes, Tom.” “I wish, to the dear Lord, Mas’r had!” “But, Tom, you know that I have a great deal more knowledge than you; what if I should tell you that I don’t believe this Bible?” “O, Mas’r!” said Tom, holding up his hands, with a deprecating gesture. “Wouldn’t it shake your faith some, Tom?” “Not a grain,” said Tom.
“Tom, you seem to think the Lord needs a great deal done for him,” said St. Clare, smiling. “We does for the Lord when we does for his critturs,” said Tom. 
 “Any mind that is capable of a real sorrow is capable of good. You must try and do something with her.”
St. Clare, like most men of his class of mind, cordially hated the present tense of action, generally; and, therefore, he was considerably annoyed by Miss Ophelia’s downrightness.
“‘In the midst of life we are in death,’” said Miss Ophelia.
“Perhaps,” said Miss Ophelia, “it is impossible for a person who does no good not to do harm.”
“Always practical and to the point!” said St. Clare, his face breaking out into a smile. “You never leave me any time for general reflections, Cousin; you always bring me short up against the actual present; you have a kind of eternal now, always in your mind.” “Now is all the time I have anything to do with,” said Miss Ophelia. “Dear little Eva,—poor child!” said St. Clare, “she had set her little simple soul on a good work for me.”
“If you knew all this,” said Miss Ophelia, “why didn’t you do it?” “O, because I have had only that kind of benevolence which consists in lying on a sofa, and cursing the church and clergy for not being martyrs and confessors. One can see, you know, very easily, how others ought to be martyrs.” “Well, are you going to do differently now?” said Miss Ophelia. “God only knows the future,” said St. Clare. “I am braver than I was, because I have lost all; and he who has nothing to lose can afford all risks.”
“My duty, I hope, to the poor and lowly, as fast as I find it out,” said St. Clare, “beginning with my own servants, for whom I have yet done nothing; and, perhaps, at some future day, it may appear that I can do something for a whole class; something to save my country from the disgrace of that false position in which she now stands before all civilized nations.” “Do you suppose it possible that a nation ever will voluntarily emancipate?” said Miss Ophelia. They will have to go north, where labor is the fashion,—the universal custom; and tell me, now, is there enough Christian philanthropy, among your northern states, to bear with the process of their education and elevation? You send thousands of dollars to foreign missions; but could you endure to have the heathen sent into your towns and villages, and give your time, and thoughts, and money, to raise them to the Christian standard? That’s what I want to know. If we emancipate, are you willing to educate? How many families, in your town, would take a negro man and woman, teach them, bear with them, and seek to make them Christians? You see, Cousin, I want justice done us. We are in a bad position. We are the more obvious oppressors of the negro; but the unchristian prejudice of the north is an oppressor almost equally severe.”
Something within the silent black man answered No! and, as if repeated by an invisible voice, came the words of an old prophetic scroll, as Eva had often read them to him,—“Fear not! for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by name. Thou art MINE!”
The silver, fair-browed moon rose in the purple sky, and looked down, calm and silent, as God looks on the scene of misery and oppression,—looked calmly on the lone black man, as he sat, with his arms folded, and his Bible on his knee.
In the very depth of physical suffering, bowed by brutal oppression, this question shot a gleam of joy and triumph through Tom’s soul. He suddenly stretched himself up, and, looking earnestly to heaven, while the tears and blood that flowed down his face mingled, he exclaimed, “No! no! no! my soul an’t yours, Mas’r! You haven’t bought it,—ye can’t buy it! It’s been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it;—no matter, no matter, you can’t harm me!”
“Mas’r,” said Tom, “I know ye can do dreadful things; but,”—he stretched himself upward and clasped his hands,—“but, after ye’ve killed the body, there an’t no more ye can do. And O, there’s all ETERNITY to come, after that!”
I’ll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won’t give up to mortal man. I will hold on to the Lord, and put his commands before all,—die or live; you may be sure on ’t. Mas’r Legree, I ain’t a grain afeard to die. I’d as soon die as not. Ye may whip me, starve me, burn me,—it’ll only send me sooner where I want to go.” “I’ll make ye give out, though, ’fore I’ve done!” said Legree, in a rage. “I shall have help,” said Tom; “you’ll never do it.” “Who the devil’s going to help you?” said Legree, scornfully. “The Lord Almighty,” said Tom.
What is freedom to a nation, but freedom to the individuals in it?
“I’ll hold on. The Lord may help me, or not help; but I’ll hold to him, and believe him to the last!”
“Love!” said Cassy, with a fierce glare; “love such enemies! It isn’t in flesh and blood.” “No, Misse, it isn’t,” said Tom, looking up; “but He gives it to us, and that’s the victory. When we can love and pray over all and through all, the battle’s past, and the victory’s come,—glory be to God!” And, with streaming eyes and choking voice, the black man looked up to heaven.
Tom looked up to his master, and answered, “Mas’r, if you was sick, or in trouble, or dying, and I could save ye, I’d give ye my heart’s blood; and, if taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul, I’d give ’em freely, as the Lord gave his for me. O, Mas’r! don’t bring this great sin on your soul! It will hurt you more than ’t will me! Do the worst you can, my troubles’ll be over soon; but, if ye don’t repent, yours won’t never end!” 
“I forgive ye, with all my heart!” said Tom, faintly. “O, Tom! do tell us who is Jesus, anyhow?” said Sambo;—“Jesus, that’s been a standin’ by you so, all this night!—Who is he?” The word roused the failing, fainting spirit. He poured forth a few energetic sentences of that wondrous One,—his life, his death, his everlasting presence, and power to save. They wept,—both the two savage men. “Why didn’t I never hear this before?” said Sambo; “but I do believe!—I can’t help it! Lord Jesus, have mercy on us!” “Poor critters!” said Tom, “I’d be willing to bar all I have, if it’ll only bring ye to Christ! O, Lord! give me these two more souls, I pray!” That prayer was answered! 
O, Mas’r George! Heaven has come! I’ve got the victory!—the Lord Jesus has given it to me! Glory be to His name!” George was awe-struck at the force, the vehemence, the power, with which these broken sentences were uttered. He sat gazing in silence. 
“Witness, eternal God!” said George, kneeling on the grave of his poor friend; “oh, witness, that, from this hour, I will do what one man can to drive out this curse of slavery from my land!” There is no monument to mark the last resting-place of our friend. He needs none! His Lord knows where he lies, and will raise him up, immortal, to appear with him when he shall appear in his glory. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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