Wednesday, March 23

Uncle Tom's Cabin

I recently read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and was asked to write my thoughts on it here. Discussion is welcome.

First of all, I would like to point out that if anyone today tried to get a book like this published today, it would not happen without some serious editing. The author appears to be racist in the extreme, to the point that modern readers cannot help feeling somewhat embarrassed reading her language. From beginning to end the book is riddled with racist descriptions and statements, clearly showing the author's bias. I have listed a handful of examples, and put the racist keywords in bold for you skeptical speed readers.

“For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two gentlemen. One of the parties, however… did not seem… to come under the species.”

“…and though the auditors immediately about him were generally of his own colour, it not unfrequently happened that they were fringed pretty deeply with those of fairer complexion…”

“Tom, who had to the full the gentle, domestic heart, which, woe for them! has been the peculiar characteristic of his unhappy race…”

“The African, naturally patient, timid, and unenterprising…”

“…attired in hunting-shirts, and trailing their loose joints over a vast expanse of territory, with the easy lounge peculiar to the race…”

“Tom, who had the soft, irrepressible nature of his kindly race…”

“The negro… has deep in his heart, a passion for all that is splendid, rich, and fanciful… which… draws on them the ridicule of the colder and more correct white race.”

“If ever Africa shall show an elevated and cultivated race—and come it must, sometime, her turn to figure in the great drama of human improvement—life will awake there with a gorgeousness and splendour of which our cold western tribes faintly have conceived. In that far-off mystic land of gold, and gems, and spices, and waving palms, and wondrous flowers and miraculous fertility, will awake new forms of art, new styles of splendour; and the negro race, no longer despised or trodden down, will, perhaps, show forth some of the latest and most magnificent revelations of human life. Certainly they will, in their gentleness, their lowly docility of heart, their aptitude to repose on a superior mind and rest on a higher power, their childlike simplicity of affection, and facility of forgiveness. In all these they will exhibit the highest form of the peculiarly Christian life…”

“They stood, the representatives of their races. The Saxon, born of ages of cultivation, command, education, physical and moral eminence; the Afric, born of ages of oppression, submission, ignorance, toil, and vice!”

“… struck at once upon the feelings of a sensitive and impressible race…”

“…of all races of the earth, none have received the Gospel with such eager docility as the African. The principle of reliance and unquestioning faith, which is its foundation is more a native element in this race than any other; and it has often been found among them, that a stray seed of truth, borne on some breeze of accident into hearts the most ignorant, has sprung up into fruit, whose abundance has shamed that of a higher and more skilful creature.”

“…the capabilities of the race, are encouraging in the highest degree… they are remarkably intelligent and quick to learn.”

Never mind that most of these descriptions and statements are either false or offensive. It should not be encouraging or remarkable to see a black person's ability to learn, for example: They are all humans! They are 100% the same as any other person of any skin color, thinking that their intelligence or ability to learn would be any different is racist!

Also, notice how most of these quotes paint all people who happen to have darker skin as gentle, kind, patient, Christian people. One would almost think that being born with darker skin was a ticket into heaven, especially compared to the stereotypical lighter skinned person in the book, who is painted as a spiritually disoriented and mentally unsound brute, as shown in the following quotes:

“And the trader leaned back in his chair… apparently considering himself a second Wilberforce.”

“Mr Wilson’s mind was one of those that may not inaptly be represented by a bale of cotton—downy, soft, benevolently fuzzy, and confused.”

“’It’s undoubtedly the intention of Providence that the African race should be servants—kept in a low condition,’ said… a clergyman…”

“’…and I’m sure they can go to church when they like, though they don’t understand a word of the sermon, more than so many pigs… they are a degraded race, and always will be…’”

The general idea throughout the book is that slaves are inherently Christian and slave owners are inherently heathen.

“’Depend on it, God will bring you into judgement for this.’”

“…injustice is… inherent… in the slave system, it cannot exist without it.”

There were some things the author stated that makes a reader question her faith.

“There is one thing that every individual can do, they can see to it that they feel right.

Wait... so... huh? I mean, every individual can feel right, I suppose, but I had no idea that was important in the grand scheme of things!

“Rachel never looked so truly and benignly happy as at the head of her table.”

Rachel is a Quaker wife. Her husband is there with them. And yet he is barely mentioned at all. Why isn't he sitting at the head of his table? Why does he take a submissive role in the family leadership? We are supposed to see this family as a sort of ideal, or at least the author wants us to.

Then there is a letter written by a darker skinned man to a friend, which is not only full of racist remarks, but also ironies to modern readers.

“’It is with the oppressed, enslaved African race that I cast my lot…

‘The desire and yearning of my soul is for an African nationality…

‘…On the shores of Africa I see a republic… this republic has at last become an acknowledged nation on the face of the earth…

‘…the African race has peculiarities yet to be unfolded in the light of civilisation and Christianity, if not the same with those of the Anglo-Saxon, may prove to be, morally, of an even higher type.

‘I trust that the development of Africa is to be essentially a Christian one. If not a dominant and commanding race, they are, at least, an affectionate, magnanimous, and forgiving one…

‘I myself, I confess, am feeble for this—full half the blood in my veins is the hot and hasty Saxon…’”

The irony of this whole letter is that it predicts that Africa and its development will be as Christian or more so than American civilization, and have even higher moral standards. What we see in reality is... well, less than their wild predictions.

And finally, as a fan of all things related to fairies, I personally was offended by the author calling one of the villains a "sooty gnome." But I will adopt the forgiving and gentle characteristics of my African superiors and not hold her accountable for this offense.