Thursday, October 15, 2009

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Michael Fong
English 48A
Journal #7 Harriet Beecher Stowe
October 8, 2009

"A thousand lives seemed to be concentrated in that one moment to Eliza. Her room opened by a side door to the river. She caught her child, and sprang down the steps towards it. The trader caught a full glimpse of her, just as she was disappearing down the bank; and throing himself from his horse, and calling loudly on Sam and Andy, he was after her like a hound after deer...Right on behind they came; and, nerved with strength such as God gives only to the desperate, with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond. It was a desperate leap-impossible to anything but madness and despair; and Haley, Sam, and Andy, instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands, as she did it." (Stowe 1719)

"'Uncle Tom's Cabin' came from the heart rather than the head. It was an outburst of deep feeling, a cry in the darkness. The writer no more thought of style or literary excellence than the mother who rushes into the street and cries for help to save her children from a burning house thinks of the teachings of the rhetorician or the elocutionist. " - Charles Stowe in The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1889)

With Haley the slave trader hot in pursuit and finally discovering the location of Eliza, in an act of desperation she flings herself into the river and successfully crosses it with her baby by using the ice. The move separated Eliza from Haley. thus providing her with a temporary sanctuary on the other side of the river on the shore of the Ohio side.

The coldest of hearts would still surely have felt pangs of sorrow for Eliza in Uncle Tom's Cabin. To venture across thin ice in the face of death is virtually an impossible mission even for a single individual, let alone one carrying with her one of the most precious burden a woman ever could carry. The relation between prey and predator, the hunted and the hunter is extremely striking, and at the same time, bitter and depressing. Even to the normal hunter, to shoot a deer when its calf is by its side would surely strike a certain sense of guilt within the hunter. It could be seen that Haley, on top of obviously not regarding Eliza as a normal human being, also ignored the fact that she was a helpless parent with a child. To commit such act of violence requires much greed and evil to blind the eye; evidently slavery could have the means to drive an individual to such horrific ends.

Stowe, in my opinion, is one of the finest war photographers of slavery. Her words are snapshots of the state of slaves at that time, and she constantly places us again and again in the action, appealing to us, the readers, to join with her the escape of Eliza. We are asked to feel the tension and fear when Eliza runs away, the cold searing pain and blood when she crosses the river, and the despair and sorrow when she relates her sad past to Mr. and Mrs. Bird. It did came from the heart rather than the head, as Charles Stowe put it. There is no manipulative use of rhetoric, no secret underlying agenda, nothing but the stark naked truth of slavery staring at us right in the face. This is what made Uncle Tom's Cabin so powerful; it immortalizes the valiant struggle of slaves for freedom, and at the same time documents the painful history of America's past in which should not be forgotten.

1 comment:

  1. 20 points. Great idea: "Stowe, in my opinion, was one of the greatest war photographers on slavery." I have also long thought of her work as "cinematic" -- decades before cinema.