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    Thoughts on Uncle Tom’s Cabin {Entry 2}

    July 20, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    A typical “education” provides us with a very insufficient view of history. We have no depth. Instead, we are taught talking points about various events in the past.

    Take, for instance, the issues of the Civil War and of slavery. I don’t really remember studying it at all. It is possible that I don’t just remember. But really, what I remember is being taught that slavery is bad, and then it logically followed that in the Civil War the Northerners were the Good Guys and the Southerners were the Bad Guys.

    End of discussion.

    What I love about the education I am trying to give to my children is that they get the opportunity to dig into the story a bit more. In the process, I hope that they learn not some sort of rote recitation of who and what is good and who and what is bad, but that they learn to feel properly about situations.

    Uncle’s Tom’s Cabin
    {assigned for AO Year 10}

    Reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin caused me to feel about slavery. In comparison, it is interesting to look back on the history I was taught in school as a child and see that not only do I not recall having any emotion about it at all {other than thinking it was boring}, but I recall thinking that perhaps it was inappropriate to have emotions about history. We were told when I was very young that emotions were a sign of “bias” and to be avoided in history.

    It seems to me, though, that as we read history, we ought to feel very strongly about it. I’m not saying that we are to manufacture emotions, but it just seems natural to read, for instance, the story of Uncle Tom and feel a whole range of emotions.

    Today I want to share two things that Uncle Tom’s Cabin taught me about the system of slavery and the politics of that era that I had never even thought about before. It is possible these ideas were never introduced to me. It is also possible that they were, but that a dusty textbook full of facts can never put on flesh like fiction can.

    Slaves Weren’t Allowed to Have Families

    I always knew that when babies were born to slave women, they, too, were the property of the slave owner. But I never thought about the implications of this. As a mother, it was heart-breaking to read tale after tale concerning slave women having their children literally ripped out of their arms and sold, and to know that the “law” allowed such things.

    Marriage, too, was illegal. Though some owners allowed their slaves to marry, those marriages were not respected by the law, and often they weren’t respected by the slave owners. So, if the marriage was convenient for the owner, it might continue, but if not, it might not. An owner legally owned body and soul. He could command a slave woman to marry, or to “breed,” and he could sell a husband away from a wife without recourse {in this life, at least}.

    The dialogue concerning these issues was sickening. For instance, Stowe portrayed one man as justifying this because he believed that blacks were the link between animals and man. {Incidentally, I believe this idea from the 1800s is covered in the book Darwin’s Plantation, which I just acquired and plan to read in the near future.} Considering that Stowe and Darwin were publishing their works around the same time, this lends more credence, in my mind, to the idea that Andrew Kern is always propagating–viz., that Darwin is a product of his time. Kern says he justified the British economy {many of Darwin’s famous terms originate in works of British economists, according to Kern}. I say it is likely he also justified the American slave-based economy.

    In another instance, two slave traders were wishing that these women could be brainwashed into forgetting their natural instincts toward their children. It would make their jobs so much easier if slave women were bad mothers. According to an article over at Black News, 1786 African-Americans are aborted daily in the United States. Sadly, it seems the dreams of the slave traders have come true in the worst possible way.

    It is hard to read this book and not see some of today’s cultural problems as being the direct, logical consequences of what has gone on before us.

    Good Owners Justified a Bad System

    Stowe started her book from an interesting place. She began with an idealistic version of a Kentucky plantation, where the owners were kind Christian people {well, the owner’s wife was a Christian–the owner himself was a caring man}. The slaves were well cared for. They were fed and clothed. Uncle Tom had his own home–a little cabin–with his delightful little family. The slaves had leisure time for Bible reading and singing.

    In time, we learn that these good owners are used politically to declare that the system “works.” Look how happy these slaves are! Goodness! It almost makes me want to be a slave myself! This is what the politicians could say when pointing to these “good” plantations and kind owners.

    It seemed to be Stowe’s opinion that Christians, trying to live Christianly within the system {rather than opting out or even fighting the system}, actually prolonged the existence of the system. If the only plantations left had been bad plantations, it would have been easier to get rid of the system. Or so the thinking goes.

    Another realization was that slaves belonging to good owners weren’t as protected as they seemed to be. The second an owner got himself into debt, or died without a finished will in place, the slaves were sold down the river to some of the worst plantations around, often to die within a few years. If the difficulty in acclimating to the weather didn’t kill them, the overwork did.

    Thinking Through Our Own Culture

    I found myself wondering about our culture today. Are there places where Christian participation is actually detrimental? Are there places where our involvement actually causes people to justify a bad system? Or will it only be that in the retrospect of history, we will see our own flaws and weaknesses?

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  • Reply Rebekah July 21, 2011 at 2:29 am

    First of all, I have to say that I too grew up with the impression that the south was bad, the north good. My own mother has the middle name Lee after general Lee of the South. This always bothered me because I thought he was bad. My oldest has the same middle name in honor of my mother but since that time I have had a paradigm shift in regards to the Civil war issue. I have also had a growing interest in learning more about it and General Lee and have learned that Mr. Lee was a honorable and good man. Oh the brainwashing public schoolers recieve! I have Uncle Toms Cabin on my list of to read this year.Thanks for the thought provoking questions! They are good ones to ponder on, if only more of us would!

  • Reply Mystie July 21, 2011 at 12:47 am

    I completely agree with your responses to Stowe’s novel, but what holds me back is the oddity of my own education, which was rather pro-Southern while being anti-slavery. I can’t find anything off the top of Google, but I remember when I read it in high school (with Bob Jones curriculum), the caution was that Stowe was a Northerner, having never experienced what it was actually like in the South. Her hope and her whole point was to gin up outrage at the slave system — hence, the “novel that started the war.” It was more a propaganda piece (that worked) than an accurate portrayal of the complexities of real life in the South. That, at least, is what I was led to believe in high school. 🙂 And I don’t like granting pathos when I feel like it’s being manipulated out of me, especially for a political cause — which is was at the time.

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