Immortality in Uncle Tom's Cabin Essay

Submitted By shawmax1
Words: 2918
Pages: 12

Immorality in Uncle Tom’s Cabin Slavery infected American soil since 1619. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the American Declaration of Independence, which boldly announced that all citizens were entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” ironically, owned a Virginia plantation maintained by more than two hundred slaves. Slaves were not classified as ‘human beings’ and consequently were not covered under the umbrella of American citizens. Furthermore, slavery played an important part in the civil war between the Northern and Southern States. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was dubbed, “The book that started a great war” (Tackach 11), because her novel was an “‘errand of mercy’ appealing for an improvement in human welfare and humanitarian reform” (Crim 583), and for righteous moral action on the part of the white Northerners and on the sympathy of Southern mothers against slavery. However, even while exhibiting these righteous moral actions, the novel’s characters Mr. Shelby, Haley, Mr. Harris, Legree, and Mr. St. Clare point out that when society is operating on principles that are inherently unjust, it is impossible for an individual to act morally. Mr. Arthur Shelby is the owner of a Kentucky plantation and Stowe describes him as a noble man, a Christian, and an all around gentleman. By describing Mr. Shelby like this, the author creates him in the reader’s mind as a fine, respectable person. However, at a time when Mr. Shelby is in a predicament, he acts immorally to get himself out of the situation. Mr. Haley, a slave-trader, requires compensation in the form of slaves in lieu of a large amount of outstanding loan he holds against Mr. Shelby. Mr. Shelby sells Uncle Tom, his most “steady, honest, capable” (Stowe 2), slave, a ‘man’ who would ‘lay down his life’ (Stowe 32), for the Shelbys, a ‘man’, he promised to set free. He also sold Harry, a 5-year-old slave boy, even though he tells Haley, “I would rather not sell him. The fact is, sir, I’m a humane man, and I hate to take the boy from his mother, sir” (Stowe 5). In the end, Mr. Shelby chooses himself over his morals to save himself. Mr. Shelby makes a promise, acts utterly different when he is in trouble and bails himself out by using his slaves, no matter how loyal they are. With his morals broken, he has ‘participated in one of the most dehumanizing aspects of slaveholding –selling another human being and dividing families’ (Sockol): Tom’s, from his wife and children, and Harry’s, from his parents. He tells his wife, “…I can't help myself. … But now, my dear, I trust you see the necessity of the thing, and you see that I have done the very best that circumstances would allow" (Stowe 32). He tries to appease his conscience and his wife; because he knows, what he has done was immoral. Mr. Shelby justifies his action by saying, “I don’t know why I am to be rated, as if I were a monster, for doing what every one does every day” (Stowe 32). Just because a majority of people does the same act or deed does not mean it is right. Mr. Shelby believes that he is a Christian man with a genuine respect for his slaves. Yet, the reality that he holds slaves, opposes all that he says and although his treatment of slaves is better than most, he still is not respectful of them. This shows that no matter how valuable slaves are to their masters, they can be sold quickly and easily without a second thought. Later in the novel, Mrs. Shelby complains to her husband that Uncle Tom’s wife begs her to get Tom back. Mr. Shelby replies that Uncle Tom will probably have another wife soon, and she should find a new husband as well. Mr. Shelby indubitably believes that black people can easily overcome losing a loved one, because he concludes just like every master when it comes to slaves: they are not human and that they have no feelings. In dealing with Mr. Haley, Mr. Shelby has associated himself with the lowest class in society, which he