An Emotional Rollercoaster Different authors use different methods to keep readers turning pages of their books. Some authors may use illustrations, some may use humor, some may use mystery or action, but some authors create an emotional attachment between readers and characters – a bond so great a reader can’t put the book down. The latter of methods mentioned, is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s method in her famous slave narrative, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. By introducing sentimentalism into her piece, Stowe creates a deep emotional bond that connects readers to each of her characters and makes them want to know what happens.
Whether readers feel empathy for Eliza, anger towards slave catchers and slave holders, sadness for Eva and Tom, or hopelessness for St. Claire, readers feel as though they must know what happens and will keep flipping pages until they find their answer. This is the beauty of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is not just a slave narrative, it’s an emotional roller coaster. At any moment, readers can feel a different emotion – these emotions can also vary due to the diversity of the reader, especially when the book was first published.
One of the first characters readers are introduced to in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is Eliza Harris. Eliza is a slave, and is responsible for the house cleaner duties of Mrs. Shelby, the wife of her owner. She is smart, brave, and a loving mother. These traits are tested when Eliza learns that her son, George, will be sold to another owner. She knows that a life without her beloved son would be a life not worth living. She decides to leave. Her harrowing escape from slavery is one of the most well known scenes from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, due to her dramatic leap into an icy river in order to save her child.
Unfortunately, due to the passage of the fugitive slave act, Eliza is not free when she crosses the Ohio River; rather she faces further danger in the North. Readers quickly sympathize for Eliza. A description of her in the begging of chapter seven which states, “It is impossible to conceive of a human creature more wholly desolate and forlorn than Eliza,” truly pulls at the heart of every reader (Stowe, 105). Stowe continues describing Eliza’s decrepit life and epitomizes it as the sum of a” suffering” husband and a child in “danger” of being sold.
These fears also were partnered with the fear of risking her life by escaping and the pain of leaving “every familiar object, — the place where she had grown up, the trees under which she had played, the groves where she had walked many an evening in happier days, by the side of her young husband, — everything” (Stowe, 105). Those reading the novel easily empathize and feel for Eliza. They know she is woman struggling with so much, a point in her life when everything was difficult – ever decision a difficult one.
As stated before, she is “desolate” and “forlorn”, for her decision to leave and run for freedom is truly a double-edged sword. If she does leave, her son will not be sold and there is a chance for freedom, but if she flees, her and her son will risk being caught by slave catchers and she will be forced to leave the place she once loved. The readers are lifted in their spirits, however, as they realize the beauty of Eliza’s struggle, for it shows the love she has for her child that she is willing to put her life on the line.
Along with the sympathy for Eliza, comes the anger towards the slave-owners and slave-catchers that control not only Eliza, but also all slaves. Eliza’s slave-owner, Mr. Shelby, upon grows angry at the news of the departure of one of his slaves. He sets out, but is too late, as he arrives on the heels of Eliza as she leaps across the river. He runs into two slave-catchers, Loker and Marks, and quickly convinces them to find Eliza and her son. Stowe describes these two as such devilish people, which readers cannot help but hate them.
For instance, Tom Loker is almost described with the likeness of a wolf when Stowe states, “, whose great heavy mouth had stood ajar during this communication, now suddenly snapped it together, as a big dog closes on a piece of meat” (Stowe, 129). This description, from Stowe’s novel, helps visualize Tom Loker as a carnivorous evil human being, who, even in his jaw movements has the movements of a “big dog”. The slave catchers appear back in the book a few times with equal descriptions causing hate and anger. Another hated slave owner is the last owner of Uncle Tom, Simon Legree.
Legree is the most evil of the villains in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but he is not just a simple villain. He is not just an evil warlock or super-villain from a myth, there is depth. Simon Legree does possess some psychological depth as a character. Legree constantly faces the death of his mother and struggles with how to deal with the heartache and pain of this loss. This is why he sometimes has bits and pieces of compassion towards Cassy, one of his slaves. Stowe does not focus too much on this side of Legree, for that is not his purpose of the book.
The point of the book where Legree takes ownership of Uncle Tom is the moment where Stowe highlights the true treatment and pain slaves endured in the south. Upon Tom’s desire to not give away Cassie’s location, Legree sentences Tom to a flogging. This flogging literally kills Tom. Tom, the gentle angelic giant of the book, is a martyr for his passiveness. He would rather stick up for those who trust him and die, then give away their secrets and endanger their lives. This infuriates Mr. Legree and he informs Tom that, “[he’ll conquer [him], or kill [him]! — one or t’ other. he’ll] count every drop of blood there is in [him], and take ’em, one by one, till [he] give[s] up! ” (Stowe, 583). Readers cannot forgive Legree for his treatment. He is evil and without a heart, without compassion. One of the most compassionate characters of the book is the little angelic Eva, the daughter of Augustine St. Clare and Marie. Right from introduction, readers fall in love with this little girl. Although she is no older than five, she is the only one that treats everyone equally. Eva could very easily be called colorblind. She sees no difference between her family and the slaves her family owns.
She commands that respect is given to the African-Americans. When Topsy, a little slave girl, comes along, Eva encourages the relationship between her and Ms. Ophelia. She genuinely wants what is best for each person. Sadly, readers do not get to see Eva grow up. Her life is cut short in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in American literature. Before Eva breathes her last, little Topsy picks flowers and attempts to bring them to her. Unfortunately, Marie corners her before she can enter the room. Marie scolds Topsy, “you suppose she wants your flowers, you good-for-nothing nigger! Get along off with you! (Stowe, 415). Eva, weakened by illness, walks into the room and tells her mother that she does want the flowers, even though her room was filled with the prettiest of flowers, Eva states, “[She] can’t have too many” and requests that Topsy brings the bouquet to her (Stowe, 416). Later in the same chapter, Eva gives a curl of her hair to each of the people she loves. She gives them all messages and makes sure they know she loves them. One of her last wishes is for her father to free his slaves. Towards the end of the chapter, the words become almost unbearable to read. Stowe writes, “a spasm of mortal agony ass over [her} face, — she struggled for breath, and threw up her little hands. ” (Stowe, 428). Readers know that death is soon for this poor little angel and eventually she breathes her last as a tear slides down the face of many readers. Tom, the main character, brings some of the same emotions to readers that Eva does. He, like Eva, is a symbol of Christ throughout the entire book. Tom is both strong and selfless. He is caring and compassionate. Most of all, Tom is a passive and peaceful man. Not once does he complain of the struggles he faces and takes every moment with the strength from God.
In his strong faith, Tom finds his mission. His faith gives him strength to encounter anything that crosses his path, and gives him the strength to inspire others to do the same. He genuinely cares for every person and wants the best for him or her. This is why he supports Eliza in her escape, and later in the book Cassy and Emmeline too. He himself, however, does not a find the need to escape. His passive attitude keeps him in the position he is in. Readers cannot feel anything, but sympathy for this gentle giant. No matter how close he comes to freedom, he never sees it. When at the St.
Clare’s plantation, Tom serves as both a servant and a role model. He is the strength for the family, especially in the death of Eva. After his master dies, the evil Louisianna plantation owner, Mr. Legree, unfortunately buys him. Tom’s life becomes unbearable at this plantation. After Cassie, a fellow slave, flees the plantation, Uncle Tom is forced to face his last decision – tell where she is or accept what is to come. He chooses the ladder. The consequence of this decision is fatal. Legree beats and kills Tom. Before he dies, he tries everything he has to convert his master.
Even when Legree tells Tom that he will kill him and will be elated at every drop of blood, Tom tells him of the servitude he bestows saying, “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. ” (Stowe, 583). Tom continues, “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! ” (Stowe, 584).
It is almost as though Tom cares more about the soul o his evil master more than his life. He pleads Legree not to kill him for his sake, but so that his soul would not be laden with the sin of death. This truly shows who Tom is and readers shed yet another tear as he later on breathes his last breath, especially since it is due to a brutal whipping. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a book that everyone should read. It is a story that can draw upon every emotion, from sympathy to anger. This is why the pages turn so freely. Readers want to read. Stowe creates that emotional connection for her readers to each character.
They are not just watching the action from afar, Stowe writes so that each person feels as though they are right there, right in the action with the likes of Tom, Eva, the slave masters, etc. It is a book that truly transports readers through time. They feel sympathy and empathy for Eliza, Tom, and Eva, but they are also inspired by their courage. Anger and hatred, much opposite emotions of the aforementioned are felt towards the masters and those who work for the masters as slave catchers. Reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin is truly an emotional roller coaster, but it is a roller coaster that no one wants to get off of.