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Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6

#149: Oct. - Dec. 2016 (Fiction)
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DWill

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Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6

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Jpack wrote:Just got through the first six chapters of UTC. I've never read this book before but was aware of its importance in the abolitionist movement in US history. My modern sensibilitles were definitely shocked by this book and I can see why it is not read in middle and high schools anymore. While progressive for the 1850s, the black characters with the exception of George are simple, docile "creatures" who meekly depend on the generosity of their "upright" and "kindly" owners. I can certainly see why black Americans in the post-civil rights era are not fans of this work and took up the term 'Uncle Tom' as an insult amongst their communities. I have to say I found reading the description of the happily performing 'quadroon' boy, Jim Crow (is this where that term originated? I have no clue), painful.
Thanks for joining the discussion, Jpack! My library edition of the book contains useful information in back. From it, I learned that many Americans and Europeans would have been much influenced by the various dramatizations that sprang up almost instantly after the book was published and continued well into the 20th Century. These productions tended to go with the comic and colorful characters in the book, deemphasizing the serious and tragic content. "Uncle Tom's original character was almost completely obliterated in the worst and cheapest dramatizations. Somewhere in the tents set among the cornfields he lost his dignity and his persona and became the servile, obedient, sycophantic black man who gave the term "Uncle Tom" its terrible taint" (Mary C. Henderson, from Theater in America). In my view, the portrait of Uncle Tom in Stowe's book would likely not inspire the derision and revulsion that was a common reaction to the character people knew of. It might have been a different Uncle Tom they hated, as Henderson says.
My jarred modern feelings aside, I definitely see how this work was controversial at the time. In particluar, the author's pointed asides to the reader in Chapter's 1 and 2, such as: "So long as the law considers all these human beings, with beating hearts and living affections, only as so many things belonging to a master--...--so long it is impossible to make anything beautiful or desirable in the best regulated administration of slavery" or "A very humane jurist once said, The worst you can put a man to is to hang him. No; there is another use that a man can be put to that is WORSE!". It's not lost on me that at the time of its publishing a fair proportion of American whites didn't consider blacks to be human beings or men.
The book was of course badly received in the South. I'm not sure about the reaction to it from the Northern press. I do believe that abolitionists were not generally well liked even in the North.
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Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6

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Robert Tulip wrote:[”Monstrous selfish hypocrite” appears to me to be how Stowe views Shelby, which is a very painful judgment on those who would prefer to shift their own evil onto others. This becomes clearer once Tom has been shackled and dispatched, and the younger Shelby accosts the trader, in Chapter 10:

“Look here, now, Mister,” said George, with an air of great superiority, as he got out, “I shall let father and mother know how you treat Uncle Tom!” “You’re welcome,” said the trader. “I should think you’d be ashamed to spend all your life buying men and women, and chaining them, like cattle! I should think you’d feel mean!” said George. “So long as your grand folks wants to buy men and women, I’m as good as they is,” said Haley; “‘tan’t any meaner sellin’ on ‘em, that ‘t is buyin’!”


Stowe is here using the amoral trader to voice her view that the grand folks' who benefit from slavery are just as culpable as those who do their dirty work for them.
Yes, abstractly this is true, just as it would be true, although less harmful, that a northerner who bought cotton fabric made in a northern mill is abetting slavery, since virtually no cotton was grown by free labor. I'm focusing on the gradations of Stowe's opprobrium toward the characters who support the slave system. I think her writing clearly shades toward viewing Mr. Shelby as less personally responsible than Haley the trader. Although Stowe would say that Haley is correct that the demand for slaves makes his own business, she would not trust Haley to make a moral pronouncement because of his deep self-interest. He also spouts hypocrisy aplenty, with his claims of humane treatment and his pledges to care for his immortal soul by and by. There will be characters in the book for whom the word 'monstrous' reflects Stowe's view, but she doesn't paint Shelby in these colors. "Mr. Shelby was a fair average kind of man, good-natured and kindly, and disposed to easy indulgence of those around him, and there had never been a lack of anything which might contribute to the physical comfort of the negroes on his estate." Shelby, I think, is not even necessarily a hypocrite. Does he voice a view that Haley is a bad man because he buys and trades humans? Then the charge of hypocrisy doesn't fit. But the morality of our acts goes well beyond whether we speak of one thing and do another, so Shelby is still culpable. It's just that, on the scale of slave masters, Stowe places him on the upper level because the system allowed abuses in which he didn't indulge (though the main reason she cites is that slavery in Kentucky was milder in general than it the states with big plantations). This distinction is a necessary one from a dramatic and artistic standpoint even if we reject a moral base to it. Monsters in stories need to be rare in order to convince us of their reality. I should add that hypocrisy is extremely common and would not usually be the quality that makes a person monstrous.
I think she is going further and asking if a person’s self-perception as good and noble can be justified when their actions betoken hypocrisy. This is a core theme in the Bible, where Jesus condemns the religious leaders of his day as hypocrites for using a good appearance to conceal moral corruption.
Again, my inclination is to not go after hypocrisy with the same zeal that you do. Jesus perhaps had his own political ax to grind, and the pharisees as a class were unlikely to have been hypocritical by an objective standard.
I see hypocrisy as the core problem causing trauma among those who materially benefit from evil. Because in order to maintain a self-image as a good person, their evil action must somehow be rationalised, along the lines of Aristotle’s old view that slavery would exist until looms could spin themselves (which proved correct given the end of overt slavery due to the industrial revolution). Rationalising ones actions generally involves deception, and the construction of an imaginary fantasy self image, which serves to conceal the suffering caused by your decisions. Such delusion produces ideology which produces suffering and trauma.
Well I would agree that Mr. Shelby is deluded rather than hypocritical. He is deluded because he allows himself to believe that he can enjoy the benefits of low-maintenance labor while benefiting these slave laborers at the same time, through relatively kind treatment of them. He puts out of his thinking that the system itself gives the lie to his pretensions. The system may someday require him to disregard completely the welfare of his property if he wishes to maintain his social and economic standing--and the day comes when it does.

I use 'deluded' not in any clinical sense, of course, but as applying to beliefs that become unshakable through acculturation. I think you may assume that people like Shelby know, at some level, that they are rationalizing an abhorrent practice, and so the strain of of covering up exerts a psychic strain. I question whether this is indeed the case, when a person grows up in a culture where slavery is held up as, actually, a humane response to the fact of negro incapacity for self-governance. Being the master may involve little difficulty of conscience. Compare Huck Finn's certainty that he would go to hell for the moral failure of turning Jim over to authorities.
Perhaps the “painful” aspect here is the disjunction between modern values of equality and slave-era values where any assertion of equality between races was rank treason, social subversion, reckless indifference to law and order.
True, and abolitionism didn't hold strongly to the equality of races. Racial distinctions based on character and ability were firmly embedded.
Except that submission is a very ambiguous moral quality. Islam means submission, indicating the need to subordinate our rational faculties before the high eternal alleged wisdom of the Koran. But that has produced the squalor of Islamic backwardness.
I was suggesting that Stowe presents submission as innate to blacks, something they naturally incline to. Slavery thus takes unfair advantage of them. They are, however, better Christians than the Saxons who have been bred to dominate. Stowe apparently chooses to forget numerous slave uprisings, or perhaps she sees the need to make the idea of freeing blacks as unintimidating as possible.
Those are the central moral dilemmas that are still alive within Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I am particularly struck by the messages that relate to illegal immigration and the rights of refugees. These are not simple problems to be solved by indignation, and it is instructive to see Stowe’s effort to hold her own moral integrity in a way that can retain respect for the Saxon world while revolutionising its reliance on chattel labor.
I'd like to hear more about this, as I'm not sure I understand the point.
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Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6

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DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:Stowe is here using the amoral trader to voice her view that the grand folks' who benefit from slavery are just as culpable as those who do their dirty work for them.
Yes, abstractly this is true, just as it would be true, although less harmful, that a northerner who bought cotton fabric made in a northern mill is abetting slavery, since virtually no cotton was grown by free labor.
”Less Harmful” opens a can of worms. The economic system that funds slavery is responsible for slavery. The fact that harm is widely distributed actually makes it more harmful in total, since the momentum of imperial trade provides a scale of operation that makes opposition seem futile. It is rather like economic protection through tariffs, where the benefit is concentrated and the harm is diffuse, but calculation proves that the naïve support for tariffs is overall very harmful. And economic sanctions ended apartheid.
DWill wrote:I'm focusing on the gradations of Stowe's opprobrium toward the characters who support the slave system. I think her writing clearly shades toward viewing Mr. Shelby as less personally responsible than Haley the trader.
I disagree. Stowe is pitching towards the moral northern middle classes, wanting them to identify with Shelby, and wanting them to feel moral discomfort and pangs of conscience about how their benefiting from slave goods abets an evil system. Without the Shelbys of the world the Haleys would have no market for their trade. The pious concealment of this economic reality is hypocrisy.
DWill wrote:Although Stowe would say that Haley is correct that the demand for slaves makes his own business, she would not trust Haley to make a moral pronouncement because of his deep self-interest.
She puts her own words in Haley’s mouth, as a rough voice of plain truth.
DWill wrote:He also spouts hypocrisy aplenty, with his claims of humane treatment and his pledges to care for his immortal soul by and by. There will be characters in the book for whom the word 'monstrous' reflects Stowe's view, but she doesn't paint Shelby in these colors. "Mr. Shelby was a fair average kind of man, good-natured and kindly, and disposed to easy indulgence of those around him, and there had never been a lack of anything which might contribute to the physical comfort of the negroes on his estate."
This picture of Shelby’s fine intentions and noble self-image is undermined by the monstrous system when the economic reality of debt forces him to sell his old black friend down the river. Shelby does not want to be a monster but his situation makes that the only option.
DWill wrote:Shelby, I think, is not even necessarily a hypocrite. Does he voice a view that Haley is a bad man because he buys and trades humans? Then the charge of hypocrisy doesn't fit. But the morality of our acts goes well beyond whether we speak of one thing and do another, so Shelby is still culpable.
That is good analysis, and there is a sense in which the hypocrisy of slave owners is sotto voce, unvoiced, as in the quote I provided above from Austen’s Mansfield Park. The genteel conscience cannot abide profit from evil, since blatant injustice destroys the mandate of heaven.
DWill wrote: It's just that, on the scale of slave masters, Stowe places him on the upper level because the system allowed abuses in which he didn't indulge (though the main reason she cites is that slavery in Kentucky was milder in general than it the states with big plantations). This distinction is a necessary one from a dramatic and artistic standpoint even if we reject a moral base to it. Monsters in stories need to be rare in order to convince us of their reality. I should add that hypocrisy is extremely common and would not usually be the quality that makes a person monstrous.
In accusing Shelby of monstrous hypocrisy, I am not saying he is personally a monster, but rather that he represents the rotten heart of an evil system, precisely because he is able to deflect blame on to the overtly violent others on whom his wealth and stability depend. Again, it is part of Stowe’s masterly capacity to enter the moral image of those who will be able to bring down slavery, as we soon see in the Senator’s wife in Ohio.
DWill wrote: my inclination is to not go after hypocrisy with the same zeal that you do. Jesus perhaps had his own political ax to grind, and the pharisees as a class were unlikely to have been hypocritical by an objective standard.
The text in Matthew 23 is at http://biblehub.com/bsb/matthew/23.htm and is well worth a read to understand the Christian view on hypocrisy, especially the moral turpitude of imagining that kindly deeds of charity can outweigh indifference to the weightier matters of the law.
Jesus Christ wrote:Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.…
As the Reformation leaders noted, there is an absolute quality to the Christian idea of salvation by faith, an either/or decision that determines if you are on the side of the angels or not, and a quite horrendous assertion that to have integrity puts one on the way of the cross.
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Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6

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Robert, on Mr. Shelby, i see Stowe showing us quite effectively that it is when "fair average men" are fronting for a completely immoral system, that we face the greatest obstacle in rooting out the evil. I think you may agree basically with that, from your response above. There are many layers of protection from reality that a person such as Mr. Shelby can call on, but my point would be that he does so largely unconsciously, without challenge to his assumptions. He sees approval for his slave-holding everywhere he looks, except from abolitionists who are outside the moral pale. I suppose I would say there is some glimmer of hopefulness in hypocrisy, if it means that awareness of fault is lurking somewhere.

I don't think we should forget that it is still worth something, in Stowe's view, that Shelby doesn't brutalize his slaves. She even suggests that maybe the master-slave relationship would be an okay one if the idyll of the Shelby plantation were repeated throughout the South. But, shattering that "dream of the oft-fabled poetic legend of a patriarchal institution" is the "shadow of law" that assigns the right to Mr. Shelby to dispose of human property any way he wishes.
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Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6

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DWill wrote: I use 'deluded' not in any clinical sense, of course, but as applying to beliefs that become unshakable through acculturation.
This phrase, unshakable through acculturation, points to a central lesson from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The trauma induced by supporting and inflicting cruelty produces psychic scars for the perpetrator, wounds in the soul which can only be managed through the rather intense delusion of an alienated ideology, where all common humanity between black and white is erased from conscience.

Racial prejudice is a coping mechanism for an unjust world, a way to rationalise evil by pretending it is good. The pretence is so useful and comforting that it steadily evolves to the status of divine law, as Stowe will explain in a theological debate in Chapter 12, where Tom is revealed as only being familiar with the New Testament and its message of love and justice, and therefore lacking the resources of Moses to justify the view of the ten commandments that only a property owning father qualifies as a person, all other humans having the status of chattels.
DWill wrote: I think you may assume that people like Shelby know, at some level, that they are rationalizing an abhorrent practice, and so the strain of covering up exerts a psychic strain.
This psychic strain reached breaking point early in the evolution of slavery, crippling the mentality of the owner into a warped fantasy, driven by the need to justify the unjust social relations of slavery. Given the observation of Moses in the Ten Commandments that evil inflicts suffering on the children of the evildoer, I think we can see Trump’s wall as a warped piece of antebellum nostalgia for slavery, a longing for a fantasy that is gone with the wind.
DWill wrote: I question whether this is indeed the case, when a person grows up in a culture where slavery is held up as, actually, a humane response to the fact of negro incapacity for self-governance. Being the master may involve little difficulty of conscience.
Your comment here about the psychology of slavery invites the question whether a subconscious or unconscious awareness that slavery is unconscionable has any effect on the mind of the slaver. I think it has a big effect, even where the slaver is consciously unaware that slavery is abhorrent.
DWill wrote: Stowe presents submission as innate to blacks, something they naturally incline to.

That is not true. Stowe’s depiction of the dignity of the slave George as like Patrick Henry, in his I AM A MAN flashing eyes as he plans his escape to Canada against his credo of liberty or death, is not submissive. The constant sorrow of mothers torn from their children is not submissive.
DWill wrote: perhaps she sees the need to make the idea of freeing blacks as unintimidating as possible.
There can be no doubt Uncle Tom’s Cabin has a keen eye for the tactical impact of specific stories on the emotional heartstrings of the American voter. Her clear aim is that people who are sympathetic to slavery will read her book and be converted to support abolition by the moral force of her argument, which naturally includes an implied promise that abolition can be achieved in a safe and stable way.
DWill wrote:
Those are the central moral dilemmas that are still alive within Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I am particularly struck by the messages that relate to illegal immigration and the rights of refugees. These are not simple problems to be solved by indignation, and it is instructive to see Stowe’s effort to hold her own moral integrity in a way that can retain respect for the Saxon world while revolutionising its reliance on chattel labor.
I'd like to hear more about this, as I'm not sure I understand the point.
I will come back to this point in relation to Eliza’s effort to gain asylum in Ohio while the slavers try to catch her back to Kentucky to sell her son down the river. The contemporary problems of illegal immigration bear strong comparison to these moral challenges of escaped slaves. The idea that we can create a hermetic seal to protect the rich world from the poor world is no more realistic than the idea that the South could have continued with a slave economy. But if building walls is one proposed solution, the other extreme is the idea of open borders and free movement of people around the world. That raises a host of problems around topics such as stability, rule of law, the nation state, property rights, moral incentives, corruption, cultural identity and relativism. The problem of political correctness is the tendency to see morality as a question of rival social camps, with the left as good and the right as bad. Such polarisation around social justice illustrates how people retreat into their own social bubble. Stowe wants to respect white society while coaxing it to support reform towards equality without coming apart. Uncle Tom has a central role in that process.
Last edited by Robert Tulip on Fri Oct 21, 2016 7:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6

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Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote: I use 'deluded' not in any clinical sense, of course, but as applying to beliefs that become unshakable through acculturation.
This phrase, unshakable through acculturation, points to a central lesson from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The trauma induced by supporting and inflicting cruelty produces psychic scars for the perpetrator, wounds in the soul which can only be managed through the rather intense delusion of an alienated ideology, where all common humanity between black and white is erased from conscience.

This psychic strain reached breaking point early in the evolution of slavery, crippling the mentality of the owner into a warped fantasy, driven by the need to justify the unjust social relations of slavery. Given the observation of Moses in the Ten Commandments that evil inflicts suffering on the children of the evildoer, I think we can see Trump’s wall as a warped piece of antebellum nostalgia for slavery, a longing for a fantasy that is gone with the wind
I think that, on the contrary, a belief in the positive rightness of slavery would not involve the perpetrator in the stress and psychic punishment you describe. If slavery is not recognized as a moral wrong, how then could those in mastery over other humans suffer from plaguing guilt? How do you know that this psychic strain emerged "early in the evolution of slavery"? Wouldn't there have been some indication that morality was evolving in the direction of greater compassion? But no, modern Europe went right along with slavery, until Enlightenment ideals, and religion, finally introduced a belief in its evil that has become almost universal.

Slavery existed in several forms besides that of chattel slavery, practiced in the U.S. It wasn't "nice" in any of its forms, but it was a part of most types of social orders for many centuries and was often not as horrible a deal as it was here.

I abhor Donald Trump, but I can't reach as far as you do on this topic. I don't see wanting to wall people out, or to send them back by the millions, as replicating slavery. With him, there is a clear racist intent, but that is not tantamount to a nostalgia for slaves to do our work. He apparently wants Americans to do the "slave" work that immigrants are doing now.
Racial prejudice is a coping mechanism for an unjust world, a way to rationalise evil by pretending it is good. The pretence is so useful and comforting that it steadily evolves to the status of divine law, as Stowe will explain in a theological debate in Chapter 12, where Tom is revealed as only being familiar with the New Testament and its message of love and justice, and therefore lacking the resources of Moses to justify the view of the ten commandments that only a property owning father qualifies as a person, all other humans having the status of chattels.
Yet I'd find it surprising if Tom didn't have an acquaintance with the OT. The black slaves were the new Israellites, and black spirituals harkened to OT stories. Tom is not portrayed as someone who with any sort of scholarly knowledge of the texts and is not a skilled reader. Even if he had noted the mention of slaves as possessions in Exodus, he would not have felt betrayed by his God. Tom accepts his enslaved fate; that is an essential part of his character.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote: Stowe presents submission as innate to blacks, something they naturally incline to.

That is not true. Stowe’s depiction of the dignity of the slave George as like Patrick Henry, in his I AM A MAN flashing eyes as he plans his escape to Canada against his credo of liberty or death, is not submissive. The constant sorrow of mothers torn from their children is not submissive.
What color is the skin of George and Eliza? Both can pass as white. I'm not trying to pass off a revisionist version of the book, but it is clear that Stowe believes, as many enlightened people of the time did, that blacks had distinctly different constitutions from whites. They are more childlike, more emotional, and have less assertiveness and intellect than whites have. Stowe sprinkles such comments throughout the book. George and Eliza have these white or Saxon qualities because of their preponderant white blood.
The African race, in their own climate, are believers in spells, in 'fetish and obi,' in the 'evil eye,' and other singular influences, for which there is an origin in this peculiarity of constitution....which can only be accounted for by supposing peculiarities of nervous constitution quite different from those of the whites...Considering those distinctive traits of the race,it is no surprise to find in their religious histories, when acted upon by the powerful stimulant of the Christian religion, very peculiar features. From The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, by H.B. Stowe.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote: perhaps she sees the need to make the idea of freeing blacks as unintimidating as possible.
There can be no doubt Uncle Tom’s Cabin has a keen eye for the tactical impact of specific stories on the emotional heartstrings of the American voter. Her clear aim is that people who are sympathetic to slavery will read her book and be converted to support abolition by the moral force of her argument, which naturally includes an implied promise that abolition can be achieved in a safe and stable way.
Abolitionist writings in general were fiery and in-your-face, so Stowe thought there was a way to go through the heart of readers to achieve greater sympathy for the abolitionist cause. She was right.
I will come back to this point in relation to Eliza’s effort to gain asylum in Ohio while the slavers try to catch her back to Kentucky to sell her son down the river. The contemporary problems of illegal immigration bear strong comparison to these moral challenges of escaped slaves. The idea that we can create a hermetic seal to protect the rich world from the poor world is no more realistic than the idea that the South could have continued with a slave economy. But if building walls is one proposed solution, the other extreme is the idea of open borders and free movement of people around the world. That raises a host of problems around topics such as stability, rule of law, the nation state, property rights, moral incentives, corruption, cultural identity and relativism. The problem of political correctness is the tendency to see morality as a question of rival social camps, with the left as good and the right as bad. Such polarisation around social justice illustrates how people retreat into their own social bubble. Stowe wants to respect white society while coaxing it to support reform towards equality without coming apart. Uncle Tom has a central role in that process.
How soon would it have become apparent that the South could not continue as a slave economy? The seeds of its dissolution weren't there in 1860, with the slave population at its height and the Kansas-Nebraska Act having made each state sovereign regarding the legality of slavery. Not so unrealistic after all that the slave economy could persist for a good while longer.

Again not to detract from Stowe, as her mission of ending slavery was hard enough. She did not necessarily promote equality of the races, not supporting universal suffrage for blacks until a long while after the war, and advocating in UTC (via George Harris) that the race problem be handled by expatriating blacks to Africa.
Last edited by DWill on Sat Oct 22, 2016 8:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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