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

Please use this thread to discuss the above chapters of Uncle Tom's Cabin.



Mon Sep 19, 2016 10:17 pm
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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a core document in American race relations, illustrating how the evil sin of slavery continues to traumatise both white and black. Uncle Tom’s Cabin has the subtitle ‘Life Among the Lowly’. This subtitle has already introduced the Christian ideas that blessed are the meek and persecuted, foreshadowing the echo of Christ’s attack on hypocrisy which becomes a main theme of the book.

I have the view that a big reason the Ten Commandments are so popular among the descendants of slavers is that the tenth commandment provides an injunction from God not to covet your neighbour’s slave. This is part of the tradition that only men of property qualify as persons. The commandments also note that the sins of the parents cause problems for the children down to the third and fourth generation. I don’t think that the sins of the 1850s have yet worked their way out of the American political and social system, so it is valuable to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin to help us psychoanalyse the trauma of slavery. Analysing trauma against Christian values can enable us to explore precisely what and who still needs repentance and forgiveness. Some genuine sorrow might perform the task described by John the Baptist in Mark’s Gospel, providing the basis for forgiveness, reconciliation and restorative justice under the eye of grace.

There are six characters introduced in Chapter One, ‘In which the reader is introduced to a man of humanity’. The two gentlemen in Kentucky whose haggling over human chattels opens the book have an instinctive racist contempt for niggers, but Shelby, the supposed man of humanity, feigns genuine humane concern that he may have to sell Tom down the river to Haley the slave trader. Tom only appears offstage, as the whites haggle over whether to toss in a Michael-Jackson-style minstrel aged four as part of the sale price. This child, whose rather surprising name is given as ‘Jim Crow’, gives a show worthy of the Jackson Five in their early prime. Jim’s mother is then doing the hair of Shelby’s wife, and the slave mistress expresses her high ethical certainty that her husband’s morals would not allow him to sell the slave child, mentioning how another black mother went insane and died after her baby was ripped from her arms, and after all, slaves are human beings.

Shelby has so trusted Tom that he sent him to Ohio by himself on business, assuming his respect for rule of law would mean he would return meekly, “a good, sensible, steady, pious fellow”. Haley evinced doubt that any nigger can be a Christian, with a classic Trumpism: ‘some folks don’t believe there is pious niggers Shelby, but I do’. Rather like the recent conversion to belief in Obama’s birth, ‘many people are saying’ things which an individual can express with some doubt while still putting the dog whistle out there among les deplorables.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Tue Sep 27, 2016 8:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
Really glad you're reading the book, Robert. It'll be interesting to track the author's particular limitations--from our point of view--regarding race. Already we see that she, like nearly every single one of her contemporaries, subscribed to racialism. Racism seems the wrong word to apply to Stowe, who had notions about 'the Negro mind' that included lower intellectualism. Racism implies to me belief in inferiority that justifies less humane treatment.

We'll see religion play out in interesting ways, too. I find that Tom's being 'Christianized' shows how high Stowe wished to raise him, as though his believing is proof positive that he is equal, or at least nearly so, to any white. Stowe herself said that it was her faith that compelled her to be anti-slavery, but a profession of faith obviously didn't generally turn believers against slavery, so the faithful failed crucially, something Stowe must know. We even see a hint of atheism in Eliza's husband, George. Stowe gives respect to his viewpoint that a just God could never condone an evil like slavery.

In the madcap antics of Sam, the lovably incompetent Machiavellian, we have the familiar vehicle of common relief. It's unlikely that Stowe will give us a white person clowning like this. It might have been her image of the Negro personality that made her reproduce what now seems like an offensive stereotype.



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Tue Sep 27, 2016 8:32 pm
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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
Chapter Two, The Mother, is written with a cold moral fury, an indignation at the evil injustice of slavery.

George Harris, mulatto husband of the beautiful quadroon Eliza, is handsome and brilliant and inventive and productive, but is condemned to the drudgery of an “intelligent chattel … in the eyes of the law not a man but a thing, subject to the control of a vulgar, narrow-minded tyrannical master.” Out of sheer spite, malice, envy and jealousy at George’s intellectual prowess, his owner, also Mr Harris, takes control of his property, George Harris, removing him from productive factory invention and sending him to slave in the fields. Apparently the sole purpose of this cruelty is to prove that uppity niggers need to be put in their place, to show that the idea that “the man could not become a thing” could readily be controlled by the lash.

A further tragedy in this chapter is in how Eliza’s mistress, Mrs Shelby, persists in her belief that blacks are human beings, creating all sorts of ambitions around common humanity and equality.

When the manufacturer to whom George was hired seeks him back, Mr Harris says, in words dripping with ironic stupidity, “Its a free country, sir; the man’s mine, and I do what I please with him - that’s it!”


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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
I'm interested in Stowe's identifying Eliza as "quadroon," or a person with one mixed-race parent and the other white. With three-quarters of such a person's heritage being white, it is strange that the tainted quarter qualified that person as subject to ownership. The matter of racial accounting can seem complicated: what would Eliza'a son, with a black (but how black?) father be designated? It's obvious, I think, that the controlling factor here is really the shade of the person's skin or the texture of his or her hair, regardless of the perceived proportions of racial mix. You can be a slave with dark skin and kinky hair. But there is a lot to delve into regarding the political uses of this racial measuring.

Stowe says that quadroon women are often gorgeous, uniquely so. Her cultural myopia might prevent her from appraising a full-blooded African in the same way. None of us are likely to be free from such restricted views.

I forget how prominent George Harris is in the rest of the book. His refusal to be subdued can be seen as a welcome counterweight to Uncle Tom's acceptance of injustice.



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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
Chapter Three opens with the genius slave, George Harris, bitterly telling his wife Eliza that he wishes he and his son had never been born. Stowe subverts the moral basis of the master-slave relationship with a classic slave’s-eye view statement:
Quote:
“My master! and who made him my master? That’s what I think of--what right has he to me? I’m a man as much as he is. I’m a better man than he is. I know more about business than he does; I am a better manager than he is; I can read better than he can; I can write a better hand,--and I’ve learned it all myself, and no thanks to him,--I’ve learned it in spite of him; and now what right has he to make a dray-horse of me?--to take me from things I can do, and do better than he can, and put me to work that any horse can do? He tries to do it; he says he’ll bring me down and humble me, and he puts me to just the hardest, meanest and dirtiest work, on purpose!”


The tragedy that law can institutionalise rank injustice in personal power relations based on color is explored. When people can do things, they will. And when an inferior talent owns a superior talent as a chattel, the result is mutual humiliation:
Quote:
“I have been careful, and I have been patient, but it’s growing worse and worse; flesh and blood can’t bear it any longer;--every chance he can get to insult and torment me, he takes. I thought I could do my work well, and keep on quiet, and have some time to read and learn out of work hours; but the more he sees I can do, the more he loads on. He says that though I don’t say anything, he sees I’ve got the devil in me, and he means to bring it out; and one of these days it will come out in a way that he won’t like, or I’m mistaken!”


Arbitrary whipping follows, and drowning of a pet dog from sheer cruelty, malice and oppressiveness, leading the slave to the inability to believe God could ordain such evil.

Canada or death!


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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
Harriet Beecher Stowe is utterly brilliant at tugging the heart strings.
In Chapter Four, we are introduced to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the most homely, delightful, warm and friendly place you could imagine, where the poverty of the slaves is forgotten in a spirit of community togetherness and love.

The chapter ends, after the warming bonhomie of the cabin has created a beautiful glow of shared humanity, with the papers signed for Tom to be sold down the river, floating in chains from Kentucky down the Mississippi to Louisiana to be worked to death. His old owner is exposed as a monstrous selfish hypocrite, claiming to extol Christian virtues but willing to sell a slave to whom he has strong ties of friendship and familiarity, to a potentially ghastly fate of random suffering. When it comes to the crunch, the legal framework of slavery means Tom and Eliza’s young boy are treated as inanimate commodities, existing only in the cash nexus, with no spiritual value. This chapter provides an excellent illustration of how commodification traumatises the owner as much as the slave, producing a horrible alienated greed that cuts off essential human relationships and empathy.

There is a strong thread of authentic Christianity throughout this book, not the self serving faith based on fantasy and lies, but the integrity of saying that unless you are sorry for doing wrong, and understand why your mistake is wrong, you cannot be forgiven, the idea which opens Mark's Gospel. The implication is that American society, due to the indignant absence of sorrow, carries the weight of unredeemed sin as a source of psychological and social disconnection and trauma. Such practical ideas are a good way to analyse concepts like sin against real ethical problems, unlike the fake problems which many conservative churches focus on.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Thu Oct 13, 2016 4:11 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
As an external judgment, Robert, your sentence on Mr. Shelby is no doubt correct. Do you feel, though, that the author means to condemn him as strongly as you do? There is a laudable awareness on Stowe's part that the social acceptance of slavery does compromise even good people, entangling them in moral crime. I think this is a somewhat different phenomenon from the traumatizing of the slaveholders that you speak of.

But no question, it's painful to see the younger Mr. Shelby calling Tom "my boy," regardless of the genuine feeling he may have for Tom. Tom certainly extols Mr. Shelby as a humane master, with perfect Christian meekness. For Stowe, apparently, the Negro race excelled in the submissive and spiritual qualities that made one a perfect Christian, putting the Saxon-blooded ruling class to shame. Here we come up against the reasons for some of the anti-Tom sentiment that animated politically active African-Americans at the dawn of the civil rights era. Tom's refusal to curse his enslavement was anything but admirable.



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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
DWill wrote:
As an external judgment, Robert, your sentence on Mr. Shelby is no doubt correct. Do you feel, though, that the author means to condemn him as strongly as you do?
”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. This is a helpful insight into the actions of the senatorial imperial class going back to the Roman Empire, when Senators wore togas to prevent them from performing manual work, to indicate their moral superiority to those who lived by trade and toil. Meanwhile the Senators were making the decisions for their vast slave estates that cast multitudes into miserable hopeless drudgery, and washing their hands like Pilate.
DWill wrote:
There is a laudable awareness on Stowe's part that the social acceptance of slavery does compromise even good people, entangling them in moral crime.
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.
DWill wrote:
I think this is a somewhat different phenomenon from the traumatizing of the slaveholders that you speak of.
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.

Jane Austen discussed this problem in Mansfield Park, exploring how the genteel classes of England acquired their money for leisure through the mechanism of the whip on the sugar estates of Antigua, discussed at
https://consideringausten.wordpress.com ... -her-time/ “Did not you hear me ask him about the slave-trade last night?” “I did – and was in hopes the question would be followed up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be inquired of farther.” “I longed to do it – but there was such a dead silence!” –
Image
DWill wrote:
But no question, it's painful to see the younger Mr. Shelby calling Tom "my boy," regardless of the genuine feeling he may have for Tom.
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.
DWill wrote:
Tom certainly extols Mr. Shelby as a humane master, with perfect Christian meekness.
You would recall DWill in our recent discussion of the autobiography of Booker T Washington, Up from Slavery, the problem of Uncle Tom’s submissiveness came up as a major critique of blacks who accept the existing social order of the south. Again it illustrates a core problem of morality, the dilemma of evolution and revolution.

Is the position of integrity found in the effort to improve and reform existing systems, such as Tom’s deference to the young white master, or in the revolutionary action to abolish an evil system? Clearly with slavery, abolition had a momentum before the civil war, partly thanks to Uncle Tom's Cabin and its stark presentation of the moral dilemmas involved.

Lincoln’s revolutionary demand for abolition came to make all previous efforts to improve the lot of slaves without abolition appear as craven appeasement. But that is a stark extreme, and the unfortunate thing is that before a revolution it can be impossible for those living within an older system to imagine its abolition.
DWill wrote:
For Stowe, apparently, the Negro race excelled in the submissive and spiritual qualities that made one a perfect Christian, putting the Saxon-blooded ruling class to shame.
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.

There is a strong conflict in Christian interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, with the old ‘lord in castle and beggar at the gate’ theology of stability reading Jesus as commanding Christians to be meek. But liberation theologians note that the first slap is a backhander, an expression of disrespect by the noble to the commoner, and turning the other cheek is an act of defiance, not submission.
DWill wrote:
Here we come up against the reasons for some of the anti-Tom sentiment that animated politically active African-Americans at the dawn of the civil rights era. Tom's refusal to curse his enslavement was anything but admirable.
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.


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

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.

As I make my way through the rest of this book I'm going to be keeping my eye on how the author seeks to further humanize her black characters.



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



Sun Oct 16, 2016 7:16 pm
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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
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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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
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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Post Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 1 through 6
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:
Quote:
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.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Fri Oct 21, 2016 7:13 am, edited 1 time in total.



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