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Mrs shelby in uncle toms cabin

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2050 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Uncle Tom’s Cabin published in the 1850s is an anti-slavery Christian novel which is once regarded as the trigger of the Civil War in America. The book left great influences to the American people at that time and the effects are everlasting. The author Harriet Beecher Stowe created the hero Uncle Tom as a tragic and miserable slave who never loses faith in Christian salvation but ended with death. The descriptions of sin and evil in slavery expose an acute issue in 1850s America. In this novel, Marie St. Clare and Mrs. Shelby are two women characters who share something in common but totally different in their attitudes toward slavery. In the book, most women play the role of enlighteners who influence their husbands and sons with Christian love and generosity. Much research has been done in analyzing the importance of women characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This paper tries to find elements that cause differences on the issue of slavery between Marie St. Clare and Mrs. Shelby.

2. Marie St. Clare and Mrs. Shelby

In this novel, there are many impressive women characters that exert their influences in their battle towards slavery, such as Mrs. Shelby, Mrs. Bird, Rachael Halliday, Miss Ophelia and even little saintly Eva. However, Marie is an exception in this group of moral female characters.

2.1 Introduction of Marie St. Clare and Mrs. Shelby

2.1.1 Marie St. Clare

Marie St. Clare, a free Christian white woman, is the only female character who thinks slavery is right in the book. Although she is not the one who directly takes part in abusing slaves, her agreeable attitude towards slavery finally changes Uncle Tom’s fate after St. Clare’s death. Marie takes slaves as a degraded race that dose not have right to take part in any fields of the society, not even has the right to praying before the god. Her religious belief is grounded on a false concept which expels slaves from the prayers. However, her husband St. Clare and her daughter little Eve both present to be pathetic and kind-hearted towards slaves. After little Eva and St. Clare’s death, she sells Tom on her own will and pushes Tom to the world of suffering.

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2.1.2 Mrs. Shelby

Mrs. Shelby is also a free Christian white woman whose husband is a slaveholder. In this novel, Mrs. Shelby is depicted as a pathetic, moral, kind-hearted mistress who struggles against slavery. Although her husband Mr. Shelby is indifferent to the slaves, Mrs. Shelby never gives up her beliefs and tries her best to help those pitiful slaves. Meanwhile, she tries to enlighten her husband with her Christian love and generosity. Her son Master George, a kind- hearted young gentleman, is to some extent influenced by his mother’s faith and ideologies. Nevertheless, Mrs. Shelby can not exert her own force in a male-dominated world and has nothing to do with the trade of Uncle Tom.

2.2 Comparison of the two women figures

As is shown in the introduction, Mrs. Shelby and Marie have similar identity: wife of slaveholders and free white Christian woman. Both of them have been related to Uncle Tom for a period of time. As for the different aspects, the largest distinction between them is attitude towards slavery. In addition to that, their experiences and religious beliefs are also distinctive. The following part is to analyze the causes of their different attitudes toward slavery.

3. Causes of different attitudes toward slavery

In order to be integrated, analysis of the causes will be done from not only the textual information but also from the intentions of the author.

3.1 Christianity

Christianity, as another theme of the novel penetrates into every corner of the book and exerts its influence in forming various Christian characters. Uncle Tom is the hero and the representative of faithful Christians who struggles for Christian salvation. He suffers tolerably without complaining as he firmly believes that God will comes to save every creature in the world.

Marie St. Clare believes in God, but misunderstands the essence of Christianity. Jesus Christ uses his own blood to salve every creature and is the savior of Christians. “The text was, ‘He hath made everything beautiful in its season; and he showed how all the orders and distinctions in society came from God; and that it was so appropriate, you know, and beautiful, that some should be high and some low, and that some were born to rule and some to serve, and all that, you know” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin Chapter XVI). In Christian belief, everyone is born equal no one is born to serve others. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, Bible) Marie regards slaves as a degraded race and ignores Christian principle. Her false conception fortunately dose not affect St. Clare and Eva who by instinct treat slaves with kindness. Therefore, Marie’s indifferent attitude towards slaves largely depends on her distorted Christian beliefs. In addition to that, Marie is not an actual Christian but a superficial one for she seldom reads the Bible. Otherwise, she could learn forgiveness, generosity and kindness from the Bible. It is ironic that Marie is a perfect Christian name for women.

Mrs. Shelby, in contrast, considers helping pitiful slaves as her responsibility as a Christian woman. “This is God’s curse on slavery!-a bitter, bitter, most accursed thing!-a curse to the master and a curse to the slave!” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Chapter X) With this passion of anti-slavery, Mrs. Shelby is thought to have a harsh tone of abolitionist, as pointed by Mr. Shelby. She follows the Christian belief of being kind and shows her Christian love to the poor slaves. “I have tried-tried most faithfully, as a Christian woman should- to do my duty to these poor, simple, dependent creatures.”(Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Chapter X) Mrs. Shelby, with her Christian love, although doesn’t influence her husband, is succeed in influencing her son who set his father’s slaves free at last. Mrs. Shelby is to some extent resembles Holy Spirit deriving from the Holy Bible.

3.2 Abolitionism and Feminism

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852, a time which saw the serious conflict between American Northerners and Southerners on the issue of slavery. In 1850, two years before the publication of the book, Fugitive Slave Law was passed, claiming that all runaway slaves be brought back to their masters. (wiki.org). Debate on what women should do to end slavery had been existed by 1851. Harriet Beecher Stowe’ sister Catherine Esther Beecher is a famous American educator who claims that Christian women have the power to end American slavery in order to save the nation Catherine’s influence can be shown in Mrs. Shelby’s Christian love. However, Stowe does not consider women by themselves can fulfill such s tough task. This perspective of Stowe’s can trace the failure of Mrs. Shelby’s struggle against slavery. “The trembling earth, the low-murmuring thunders, already admonish us of our danger; and if females can exert any saving influence in this emergency, it is time for them to awake” (Catherine. E. Beecher) “But, what can any individual do?”(Harriet Beecher Stowe) Marie is the opposite side of Mrs. Shelby on the issue of slavery. She is the slaveholder just as Grimke sister describes: “She would whip a whole plantation of slaves if her husband did not prevent her.”(American Slavery As It Is, Grimke sister)

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Feminism is derived from abolitionism in 1830s, claiming the equal rights of women in various fields. Debates over the role of women in the abolitionism gradually lead to debates over women’s position in the society. Mrs. Shelby’s failure in dominating major issues in the family is a testimony of an actual male-dominated society. Influences of feminism made Stowe put lots of efforts in depicting various women characters in the struggle against slavery.

3.3 Different Characters

Being brought up in a rich family, Marie is arrogant, careless and selfish in nature. She has a sense of superiority to salves and even to other white people. As the only child of her father, she has been surrounded by servants from infancy, and is totally spoiled. Her attitude towards slaves begins to form from her infancy. She is so arrogant that any advices towards her attitude will not do. As a wife, she lacks faith to her husband St. Clare. After little Eva’s death, St. Clare’s trauma in his heart does not present before others. Thus, Marie complains that her husband is hard-hearted and unfeeling when St. Clare does not shed a tear. She can not understand that real trauma is often deep rooted in one’s heart, not just shows superficial moans or lamentation. A selfish woman who does not even believe in her husband is not expected to show any kindness to those poor slaves. Marie’s experience in the childhood and the later marriage leave her strong sense of loneliness as a result. She lives in her own world and never cares other things in the life, not to say showing ant sympathies towards the slaves.

“Mrs. Shelby was a woman of high class, both intellectually and morally” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin Chapter I) In contrast to Marie, Mrs. Shelby is highly respected as a benevolent, kind-hearted and moral woman. Her natural goodness to everyone around her drives her to show sympathy to the poor, miserable slaves. Therefore, she takes Eliza as her own child and indirectly helps Eliza to escape. From her perspective, slaves are powerless friends that demands help and sympathies.

3.4 Tom’s Influence

Tom goes to Mr. Shelby’s home when Mr. Shelby is an infant and leaves good impression on his master and mistress. Mrs. Shelby knows Tom well and to some extent is affected by Tom’s faith, loyalty and honesty through years of services by Tom. As a consequence, Mrs. Shelby’s attitude towards slaves is capable of keeping mild, kind and pathetic. In contrast, Marie’s attitude towards slaves has fixed before Tom enters St Clare’s family. She could not imagine Tom is an exception among these lazy, awkward creatures.

4. Different Results

After Mr. Shelby’s death, Mrs. Shelby is appointed by her husband to take charge of all the estates and deal with all the accounts. Mrs. Shelby succeeds in winning confidence and faith from her husband. Meanwhile, she wins respects from slaves and neighbors around. Marie sells Tom after St. Clare’s death and suffers from her ill heath and loneliness at last. “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Bible Jeremiah 17:10) The two figures different results present to be an echo of the Bible.

5. Conclusion

Marie St. Clare and Mrs. Shelby, although have a lot of things in common, differ from each other in their slavery viewpoints. From the above analysis, there are several causes of their difference, among which Christianity is the main cause. Marie’s distorted religious beliefs forms her indifference towards the so-called degraded race. In addition to that, her selfish nature and character also influence her attitude. Mrs. Shelby on the other hand gains the real essence of Christian love and shows her generosity towards the miserable slaves. In the debate over women’s role in the struggle against slavery, different ideas appeared. At 1850s, Mrs. Shelby is a typical female character who draws attention of the public by exerting her efforts in the war against slavery. On the other hand, Marie St. Clare is an indifferent woman who carries immoral values towards people around, especially the slaves. In order to find women’s role in this novel, much work still need to be done with more specific and accurate information.


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