Is it Just My Imagination…

10 May

…or do the women in the early part of this novel seem to have more inhibitions regarding slavery than the men?  Both Mrs. Shelby and Mrs. Bird (Chapter 9) seem to be very anti-slavery in their convictions and actions, while their husbands think it a necessary evil.    Is this subconscious on the part of our woman author, or just a coincidence?   Maybe Stowe is making a statement that might be considered not very “P.C.” in our time – that women naturally have a certain empathy and morality that exceeds that of men; that their “gentler natures” would naturally resist the evils of slavery and not be swayed by the practicality and mercenary aspects that would cause the men to espouse it.   Just a thought.   Maybe the rest of the novel will give us more hints.


Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Uncle Tom's Cabin


14 responses to “Is it Just My Imagination…

  1. Sarah

    May 10, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I don’t think it’s either a coincidence or unconscious. I think most Victorian-era people believed in some kind of “angel of the house” who was naturally kind and sweet. Though with the Birds we see that a certain reverence for woman’s good qualities is mixed with looking down on her understanding. The really interesting question (which there’s probably no way of answering) would be if more women were against slavery than men (especially in the South where it was practiced.)

    However, I’m at chapter 18, and we’ve now met two women (one unnamed, so not a “character”) who defend slavery and seem to be without empathy. So, we’ll see, eh?

    • Jeannette

      May 10, 2012 at 8:36 pm

      Good insights, Sarah. I think I’d like to revisit this at the end of the novel. Perhaps it is because I’m a woman I’m picking this up more clearly anyway.

  2. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    May 10, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I think you’re right — the women of the novel certainly had more inhibitions than the men. It seems as if HBS wrote the book with a female audience in mind. Perhaps Mrs. Shelby and Mrs. Bird were role models of wifely admonition and appeal.

    When women first read this book, they were no doubt appalled. I can imagine it stirred up a lot of heated discussion behind closed doors. What power did women really have during this time to bring about change? They appealed to their husbands’ consciences. Harriet equipped them with the words to say and the way to do it.

    I’d like to look into this a little more — the initial fall-out from the book, I mean. I wonder if men were sleeping in the dog house or if they were eager to read the book for themselves.

  3. Jeannette

    May 10, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Any way we COULD find out this information, ladies? Perhaps I need to go back to my college English days and remember how to look up criticism on this topic. It’s certainly interesting to speculate.

  4. Norma Carey

    May 11, 2012 at 7:19 am

    Updated survey of today: “Mother’s Day packs pews behind Christmas, Easter.” It seems that on Mother’s Day, moms say “let’s all go to church”; but on Father’s Day, dad says “I’m going to play golf.”
    But as another observer wrote about the women to come later – “wait until you meet Marie St. Clare!”
    I am captivated by this book but at the same time, the characters seem to be very one sided – too perfect or too evil. Except for maybe Augustine St. Clare and/or Ophelia.

    • Christine

      May 11, 2012 at 11:27 am

      In some ways the characters remind me of the ones in Pilgrim’s Progress. They’re tools for HBS to tell her story. We could rename them with virtures or sins like Bunyan did.

      • Adriana @ Classical Quest

        May 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm

        I really need to read PP. It’s everywhere.

      • Jeannette

        May 11, 2012 at 6:23 pm

        Wow – I like that idea, Christine. I’d have some choice names for Marie or Simon Legree.

  5. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    May 11, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Good point about Mother’s Day. I’ve been thinking that a nice copy Uncle Tom’s Cabin would make a good Mother’s Day gift choice for bookish types since it is so full of depictions of saintly mothers.

  6. Jerry

    May 11, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    I think we need to put ourselves into the time period. The only mass communication available was the written word. Most people never left their own state, and very few Northerners would visit the south, especially the deep south. HBS had one goal in mind, to bring the sins of slavery to light to as many people as she could, and she was greatly helped by the best and worst compromise in the history of the US. the 1850 compromise, which allowed the wicked Fugutive slave act to be passed and helped galvinize the North against slavery. Marie is piece of work if you ask me, obviously representing the self centered southern belle. I believe that Stowe is appealing to women to speak out, this was the same time as as the Seneca Falls Convention when women gathered and Stanton & Mott help create this statement, “All Men and Women are created equal”

    • Jeannette

      May 11, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Thanks, Jerry, for your insights. I had thought of the Fugitive Slave Act, but not the women’s rights issues. “Best and worst compromise…” I think I’d like to have you for my history teacher. And I agree – Marie is the character you love to hate. Every word out of her mouth had me smacking my hand into my forehead in exasperation.

  7. Sarah

    May 11, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    The question that also comes to mind is if women were/are more empathetic, is it because they’re culturally conditioned to see themselves as more empathetic? I was recently reading in reviews claiming that many gender differences are cultural that when people are NOT asked to put their gender on surveys, men and women rate nearly equally on perceived empathy.

    It’s an interesting question for me as a Christian, raised with “equal but different”.

    • Jeannette

      May 11, 2012 at 6:27 pm

      I really never thought of that, Sarah. I, too, was raised with that “equal but different” mentality. Anyone else care to chime in on that? It would be interesting to see some of that research.


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