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‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ is an anti-slavery novel written by American novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe. The novel was published in the year 1852. The sentimental book depicts the real existence of slavery, and at the same time claims that Christian love can prevail over something harsh, as the enslavement of human beings. Sentimentalism is the tendency to use or express powerful emotions or feelings without appealing to cause. Literary sentimentalism grew mainly as a middle–class happening, reflecting the prominence on kindness or feeling as a sought-after trait in the newly growing middle class (Warren 31). In Britain, the rise of sentimentalism links to a rising activism consciousness of and alarm for the torment of others reflected in, like the antislavery movement, worries about child labor, and call for better hospitals, charity schools, as well as prison reforms in response to the misery linked to the fast rise of urban misery and industrial capitalism caused by imbalanced labor practices (Warren 21).
Jane Tompkins uses her essay “Sentimental Power” to describe the Stowe’s book and the tradition, because there have been casualties of a number of critical attitudes that liken scholarly advantage with a confrontational discussion. She argues that, like ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, works of sentimental writers are as momentous and complex in ways, other than those characterized by established masterpieces. Tompkins states that the ability of a sentimental work of fiction to move its readers depends on the readers’ possession of the theoretical categories that make up personality and event.
Tompkins, for example, talks of the episode in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ where St. Clare’s daughter, Eva, dies. She argues that the death of Eva, like every other sentimental story, is floods with emotion, but does not help deal with the evils it regrets. The slavery system and the characters remain unchanged, despite her death. Eva always talked of love and forgiveness. When she fell ill, she had a vision. She tells each of the slaves that they should become Christians, in order to see heaven. She also convinces her father to set Tom free. Eva’s death was expected to bring slavery to an end, but it does not. Eva’s father promised to free Tom, but after his death, her mother goes back on her husband’s commitment and sells Tom to a plantation owner, Simon Legree. Tompkins argues that in the novel, rather than being an equivalent of defeat, it equates victory; it brings an excess of authority and not a defeat of it; it is not the sole crowning achievement of life; it is life (Tompkins 11). According to Tompkins, tales like death of Eva, just like the death of Jesus Christ, are compelling; they enact thinking, both political and spiritual, in which the clean and powerless dies, saving the powerful and dishonest, thus showing them extra power than the ones they save.
She argues that rather than being seen as a source of strength, stories of death of children, are regarded as ill-fated concession to the age’s love for the sad scenes. According to Tompkins, Eva’s death proves its effectiveness not through the abolition of the slave system, but through the changing of Topsy, a motherless, young black slave girl, who has successfully refused all efforts to make her happy. Topsy refuses to be happy, because she never had a mother’s affection and believes she cannot be adored. When Eva tells her that Miss Ophelia would care for her, if she were smart, she weeps out: “No one will love me, because I’m a nigger.” In the essay, she argues that by loving Topsy, Eva starts a process of deliverance, whose power passed from heart to heart, is able change the whole world. According to her, the tears of Miss Ophelia and Topsy are the symbol of redemption in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. The feelings of their hearts speak a state of elegance, identified by the sound of their tone, the feel of their hands, but mainly, by their tears.
When George Shelby, son of Arthur and Emily Shelby, arrives late to free Tom, he breaks down, as he bends over his unfortunate friend. When Tom realizes George is there, he lightens up his whole face, holds him tightly, as tears ran down his cheeks. Tompkins associates this falling of tears and clasping of hands to emotional exhibitionism (Beecher 14). She argues this gestures, and tears fall short of revealing the experiences, and rather they point to communion, salvation and reconciliation. She claims that the words of tears seem sentimental, and Eva’s death incapable of achieving the desired aims, since, both the tears and liberation they show belong to a perception of the world that is normally regarded as unrealistic and naïve (Beecher 17).
The author of the essay argues that Miss Ophelia’s and Topy’s salvation , do not change the anti-abolitionist mainstream in the Senate, or stop the southern land owners and investment bankers in the north from conducting business to their common benefit. This is because most current readers consider such economic and political facts as final; it is not easy for them to take a novel that claims on religious conversion as the essential requirement for the comprehensive social change. Tompkins claims the actors in the book link to each other in precisely the same manner. The figure of Jesus Christ is the general term uniting all the fantastic characters in the novel. Tom, Eva, children, women and most of the slaves in the novel all share qualities of impressionability, piety, spontaneous affection and victimization (Tompkins 32). Eva is associates with bright spirits, since she sees them and is soon joining them, as shealso usually wears white and is referred to as an “angel” several times in the novel (Joyce 24).
In conclusion, scholars have studied the literary efficiency of sentimental texts, and found that a number of writers are more skilled than others, however, for the most part they found that, one can find a lasting thematic worth and brilliant literary expression in sentimental texts (Warren 27). Even though sentimental literature used assumptions that are no longer academically fashionable, the importance of sentimentalism still ring today.