Eighteenth Century Religious Change in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick

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Eighteenth Century Religious Change in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick The central religious themes of Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick reflect the turbulent and changing religious climate of their time. In their use of themes from both traditional Calvinism and modern reform, the syncretic efforts of both of these texts offers a response to the uncertainty and change of the period. However, their uses of these themes are different; while Stowe used a precise focus on a Christian polemic against slavery, Melville intentionally de-centralized his text in a way that asks the reader to look beyond the medium of expression to the truth which lays behind it, but cannot be contained in it. In this paper, I will investigate the shift in religious climate as it led from orthodox Calvinism up to the mid eighteenth century and the response to it in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick. By exploring the dynamism of the religious climate in this period, it is evident that both Stowe's and Melville's masterworks were clearly involved in this change. As a necessity of the subject matter, it is important to keep in mind before turning to either the history or the works which reflect it, that the discussion here will be of general movements of reform and change. The inherent dynamism of religious institutions and ideas requires that the boundaries by which one defines them remain fluid. While this essay will refer to periods such as The Second Great Awakening or traditions such as Calvinism or Unitarianism, it is important to remember that all of these terms must be used advisedly. While no doubt there are specific polemics involved in how these changes occurred, the sharp delineation and definition which some authors attempt is not a useful m... ... middle of paper ... ...e central question in both Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick. Both works were composed in an atmosphere of turbulence, change, and upheaval, with the palpable threat of civil war on the horizon. The use of religious themes by both these authors was a response to this climate in which a central religious ideology or truth had been threatened as much as the nation itself. The syncretic efforts of both of these text show both authors using the material that these conflicting traditions provided. In the one, the sentimental redemptive program offers a reformative solution to the upheaval; the other highlights it in an effort to de-absolutize all avenues to the truth. That the two most famous texts of the eighteenth century were composed in such chronological proximity, and nevertheless make use of this material to such different ends, emphasizes the conflict in this time.

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