Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin

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Harriet Beecher Stowe promotes two related but distinct moral codes in Uncle Tom's Cabin: One that is based on Christian values, the other on maternal values. Consider how, at the beginning of the novel, both Uncle Tom and Eliza decide to act when told they are to be sold. Uncle Tom puts his faith in God and lets whatever will happen, happen. Eliza, who as well faces being separated from her child, decides to escape. Both decisions, though opposing, are sympathetically portrayed and seem appropriate to each character. The Christian model of behavior Stowe endorses is made clear by Uncle Tom's martyrdom and simple faith in the literal word of the bible. However the maternal model is less clear, since at times it seems to parallel the Christian model, and at other times , as in this case, it differs radically. Eliza runs away to protect her child's safety. Although Eliza's behavior, and the actions of the other strong female characters of the novel, could easily be understood by saying, "a mother of course would do anything for her child", this statement immediately puts the female characters' actions on a physical, real-life level, opposing them to the higher, spiritual choices of their male counter-parts. Are not universal ethics, ones that are held despite the situation, commonly seen as superior to situational ethics? However this hierarchy of choice misses the quality of strength and dynamism that Stowe attributes to her female characters' actions. Such a hierarchy also ignores that Stowe is calling the reader to action against slavery, and by promoting physically-based action over well-intentioned but inactive abstract ideals, Stowe perhaps is giving credence to situationally-based ethics. More than just an ethical code, Stowe...

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... would be interesting to write further on the ways Stowe colludes with sexist thinking or how Uncle Tom himself embodies some of these maternal skills I speak of. Although I recognize these limitations of the paper might alienate my audience to some extent, I hope that my reader will be challenged to form an opinion that accepts the validity of the strong mother figure. Also I hope that the web-page will interest my reader in other theoretical resources. Because I saw the book as a resource and a starting-point for feminist thinking, my web page is also organized in this way. I would like browsers to find my links informative and useful in their own study of feminism and the classics of American Literature.


Ruddick, Sara. "Maternal Thinking." M Studies 6 1980: 342-63

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York: Macmillan Co., 1926.
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