George Sand wrote of Stowe's style in Uncle Tom's Cabin, "We should feel that genius is heart, that power is faith, that talent is sincerity, and finally, success is sympathy" (Fields, Ed., 154). Faith, sincerity, and sympathy are indeed the overarching narrative tones Stowe strikes in the novel and are the feelings she wishes to awaken in her readers. Sympathy is likewise what Eliot wishes to stir in her readers in relating Maggie Tulliver's tragic life. Both Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Mill on the Floss utilize religious themes to accomplish these aims. Each points out the hypocrisy of conventional religious sentiments, highlights sincere religious sentiments within a few select individuals, and compares its suffering hero/heroine to Christ the martyr. By casting their narratives in familiar religious paradigms, the authors ably strike deepest into the hearts of their readers, impressing them with the tragedy of the situations they describe.
Religious authority and traditional Christian themes play a significant role in Uncle Tom's Cabin. As part of the nineteenth century tide of American Protestantism in which social behavior and spiritual regeneration were seen as interdependent (Reynolds, 81), Stowe felt the novel was an "errand of mercy," by calling for an improvement in human welfare and humanitarian reform (Crim, Ed., 583). She contrasted the social system of slavery, which corrupted the owners, oppressed the innocent, and undermined American democratic ideals, with a theological system based on compassion, mercy, and "brotherly" love. And this theological viewpoint is presented as the higher moral authority, one that any true believer cannot fail to recognize and obey. The novel is both a...
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...ver and Uncle Tom, the authors challenge the reader to follow Christ's dictums of treating the lowly, the oppressed, and the suffering as you would him, and to love all others as one love's oneself.
Crim, Keith. Ed. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1981.
Feilds, Annie. Ed. Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1897.
Jones, R. T. George Eliot. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Newton, K. M. George Eliot: Romantic Humanist. Totowa, N. J.: Barnes & Noble, 1981.
Paris, Bernard J. Experiments in Life: George Eliot's Quest for Values. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965.
Reynolds, David S. Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.
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