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Harriet Beecher Stowe's nineteenth century novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, gives incredible insight into the injustice of slavery practiced throughout America during the Civil War era. The story follows two plots, that of a runaway slave fleeing for freedom in Canada, and that of a faithful Negro servant being sold and traded in the ruthless southern slave markets. It is not only the parallel plots, however, that offer a sense of contrast to the story. Through depicting the slavery opposing Christian values and morality, the distinction between racism in the North and racism in the South of the United States, and the characters' differences of values and cynicism, contrast provides the book with an indisputable power to explore social morality of the time.
Contrast is most prominently used in Uncle Tom's Cabin to illustrate the parallel between slavery and Christian values. Religion's role demonstrates a source of hope for slaves, and contributes an ethical struggle to the theme of the story. Faith is depicted for the Negroes as their sole possession, their only hope in a country so readily accepting of their anguish. The representation of Negro faith is through protagonist Uncle Tom, an ethical man who surrenders himself, after the opportunity to escape, so that his profit may help his master. Ever trusting in the Lord, he is assured that he will always be protected. "There'll be the same God there, Chloe, that there is here." (Stowe, 95) His reluctance to renounce his religion ultimately leads to his persecution and death, however his piety remains an inspiration for other slaves. In contrast, for the Caucasian Americans, their religion and Christian values are the source of their struggle to overcome the social norms that oppose their beliefs. Miss Ophelia's character is one that develops greatly throughout her role in the story, ultimately deciding to adopt a Negro child and raise her Christian.
"There is no use in my trying to make this child a Christian child, unless I save her from all the chances and reverses of slavery;" (288) Faith and religion offer persuasive opposition to the hardships of slavery throughout the book.
In addition, the story's portrayal of racial notions varies greatly between the Northern and Southern states. The greatest contrast of region and background is the direction of the parallel plots. One notes that while Eliza's escape takes her north to Canada and freedom, the trade of Uncle Tom brings him further south, to further oppression of his people.
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"I have often noticed, in my travels north, how much stronger this was with you than with us. You loathe them as you would a snake or a toad, yet you are indignant at their wrongs. You would not have them abused, but you don't want to have anything to do with them yourselves." (Stowe, 171)
Stowe depicts the South as a ruthless place, supporting slave trading, oppression, and torment. Further north, as the region of Miss Ophelia's origins, the situation improves slightly, oppression and abuse is less common, while there is a great hatred and intolerance of race. Continuing North leads to the tolerance and freedom for the African American race in Canada. The notion of variation between southern and northern attitudes about slaves is an outstanding contrasting theme.
Furthermore, throughout Uncle Tom's Cabin, characters' opinions emerge and develop as the struggle of slavery progresses. It is to be noted that the younger characters share new-age views, and through their innocence and purity of heart they display the inspired opinions uncommon to that society. The older characters tend to exhibit cynical attitudes that indicate they have been raised learning bitter deep-rooted ideas about human rights. Another contrast in characters is that women seem to be slightly more tolerant of the slaves, while their male counterparts are generally harsher in their treatment. Loving and tolerant characteristics are best represented through the lovely little Eva, daughter of St. Clare, who possesses views of an ideal Christian society, despite her youth and naiveté. Before her death, Eva displays her loving Christian views in a speech to the servants of her household, "I'm going to give you all a curl of my hair; and when you look at it, think that I loved you and am gone to heaven, and that I want to see you all there." (Stowe, 271) The influence of tolerant characters helps mold the development of new ideas about slavery, contrasting those of the past.
Stowe offers a poignant last thought about each of these notions in her final paragraph to end the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
"A day of grace is yet held out to us. Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian church has a heavy account to answer. Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved,--but by repentance, justice and mercy; for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!" (Stowe, 414)
The significance of contrast in Uncle Tom's Cabin runs parallel to the significance of the story itself. By contrasting readers' very own realities, Stowe gives a glimpse of the nation's acceptance of one of its harshest evils and exposes the realities of slavery. The influence of Stowe's rhetoric is shown in the underlying Christian themes, especially as it is a story conveyed to a mainly Christian audience. Contrast therefore offers and outstanding significance to the story's theme.
The use of certain contrast may have been representative for the author of hope and inspiration for her American culture. Perhaps the examples of fine character, such as that of Eva, are used by the author to portray the type of character she hoped to inspire within her society. These characters were very much inspirations within the story, and may be attributed with being inspiring individuals to readers alike. The reference to North and South may be a representation of the capability a society has to change and vary its opinions and norms, and for Stowe to propose hope for the South to develop ideas of freedom for the oppressed slaves. Contrast nonetheless was a basic means for Stowe to bring attention to her cause.
The author uses contrast to allow the exploration of ideas and opinions of black and white, young and old, man and woman, north and south, and in retrospect, between right and wrong. The story presents such a de facto recount of the harsh reality of slavery, and challenges the ethics of both readers of the past and present. These very ideals may lend power to the story for readers to interpret their own societal transgression and compare accepted social behaviour, as Christians, or even just as an inspired audience.
Contrast in Uncle Tom's Cabin provides a glimpse of the blatant reality of lifestyles and social norms of American culture during the Civil War era. The parallel of Christian faith to slavery, the notion of variation of racism in Northern and Southern cultures, and the divergence of modern morality from the original cynicism are each contrasting concepts explored in the novel. Stowe's story is, however, a story of cruelty that is none the fault of anything but man alone. Man's racial intolerance fueled the story's passion, and on a more universal level, readers can learn tolerance and acceptance of all walks of life to allow each other to enjoy the basic human rights and freedoms that our modern society so fortunately encourages.
Beecher Stowe, Harriet . Uncle Tom's Cabin. New York: Airmont Publishing Company Inc., 1967