American Civil War Literature – Slavery Essay, Research Paper
Many economic and political factors lie behind the cause of the American Civil War. Among such causes, the issue of slavery is raised repeatedly. Many men and women sacrificed all that they had in opposition to the evils of slavery. Through these hardships comes the inspiration for such an epic of American literature as Uncle Tom?s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her novel, a stirring indictment of slavery, truly captures the scathing realities of life in the south for a black slave. As well, the true story of Harriet Tubman, outlined in a stunning biography by Sarah Bradford ? Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People ? is a story of an individual?s battle against the atrocities placed upon them by the issues surrounding slavery. Both novels introduce key characters that possess virtuous qualities despite the many limitations they face, becoming true heroes in the heart of the American Civil War.
Harriet Tubman, born into a slave family, immediately falls victim to the discrimination and limitations that such a position in society provides. Harriet behaves in the very conventional ways one would expect from a slave. She appears to others as an uneducated, ignorant black woman and therefore worthless in the eyes of the ?superior? white race. To add to her troubles, Harriet receives a severe head injury that only further prohibits her ability to think intelligently. This injury also becomes the cause of random sleeping spells that prove to be dangerous, whether working under an overseer or trekking through the woods to Canada. Most would not anticipate a woman faced with such hardships, could amount to anything. Harriet Tubman, nonetheless, overcomes all obstacles to become a national hero for her fellow black slaves, as well as to a divided country:
In my opinion there are few captains, perhaps few
colonels, who have done more for the loyal cause
since the war began, and few men who did before
that time more for the colored race, than our
fearless most sagacious friend, Harriet (134).
The life of Harriet Tubman is a true story, offering a piece of inspiration to all of humanity. Rising above the confinements of her southern home on a cotton plantation, Harriet flees to unknown territories in the hopes of preserving her human dignity. This in itself is an extremely intrepid challenge. Tubman, however, continually returns to the south (a total of nineteen times), bringing back to Canada approximately 300 slaves. Once she was free, she did not have to return. The fact remains, however, she could not bear the thought of others living in such conditions. As a result, Tubman exceeds all boundaries of courage, becoming a role model to the southern black community and a hero to the abolitionist movement.
Uncle Tom?s Cabin is a remarkable tale of how one individual overcame the many stereotypes that black slaves are faced with, becoming a role model to all those around him. Uncle Tom is a placid, docile man, who although has limited opportunity, strives to gain knowledge and intelligence. He wants it to be clear to everyone that he is not a dirty slave. Many would continue to see him as merely a slave, not allowing him to have any equal opportunities in which he deserves. Despite this, Uncle Tome proves that he too can be dignified and respected. In doing so Uncle Tom becomes the ideal of a brave man to any black slave.
Uncle Tom first displays his heroic nature by protecting what he cherished the most ? his family and friends. By diligently working and proving himself a faithful slave, Mr. Shelby promises him his freedom. Unfortunately, Mr. Shelby comes across financial troubles and is forced to sell Uncle Tom as one of his most valuable assets. Uncle Tom, by this point, has a wife and children. To learn that he is to be separated from them would destroy most people. Even as he faces the opportunity of fleeing to Canada, Uncle Tom chooses to stay most honorable to his master. He realizes the urgent state he must have been in and regards it merely as a necessary course of action.
I would n?t be the one to say no ? ?t an?t
in natur for her to stay; but you heard
what she said! If I must be sold, or all the
people on the place, and everything go rack,
why, let me be sold. I s?pose I can b?ar it as
well as any on ?em (50).
Uncle Tom?s dedication to all those around him is made extremely evident. Without a moment of hesitation, he knows that separating from his family is the only means of protecting them in the end. Most would rather die than face this reality, as he boldly accepts it. He could have been selfish, seeking refuge in Canada. However, more lives would have been lost if he did so. Uncle Tom?s continuing bravery and genuine kindness is phenomenally apparent as he is taken away to an unknown life of unforeseeable hardships. He never doubts his decision for a moment, exemplifying the great quantities of courage necessary in order for him and his family to survive.
Uncle Tom?s strength and perseverance allows his valour to prevail even under times of hardship. After being hustled off to a slave auction, his destiny is determined by his material worth. Winning the highest bid, Simon Legree, an intolerable man, takes Uncle Tom to a cotton plantation in the far south. For the first time Uncle Tom is faced with the degradation that most slaves endure. He has now lost everything, including the integrity he spent so much time developing. Mr. Legree did not appreciate his efforts in soothing the plantation with stories from the bible. Nor did he appreciate Tom?s refusal to accept him as his one and only master. Uncle Tom chooses to stay strong in this desperate time. He provides his fellow slaves with meaning to their mundane lives (at the cost of himself being whipped). Keeping in mind how unfamiliar Uncle Tom was to such living conditions, we see how extraordinary it was for him to persevere, maintaining his own identity and aiding those who were more unfortunate than he.
Uncle Tom?s death is also at the cause of his valiant nature. He recognizes the urgency for two young women, being destroyed by the degrading treatment of their master, to escape to Canada where they would be salvaged. He encourages the idea of them fleeing, promising to do all that he could to help. Once they disappear, the first person Legree goes to is Uncle Tom. Denying all that he knew, Uncle Tom faces extreme torture, ultimately resulting in his death. He freely accepts his death as he cares more to help these two women than himself: ? I know, Mas?r; but I can?t tell anything. I can die!(439)? Uncle Tom?s torture alludes to the persecution of Jesus Christ, as he dies freely to save us from sin. This image strongly associates Tom to Sainthood, as he lives a life virtually free from sin, aiding those in most need of his help.
Also important to note is another key character in Uncle Tom?s Cabin, Eliza Harris, who also demonstrates many virtuous qualities. Again it appears quite apparent that the odds are against this young black slave. Brought up by extremely generous owners, Eliza does not know of a life beyond the Shelby plantation. This puts her at a disadvantage when she hears of talks about a distant land known as Canada, and not have the slightest notion of where that may be. The thought of leaving these fortunate surroundings never occurs to Eliza and perhaps makes her that much more weak. No doubt, Eliza would have been the least likely character to behave irrationally, certainly not appearing to possess any heroic attributes. She, however proves the opposite the moment her most precious son?s life is at risk. Along with Uncle Tom, Eliza?s son faces the consequences of Mr. Shelby?s financial predicament. Immediately upon hearing this devastating news, she grabs her son and leaves. Having no knowledge of where exactly she was going, Eliza leaves a life that was better than most black slaves, to risk death, all in the name of her son.
Through the lives of such characters as Uncle Tom, Eliza and Harriet Tubman, readers are offered pieces of inspiration. Inspiration to do what is right, in times that may be unjust. Inspiration to shine as a hero even in the smallest way possible. It is far easier to pass off one?s disadvantages as a means to escape dealing with many of life?s hardships. This, however, proves to be the less moral decision to make. Such a period of history as the civil war in the United States of America cannot illustrate this fact more clearly. Originating from a time of entanglement, literature was a means of uniting the north and south. Whether it was state against state or brother against brother, literature reached out to every individual. Literature during this time was a means for survival ? a means of motivation.
Bradford, Sarah. Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, 1961.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom?s Cabin. Reissued ed. New York: New American Library, 1997