Evaluate Uncle Tom’s Cabin using Jane Tompkins’s essay “Sentimental Power” as a critical lens.

One of the surest ways to capture the emotions of individuals viewing or reading any works of art is by churning up their emotional aspects when interacting with the readings. In view of this, most writers come up with sentimental novels in order to provoke an emotional response from the readers. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is among the most sentimental books and due to this, it has flourished vehemently within the genre. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of the book, is a renowned writer of American fiction stories. At the time when the book was being written, atrocities such as slavery, cruelty and degrading treatment of people were very common. The oppression showcased of the poor by the rich brings out sentiments among the community members. The emotional power in the book keenly addresses the plight of women in the society. Therefore this paper seeks to discuss and evaluate how emotional power is prevalent within this story as stated by Jane Tompkins in her evaluation.

According to Jane Hopkins, Stowe’s book belongs to the sentimental genres that focus on matters of women and has many examples of how women are famous in the society. Women are at the center of power, culture, affluence and even the political stance of any society as mentioned in the book. Tompkins believes the myth that women are at the central position of authority and influence within the society (Stowe pp.39). Thus the emotional power is depicted in various ways but mainly at the moment when Eva, the little girl, aged seven years has golden hair that dies. The death of Eva is the cornerstone of all the occurrences within the story about culture, power, Christian soteriology as well as death and its significance within this society. Further, Tompkins believes that all the scenes that Eva appearances are sentimental to the reader of this book. She goes ahead to state that the life and death of Eva is considered the epitome of Victorian Sentimentalism. In Stowe’s description, little Eva’s friendly, caring and accommodative nature brings everyone who interacts with her to leave with a smile on their face. Eva is also very caring and quickly creates a rapport with anyone she encounters. For instance, she met with Tom an African American slave, and they immediately became friends. She loved him to the extent of begging her parents to buy him as their slave. Such occurrences give the evidence of sentimentalism in the story especially in relation to the divide between people of different classes. However, when Eva falls sick, everyone becomes sad and have a melancholic mood. Eva brings together the slaves as well as their masters through her suffering. Stowe (pp.173) also shows that the slaves and their masters cry on each other’s shoulder due to Eva being sick. Any person reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin will be brought to tears by reading such a scene in the book due to the emotional image the readers are likely to create in their minds.

The death of Eva has an emotional power on the entire household including the slaves as well as the community. When Eva is almost taking her last breath, she asks her father to set her slaves free. Her death is supposed to serve as redemption for her parents as well as the slaves he holds.  Eva believes that as she dies, she is going to heaven and will be reunited with her family and friends in future when they also die. Stowe clearly shows that death is an equivalent of victory and not of defeat. Through Eva’s death, slaves will be set free and her parent’s evil deeds healed when the slaves are set free because Eva is pure (Jane pp.135). Eva’s death brings an end the notion that people are property and that they should be sold.

The women in Stowe’s work have an emotional effect on their husbands. For example, the wives of the wealthy slave masters such as Mrs. Bird, St. Clare’s mother and Legree’s mom use their feminine power to influence their husbands to let the slaves such as Eliza free. Further, the courageous character of the women such as Mrs. Shelby has left their husbands submissive and easily influenced. The women quickly cry such as Cassy who have an effect on their spouses and hence have an influential power that makes the men turn away from their sinful and tyrant nature (Stowe pp.169). Therefore Tompkins is correct when she states that Uncle Tom’s Cabin has an epitome of Sentimental power that is clearly portrayed by the female characters in the book.

Stowe uses his work to depict a political as well as a religious theme in the society where the death of Eva serves as a road to redemption of the corrupt and the powerful. The reason for Eva being the path to recovery being that Eva is pure and powerless. According to David (pp.183), Stowe’s background played an important role in the religious orientation and also the beliefs of her daughter. In particular, David notes that Stowe’s background of intellectual preachers were the fundamental entities that shaped her religious visions. We note that Eva is very religious and she believes she is going to heaven because of the good deeds she has done, the good and blameless life she has led, and also standing firm with justice by requesting her father to free the slaves. All these factors were influenced by the religious background which was mainly staunch preachers.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is used to depict how the society will be in future. The presence of a peaceful environment without slavery or any form of inhuman treatment has been well presented in the book. He exemplifies this through using the term ‘Woman’ to mean God. The name of the Woman is Rachel whereby it was during the last supper, and people were embracing her table. In Stowe’s words, “ All moved obediently to Rachel’s gentle,…Everything went on socially, so quietly, so harmoniously, in the great kitchen,-it seemed so pleasant to everyone to perform just what they were doing, there was an atmosphere of confidence and good fellowship everywhere,” (Jane, pp 141-42).  As tears came down, Miss Ophelia and Topsy cry uncontrollably and let out their emotions which portray a state of grace within the book.

I agree with Tompkins view that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an epitome of sentimentalism. The reason is that immediately Eva falls ill, every person in the book becomes very emotional. According to Sundquist (pp. 25), Eva is united with the ministerial leader of evangelistic, social reform and the prime actor in sentimental literature is the child. The true emotion of Eva is well explained by Uncle Tom when he describes how loving, caring, and social Eva was, and this made her interact well with most people. For instance, a conversation between Eva and Tom leaves the reader‘s eyes teary. No matter how high or hard headed any reader is, when such words come from a young angelic girl who is ill and on her sick bed, the reader is bound to become sentimental. Therefore Tompkins view is accurate as the content of the book clearly depicts this notion.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin clearly depicts a sentimental epitome in the society. It is clearly seen when the death of an angelic little Eva brings together the community. The slaves, their masters, the discriminated because of color or race are all brought together in the morning and despair of Eva’s death. To sum up, Tompkins’s view that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an epitome of Victorian Sentimentalism is correct and clearly depicted in the story. Stowe’s presentation places Little Eva as the central point of all the sentimental feelings among the community, and her death crowns it all.

 

 

 

Works cited

Davison S. Reynolds. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United  States: Pen and Conscience. London: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 1985.

Gossett, Thomas F. Uncle Tom’s Cabin And American Culture. 1st ed. Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985. Print.

Jane Tompkins. “Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Politics of Literary History.” In Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860. New York: Oxford UP, 1985. Pp. 122-146.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1st ed. Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1852. Print.

Sundquist, Eric J., ed. Introduction. New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. London: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

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