Jesus vs. Tom and Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin
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Jesus vs. Tom and Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin
In Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe there are two major Christ figures. Those two figures are Tom and Eva. They are Christ figures for many reasons, but mainly for their deaths which mirror Jesus' sacrificial death. I have read both Tom's and Eva's death scenes multiple times and I have also read Jesus' crucifixion in the Bible. Now I want to compare and contrast the scenes to try to understand what Stowe's goal for these characters was when she wrote the novel. Not only are their death scenes to be looked at but also their actions, because those are also similar to Christ, hence the term "Christ figure".
Christ's death scene is pretty straightforward if you are a Christian. I say this because most Christians have been hearing the story of Jesus' death since they were very young and in some sort of Sunday school or in church. Essentially, Jesus was crucified because he claimed to be the son of God and he also claimed to be a messiah. That is not why Tom and Eva died. The main thread that linked the deaths among the three is the thought that these deaths are sacrificial and in essence for the salvation of others. I see Jesus' and Tom's death as running much more in the same vein than Eva's death because she is dying anyway and therefore she is not really saving anyone, in my opinion, if she dies. On the other hand, neither Jesus nor Tom is sick and if they really don't want to die they could just not sacrifice themselves for others. Jesus helps others because he believes he is dying for "our" sins and Tom helps others in his death in the way that it leads to Emmeline and Cassy's escape and also the freeing of all of the slaves on Shelby Farm in Kentucky. Only in the small sense that Eva's death leads to St. Clare's conversion to Christianity and Ophelia's recognition and denunciation of her racial prejudice do I think that she is similar to Christ, but not in the superior way that Tom is to Christ. Tom is because he physically suffers and is beaten for his beliefs just like Jesus.
When I think about these two people (Eva and Tom) as modern day martyrs in a sense I see Eva as the rich women who donates a lot of her money to the poor but Tom as the man who actually gets involved with the poor; both are doing good things, but in a different way. Tom is more connected to the situation in the sense that he is in the fields trying to teach the others to work together, while Eva seems to do smaller deeds such as persuading her father to buy Tom or being kind to Topsy when no one else ever is. My impression is that Jesus is found within both Tom and Eva, but Tom's acts are more physical and Eva's are more mental. We also must remember she is a young girl and it is unrealistic to expect her to do too much that Jesus or Tom do.
As a holy character Eva seems to have a hard time pulling off a believable act. As an innocent child trying to show her family how she sees the horribleness of slavery, I can believe her, but when she moves into the mini-Jesus sermonizing to the slaves before her death I start to lose the sense that Stowe kept a grip on reality when writing this book. It is a nice parallel between Eva preaching to the slaves before death and Jesus preaching to the disciples before crucifixion, but who in their right mind thinks this young innocent girl can mature this quickly just because she is dying? Children are mature, but not that mature, at that age she would most likely be scared and crying (like most adults do when they are about to die). It is so unrealistic to think that a young child can face death bravely, much less an adult, when we know in reality very few people can do such a thing. Eva's character is a very powerful one because she is young, innocent, good, and had a somewhat Jesus-like sacrificial death.
Tom on the other hand is a Christian champion in Uncle Tom's Cabin. He leads a much more plausible life in the story when it comes to being Christ like figure. He actually suffers on the same level with everyone else and has transitory conflicts of faith thanks to Simon Legree. In the end though, Tom pulls through and withstands his doubts and even attempts to encourage others to be as strong as he is in his faith even though he is beaten and ends up dying. I can see Jesus in every aspect of Tom, unlike Eva. Even when Tom has flickering doubts in his faith it reminds me of the part in the Bible when Jesus cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus seems to have similar thoughts that Tom has about his faith when Jesus is being crucified. It is all very apparent that Stowe wants to present clear Christ figures in the book. Although there are two, Tom seems to be a better or at least more accurate figure.
When I looked through the Bible at the crucifixion scenes I was a bit confused because I guess I was looking for more to compare to Tom and Eva's deaths. I found that I had to step back and look at the Bible as if I had read it first, which I didn't (because I had never read the Bible before). So I read the crucifixion scenes multiple times and then I re-read the death scenes of Tom and Eva and I made a list of how Stowe might have been feeling when she wrote the book. My list actually was quite long much to my surprise and it turned out that I began to appreciate the book more after putting myself in Stowe's shoes for a while. I think when Stowe wrote this book not only was she trying to send out messages about stopping slavery, but also to send out some bigger messages as well. Those messages seem to be that imbedded in the book, but I feel that one has to do with the oppression of women and Stowe likens it to the oppression of black people. Many examples of idealized womanhood are presented throughout the book and the few women that are not shown in a good light have a reason such as slavery's wicked pressure to fall back on as an excuse. Another message Stowe is trying to convey is that all Christians should automatically be opposed to slavery because Christian values all are against what slavery is about. This is shown in the book in the sense that the more religious a character is, the more against slavery that person is. We can see this in Eva's character who can't even understand why anyone can tell a difference between black and white people. One the other hand Simon Legree is just the opposite kind of character who represents a nonreligious, evil, person who deliberately practices slavery.
The deaths all have similar elements, crying out before passing on, being extremely good people, having faith in God and their religion at the very end, and creating a change after their deaths. I think Harriet Beecher Stowe had a clear purpose in mind when writing her book and that was to show the world how horrible slavery was and why. She used many methods to show that and one of them was through Christian iconography and I think it was a good way to get across to a large audience because she made it clear that one woman can really impact an entire nation with her writing. Her writing changed the way people though about how blacks suffered at the time of slavery and it taught women that they would be strong and stand up and showed that being a Christian meant being against slavery. I think in Stowe's owe way she was very influential in changing the history of America. Perhaps if she had not written this book and sold more copies than any other piece of literature than the Bible, we might still be living in a time will some stronger lingering influences on our culture today than we already have involving slavery. Stowe's parallels between Tom's and Eva's deaths and Jesus' death was a very cleaver way to make her point about her beliefs, but I think she could have had a stronger book had she just used Tom as a Christ figure. There were some weaknesses in Eva's portrayal as a Christ figure that made the book become weaker in the message it sent, yet I still felt that it sent a pretty effective message across to the audience and obviously with the number of copies sold, the popularity through the ages, and the fact that we are still studying this book today, Eva's portrayal didn't weaken the book enough to diminish it's power.
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Wednesday, 05-Apr-2006 11:29:57 EDT