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Comparing Uncle Tom's Cabin And The Mill On The Floss

2652 words - 11 pages

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 an appeal for righteous moral action on the part of white northerners against slavery and a confirmation of Christian life as spiritually sublime in the rendering of characters like little Eva and Uncle Tom.


George Eliot also deals with themes of morality and religious sensibility in The Mill on the Floss. Narrow and unimaginative morality is contrasted with wide-ranging fellow-feelings of sympathy and compassion, the latter being the truer expression of Christian teaching. Eliot believed that a "large sympathy" beyond egoism was indispensible to moral growth, therefore the individual must develop within the confines of duty to his/her community (Jones, 59). Through her choices, Maggie Tulliver, like Uncle Tom, represents an ideal of Christian suffering and passive transcendence. And, like Uncle Tom's Cabin, Eliot's novel is both an indictment of moral hypocrisy and inaction and an affirmation of the redemptive power of patient endurance. Religious authority is presented in many guises in Uncle Tom's Cabin in order to contrast real religious feeling with the hypocritical forms of religious sentiment. Mrs. Shelby evinces real Christian virtue and understanding when she exclaims upon learning of...

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