Feminism in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
While Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin overtly deals with the wrongs of slavery from a Christian standpoint, there is a subtle yet strong emphasis on the moral and physical strength of women. Eliza, Eva, Aunt Chloe, and Mrs. Shelby all exhibit remarkable power and understanding of good over evil in ways that most of the male characters in Stowe’s novel. Even Mrs. St. Claire, who is ill throughout most of the book, proves later that she was always physically in control of her actions, however immoral they were. This emotional strength, when compared with the strength of the male characters, shows a belief in women as equals to men (if not more so) uncommon to 19th century literature.
In 1848, the first ever Women’s Rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. Though Stowe did not attend, many of those who were strong in the abolitionist movement, such as Fredrick Douglas and Amy Post, did. Thus a correlation was drawn between the abolitionist movement and women’s rights. Both fights were about equality, so naturally those who were supportive of emancipation were supportive of gender equality as well.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin not only follows the life of Uncle Tom, spanning from the time he is sold from his longtime master until Tom’s death, but also follows the life of Eliza, another slave who lives on the Shelby plantation with Tom as the novel begins. But unlike Tom, Unlike Tom, who is a pacifist and will not question the choices his masters make concerning his life, Eliza will not stand for the life of a slave any longer, especially when Mr. Shelby sells her son Harry in order to pay off his debts. In a show of this strength, Eliza makes a run on the Underground Railroad from Kentucky through Ohio and the northern United States in order to make it to Canada. The trip is one of enormous emotional and physical pain, but Eliza never quits.
...she vaulted sheer over the turbid current by the shore, on to the raft of ice beyond….The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she staid there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake;--stumbling—leaping—slipping—springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone—her stockings cut from her feet—while blood marked every step, but she saw nothing, felt nothing...(Stowe 94)
Not only did Eliza continue to jump from ice block to ice block, cutting her feet along the way, but the three men following her did not attempt to do the same. Instead, they "instinctively cried out, and lifted up their hands" (94). Haley and the bounty hunters do not exhibit the same strength Eliza does; they give up on catching Eliza when peril presents itself, but Eliza continues on regardless of the physical consequences.
Another female in Uncle Tom’s Cabin who exhibits enormous strength is Eva...