The Evils of Silence
The famous scientist Albert Einstein once said, “The world is not a dangerous place because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing. “All men and women alike have an idea of morality in their head, a sense of right and wrong. But the ability to channel that opinion and turn it into action often never gets carried out. People usually know the ethical thing to do but why do they turn their backs on the very principles in which they believe in? In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe addresses slavery as an undeniable evil and clearly states that the effects of slavery have as much influence on its oppressors as the slaves experiencing oppression. No two characters embody the central conflicts of slavery more than Mr. Shelby and Augustine St. Clair. They both have upstanding reputations and respectable natures, characteristics which lead them to the conclusion that blacks should not receive the kind of dehumanizing and brutalizing treatment American slavery brings. However, these honorable men contradict their internal feelings by remaining silent in the face of evil: lack of humility, moral courage, and intellectual honesty hold them back from making a difference in the oppression of an entire human race.
Mr. Shelby’s lack of humility continuously clouds his judgment and his ability to act on his convictions. A responsible, high class man, Mr. Shelby cannot afford to sacrifice any part of his reputation, especially for people despised by his friends and counterparts. He pleads that he “can’t help himself,” like selling Tom and Harry requires a part of his character to be ripped out from underneath him (35). This demonstrates the power the ruling class has over the thoughts and actions of individuals. In a way, the minority of the aristocratic class has the power to manipulate people’s minds and hold them captive because of their place in society. They are able to appeal to one’s sense of pride and self-interest in order to maintain the current ideology in place, in this case slavery. Mr. Shelby acknowledges that Tom has shown himself “a faithful servant since he was a boy” and that he wants to keep him (31). Mr. Shelby has established a bond with Tom and his other slaves, unlike many slave owners who rule over them with a tyrannical hand. But he chooses to put his position in the community above his relationship with someone who he has treated like family. Not because he doesn’t care about Tom’s well-being, but because of the grip society has over him. Overall, Mr. Shelby refuses to choose one side. His egotism drives him to ignore the problem at hand. His actions prove that even a loving, caring man can contradict his feelings for his own self-interest. Mr. Shelby’s inability to humble himself and recognize that slavery has bigger implications than his personal status causes him to act as a by-standard, succumbing to the status quo.
For Augustine St. Clair, the most deciding factor his ambivalence...