“Tom read,—”Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
“Them’s good words, enough,” said the woman; “who says ’em?”
“The Lord,” said Tom.
“I jest wish I know’d whar to find Him,” said the woman.”
― Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin
The woman in this excerpt from one of the most powerful pieces of American literature, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, did eventually find the beloved Lord of Whom Tom spoke. Her character, downtrodden and despised, could not at first fathom the presence of a merciful Redeemer in the midst of slave quarters and she certainly could not believe in a Heavenly Master under the looming threat of her perverted earthly master. However, through the simple and incorruptible faith of the title character, Uncle Tom, she was purchased through grace and faith; while her physical body might be sold to another master, her immortal soul was secure in the scarred hands of her Savior.
This theme of eternal salvation triumphing over sinful oppression was woven throughout the entirety of this not-entirely-fictional novel to expose the evils of a legal system of slavery and the dehumanizing effect it had on both slave, corrupted under the hard hand of cruelty, and master, corrupted by limitless power. The main characters of Uncle Tom’s Cabin illustrate this as Mrs. Stowe examines each of their lives and subsequently forces the reader to adopt a stance on the obvious issue of slavery, as well as what she paints as the more dire issue of faith and righteousness.
The first set of characters we encounter are pushed to run away from their bondage in order to preserve their marriage and family, indicating that slavery was a man-made institution that ruined the holy institution of the family and therefore, slave owner were guilty before God for tearing apart what He had joined together. These characters found their redemption in Canada and, I was pleased to read, lived happily for the remainder of their days.
The next character, in a way, achieved an even higher level of freedom. Uncle Tom is described from the first as a “man after God’s own heart” in total contrast to those society perceived as above him. Born into slavery, sold from his family, beaten, bruised, and rejected, he seemed only to be pitied, but never did he allow his countenance to fade or his faith to swerve. He had nothing in the end except the thankfulness and love of the lowly and the grudging respect of his oppressors. His character parallels the Lord whom he served and, like this Suffering Savior, he laid down his life to protect those he loved with nothing but forgiveness and praise on his lips. (There are so many parallels to the life and crucifixion of Jesus that I could point out, but this is only a blog post, not a commentary.) He did not reach Canada or receive the liberation promised by kinder masters, but the author leaves no question that Uncle Tom found freedom and victory in a better land.
The lives of the characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin are, at their most basic interpretation, examples to expose the atrocities of the American system of slavery. But, if we truly read the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe, we will find that there is a message of hope and repentance applicable in any age, even today. Slavery has long been abolished, but how often do we find ourselves hopeless, struggling, fearful, prideful, or abusive in word, deed, or thought? The convicting insights of this book are timeless and serve as a call to righteous action that, like the prayers of dear Uncle Tom, can never truly be silenced, for their impact is manifest across the nation and its generations.