Incompatibility of Slavery and Christianity in Uncle Toms Cabin
The anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe was written at a time when slavery was a largely common practice among Americans. It not only helped lay the foundation for the Civil War but also contained many themes that publicized the evil of slavery to all people. The book contains themes such as the moral power of women, human right, and many more. The most important theme Stowe attempts to portray to readers is the incompatibility of slavery and Christianity. She makes it very clear that she does not believe slavery and Christianity can coexist and that slavery is against all Christian morals. She believes no Christian should allow the existence or practice of slavery. One major character Legree, who is a slave master on the plantation, practices slavery on a daily basis and treats his slaves very violently. Whereas, another important white character, Eva, who is seen as this picture perfect angelic child, fails to understand why a difference between whites and African-Americans even exists. Stowe uses both of these characters to show how slavery and Christianity are incompatible and even goes on to prove that religion can be used to fight slavery.
Stowe also uses Christ Figures to underscore this idea. Arguably one of the biggest Christ figures, Tom, dies so other slaves, like himself, can escape and earn their freedom. Eva also dies for a similar reason and so can be considered a Christ figure. They both stay true to their Christian values even while they are being put through such suffering. Stowe’s use of sacrifice by these two accentuates the main theme of slavery and Christianity being two things that are completely incompatible. Readers see the rivalry between slavery and Christianity beginning right from the start of the novel. Early on in chapter nine Mrs. Bird is defending her strong beliefs about the treatment of slaves. She says, “I wouldn’t give a fip for all your politics, generally, but I think this is something downright cruel and unchristian.
I hope no such law has been passed (828).” She is referring to the possibility of laws being passed that state slave owners cannot give food or drink to their slaves. She makes it clear that if it was any other kind of law that was trying to get passed or being discussed she would not care to be involved but because this issue is so dear to her religion she wants to fight for what is right. Mrs. Bird is another example of a Christ figure in this sense because she is standing up for what is morally correct based on her religion. Stowe uses exclamation points and a stern tone to emphasize Mrs. Bird’s point.
By saying this, Mrs. Bird attempts to get others to support her Christian values and not treat the salves in such a cruel way. She makes it clear that no Christian person would treat a slave in this manner and this further elaborates on Stowe’s theme that slavery and Christianity are simply incompatible. Another place in the text where Stowe’s theme becomes clearer to readers in in chapter twenty when St. Clare exclaims, “That’s you Christians, all over!—you’ll get up a society and get some poor missionary to spend all his days among just such heathen. But let me see one of you that would take one into your house with you, and take the labor of their conversation on yourselves!
No; when it comes to that, they are dirty and disagreeable, and it’s too much care, and so on (866).” St. Clare recognizes the evil of slavery himself but is afraid free his slaves in order to become a “Christian.” He is more than willing to point out all the problems that go along with slavery but has not freed his slaves and it is ironic that a slave owner himself points out this discrepancy. This quote points out the true hypocrisy that St. Clare finds in Christianity. He states that even though Christians claim to believe slavery is against their morals, if they were faced with the choice to take a slave into their home he does not believe they would do so. They would change their outlook on the situation.
This supports Stowe’s theme of the incompatibility between the two because it is a prime example of how slavery and Christianity simply do not mix well together. Ophelia, who is a Christian, finds it wrong to take a slave when faced with the chance because of her strong ties to religion. Whereas St. Clare knows slavery is evil and inhumane but still sees nothing wrong with owning a slave because in no way does he claim to be Christian. He does not free his slaves or stop practicing as a slave owner just to claim to be a Christian member of society. This proves that one believes that in order claim to be a Christian individual, they cannot own a slave. Likewise, if one does own a slave, like St. Clare, they cannot claim Christianity.
This is exactly the theme Stowe was portraying to readers of the novel: slavery and Christianity cannot exist together in any way. In chapter thirty Stowe writes, “He didn’t like trading in slaves and souls of men,–of course, he didn’t; but, then, there were thirty thousand dollars in the case, and that was rather too much money to be lost for a principle;…(883)” Brother B. was a Christian man and a resident of a free state. This quote shows that he clearly had some uneasiness about the idea of buying a slave because he was a Christian man by definition and Stowe even outright tells us that. Although, when it came to the money involved, Brother B. was willing to throw this “principle” of slavery right out the window. This shows that he felt he must give up Christianity if he was going to own a slave. Even Brother B. himself did not believe he could do both. He did not believe he could claim to possess this “principle,” which is Christianity, if he chose to support slavery in this case. Stowe uses Brother B. as a character to underscore her main theme of the text.
She uses this situation with Brother B. to make her claim that slavery and Christianity are not compatible even stronger and clearer. Harriet Beecher Stowe uses Christ Figures and characters such as Mrs. Bird, St. Clare, and Brother B. to illustrate the impossibility of slavery and Christianity existing together. She vividly describes the lack of compatibility between the two and strongly believes it will simply never happen. For one to be a Christian in her eyes, they must recognize the evil and severity of slavery and not tolerate it around them. For those who practice slavery, she believes they should not be allowed to claim Christianity because their actions are immoral and inhumane. Uncle Tom’s Cabin easily becomes a religious text in this sense. All of Stowe’s religious illusions and situations allow readers to see justification in her main point.