Uncle Tom's Cabin
Contrasting Regions Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Perhaps the mildest form of the system of slavery is to be seen in the State of Kentucky. The general prevalence of agricultural pursuits of a quiet and gradual nature, not requiring those periodic seasons of hurry and pressure that are called for in the business of more southern districts, makes the task of the negro a more healthful and reasonable one; while the master, content with a more gradual style of acquisition, has not those temptations to hardheartedness which always overcome frail human nature when the prospect of sudden and rapid gain is weighed in the balance, with no heavier counterpoise than the interests of the helpless and unprotected.
Whoever visits some estates there, and witnesses the good-humored indulgence of some masters and mistresses, and the affectionate loyalty of some slaves, might be tempted to dream the oft-fabled poetic legend of a patriarchal institution, and all that; but over and above the scene there broods a portentous shadow – the shadow of law. So long as the law considers all these human beings, with beating hearts and living affections, only as so many things belonging to a master, – so long as the failure, or misfortune, or imprudence, or death of the kindest owner, may cause them any day to exchange a life of kind protection and indulgence for one of hopeless misery and toil, – so long it is impossible to make anything beautiful or desirable in the best regulated administration of slavery. (1.62-63)
In the first chapter, Stowe undercuts our tendency to think of the "the South" as one big, monolithic area of oppression. She maintains that all slavery has an inhumane "shadow" over it, but also shows that the working conditions of slaves vary in different parts of the South. In Kentucky, slaves are relatively well off – at least compared to those who are working on the plantations in the deep South.
The trader had arrived at that stage of Christian and political perfection which has been recommended by some preachers and politicians of the north, lately, in which he had completely overcome every humane weakness and prejudice. His heart was exactly where yours, sir, and mine could be brought, with proper effort and cultivation. The wild look of anguish and utter despair that the woman cast on him might have disturbed one less practiced; but he was used to it. He had seen that same look hundreds of times. You can get used to such things, too, my friend; and it is the great object of recent efforts to make our whole northern community used to them, for the glory of the Union. (12.145)
The narrator reminds us that the North is not a complete bastion of abolitionist sentiment – there are plenty of pro-slavery ministers and politicians there. The inhumanity of slave traders is encouraged by everyone who is complicit in slavery, including the people in the North who support the Fugitive Slave Act.
But as in an hour, this river of dreams and wild romance has emerged to a reality scarcely less visionary and splendid. What other river of the world bears on its bosom to the ocean the wealth and enterprise of such another country? – a country whose products embrace all between the tropics and the poles! Those turbid waters, hurrying, foaming, tearing along, an apt resemblance of that headlong tide of business which is poured along its wave by a race more vehement and energetic than any the old world ever saw. Ah! would that they did not also bear along a more fearful freight, – the tears of the oppressed, the sighs of the helpless, the bitter prayers of poor, ignorant hearts to an unknown God – unknown, unseen and silent, but who will yet "come out of his place to save all the poor of the earth!" (14.2)
The narrator moralizes about how the Mississippi River is no ordinary river: it has seen one of the greatest stains on humanity, the sin of slavery. By focusing on the river itself, rather than the South in general, Stowe emphasizes the movement of the slaves and the terrifying thought of being sold "downriver," deeper South, to the plantations.