Uncle Tom's Cabin
How we cite our quotes:
"Mas'r," said Tom, "I know ye can do dreadful things; but," – he stretched himself upward and clasped his hands, – "but, after ye've killed the body, there an't no more ye can do. And O, there's all ETERNITY to come, after that!"
ETERNITY, – the word thrilled through the black man's soul with light and power, as he spoke; it thrilled through the sinner's soul, too, like the bite of a scorpion. Legree gnashed on him with his teeth, but rage kept him silent; and Tom, like a man disenthralled, spoke, in a clear and cheerful voice,
"Mas'r Legree, as ye bought me, I'll be a true and faithful servant to ye. I'll give ye all the work of my hands, all my time, all my strength; but my soul I won't give up to mortal man. I will hold on to the Lord, and put his commands before all, – die or live; you may be sure on 't. Mas'r Legree, I ain't a grain afeard to die. I'd as soon die as not. Ye may whip me, starve me, burn me, – it'll only send me sooner where I want to go." (36.66-68)
Tom’s religious convictions make it possible for him to resist Legree’s power in a spiritual sense, even though he must physically submit to punishment, torture, and martyrdom. Stowe suggests that every earthly "master" should realize his inferiority to the original Master, God.
Is it strange that the religious peace and trust, which had upborne him hitherto, should give way to tossings of soul and despondent darkness? The gloomiest problem of this mysterious life was constantly before his eyes, – souls crushed and ruined, evil triumphant, and God silent. It was weeks and months that Tom wrestled, in his own soul, in darkness and sorrow. He thought of Miss Ophelia's letter to his Kentucky friends, and would pray earnestly that God would send him deliverance. And then he would watch, day after day, in the vague hope of seeing somebody sent to redeem him; and, when nobody came, he would crush back to his soul bitter thoughts, – that it was vain to serve God, that God had forgotten him. (38.6)
Tom is most interesting at the moment of his crisis of faith. Like Job, Tom naturally wonders why God is punishing him when he’s been faithful and pious – and his punishments have nothing to do with his character. But unlike Job, who lives through his afflictions, Tom will die unjustly.
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows the soul! And yet, oh my country! these things are done under the shadow of thy laws! O, Christ! thy church sees them, almost in silence!
But, of old, there was One whose suffering changed an instrument of torture, degradation and shame, into a symbol of glory, honor, and immortal life; and, where His spirit is, neither degrading stripes, nor blood, nor insults, can make the Christian's last struggle less than glorious. (40.46-47)
It goes almost without saying that Tom’s martyrdom follows the pattern of Christ’s suffering and death. Like Jesus, Tom dies to save others. Like Jesus, he gains in heavenly glory as a result of his torture and humiliation. Yet there is also something very disturbing about Tom’s submissive willingness to sacrifice himself. Does the novel suggest that every slave should behave in this way if threatened with torture and death? George Harris’s fate seems to imply otherwise.