Uncle Tom's Cabin
How we cite our quotes:
The tyrant [George’s master] observed the whisper, and conjectured its import, though he could not hear what was said; and he inwardly strengthened himself in his determination to keep the power he possessed over his victim.
George was taken home, and put to the meanest drudgery of the farm. He had been able to repress every disrespectful word; but the flashing eye, the gloomy and troubled brow, were part of a natural language that could not be repressed, – indubitable signs, which showed too plainly that the man could not become a thing. (2.16-17)
If Uncle Tom’s Cabin has a moral – and it’s enough like a sermon that it probably does – this is it: human beings are not things. They can’t really be reduced to the status of property by any amount of mistreatment. Stowe will repeat this point in her chapter titles, where she refers ironically to Uncle Tom, George, and other slaves as "Living Property."
"My master! and who made him my master? That's what I think of – what right has he to me? I'm a man as much as he is. I'm a better man than he is. I know more about business than he does; I am a better manager than he is; I can read better than he can; I can write a better hand, – and I've learned it all myself, and no thanks to him, – I've learned it in spite of him; and now what right has he to make a dray-horse of me? – to take me from things I can do, and do better than he can, and put me to work that any horse can do? He tries to do it; he says he'll bring me down and humble me, and he puts me to just the hardest, meanest and dirtiest work, on purpose!" (3.16)
Just in case we didn’t figure it out after hearing the story of George’s innovations in the factory, Stowe hammers it home: George is better than his master in every way. He’s smarter, stronger, more hardworking, and more principled. And yet, he can legally be tormented and controlled by someone much weaker and pettier than he is. Even though we already know this intellectually, we can never really grasp the cruelty of this kind of subjugation on an emotional level without experiencing it ourselves – so the novel tries enact that experience for the reader, so that we may get some inkling how degrading slavery truly is.
"Don't you know a slave can't be married? There is no law in this country for that; I can't hold you for my wife, if he chooses to part us. That's why I wish I'd never seen you, – why I wish I'd never been born; it would have been better for us both, – it would have been better for this poor child if he had never been born. All this may happen to him yet!"
"O, but master is so kind!"
"Yes, but who knows? – he may die – and then he may be sold to nobody knows who. What pleasure is it that he is handsome, and smart, and bright? I tell you, Eliza, that a sword will pierce through your soul for every good and pleasant thing your child is or has; it will make him worth too much for you to keep."
The words smote heavily on Eliza's heart; the vision of the trader came before her eyes, and, as if some one had struck her a deadly blow, she turned pale and gasped for breath. (3.34-37)
Though Eliza generally tries to reconcile herself to her situation as a slave because she’s been taught that she must obey her master in order to be a Christian, the fact that her child can be sold without her consent strikes at the very core of her being. The idea begins a slow work of revolution in her heart – something Stowe hopes will happen to the reader as well when we read that a mother can be torn from her son like this. (Many of Stowe’s readers would have been white northern mothers.)