Uncle Tom's Cabin
How we cite our quotes:
"Are there no honest ones?"
"Well, now and then one, whom Nature makes so impracticably simple, truthful and faithful, that the worst possible influence can't destroy it. But, you see, from the mother's breast the colored child feels and sees that there are none but underhand ways open to it. It can get along no other way with its parents, its mistress, its young master and missies play-fellows. Cunning and deception become necessary, inevitable habits. It isn't fair to expect anything else of him. He ought not to be punished for it. As to honesty, the slave is kept in that dependent, semi-childish state, that there is no making him realize the rights of property, or feel that his master's goods are not his own, if he can get them. For my part, I don't see how they can be honest. Such a fellow as Tom, here, is, – is a moral miracle!"
"And what becomes of their souls?" said Miss Ophelia.
"That isn't my affair, as I know of," said St. Clare; "I am only dealing in facts of the present life. The fact is, that the whole race are pretty generally understood to be turned over to the devil, for our benefit, in this world, however it may turn out in another!" (18.96-99)
Augustine St. Clare explains to his cousin Ophelia that the system of slavery actively discourages honest behavior in slaves. Slave owners tended to claim that slaves were inherently bad and required the supervision of masters, but St. Clare understands that deceitful behavior in slaves is not an innate characteristic – it’s caused by their enslavement and mistreatment. Still, St. Clare and Ophelia both betray their racism here when they agree that "the whole race" share in this deceitfulness.
"What now? why, those folks have whipped Prue to death!" said Miss Ophelia, going on, with great strength of detail, into the story, and enlarging on its most shocking particulars.
"I thought it would come to that, some time," said St. Clare, going on with his paper.
"Thought so! – an't you going to do anything about it?" said Miss Ophelia. "Haven't you got any selectmen, or anybody, to interfere and look after such matters?"
"It's commonly supposed that the property interest is a sufficient guard in these cases. If people choose to ruin their own possessions, I don't know what's to be done. It seems the poor creature was a thief and a drunkard; and so there won't be much hope to get up sympathy for her [. . . ] I didn't do it, and I can't help it; I would, if I could. If low-minded, brutal people will act like themselves, what am I to do? they have absolute control; they are irresponsible despots. There would be no use in interfering; there is no law that amounts to anything practically, for such a case. The best we can do is to shut our eyes and ears, and let it alone. It's the only resource left us." (19.21-24, 26)
Stowe uses Prue’s death and St. Clare’s reaction to show that slave owners can literally get away with murder. There is no legal or social recourse against Prue’s owners. Even St. Clare, a powerful and wealthy man, believes that he has no way to bring about punishment for them. Like Miss Ophelia, we’re utterly frustrated with St. Clare’s "see no evil" attitude.
"You seem to wonder; but if you will get me fairly at it, I'll make a clean breast of it. This cursed business, accursed of God and man, what is it? Strip it of all its ornament, run it down to the root and nucleus of the whole, and what is it? Why, because my brother Quashy is ignorant and weak, and I am intelligent and strong, – because I know how, and can do it, – therefore, I may steal all he has, keep it, and give him only such and so much as suits my fancy. Whatever is too hard, too dirty, too disagreeable, for me, I may set Quashy to doing. Because I don't like work, Quashy shall work. Because the sun burns me, Quashy shall stay in the sun. Quashy shall earn the money, and I will spend it. Quashy shall lie down in every puddle, that I may walk over dry-shod. Quashy shall do my will, and not his, all the days of his mortal life, and have such chance of getting to heaven, at last, as I find convenient. This I take to be about what slavery is. I defy anybody on earth to read our slave-code, as it stands in our law-books, and make anything else of it. Talk of the abuses of slavery! Humbug! The thing itself is the essence of all abuse!" (19.54)
St. Clare makes an important if simple point: slavery itself is an immoral abuse of one human being by another. Harsh masters who beat, torment, murder, or rape their slaves are committing terrible crimes. But any slave master, brutal or not, is behaving inhumanely by definition. And yet again, St. Clare’s perceptiveness and compassion are undermined by racist generalizations – such as the comical "Quashy" in his hypothetical example.