Uncle Tom's Cabin
How we cite our quotes:
Henrique struck him across the face with his riding-whip, and, seizing one of his arms, forced him on to his knees, and beat him till he was out of breath.
"There, you impudent dog! Now will you learn not to answer back when I speak to you? Take the horse back, and clean him properly. I'll teach you your place!"
[. . .]
"How could you be so cruel and wicked to poor Dodo?" asked Eva.
"Cruel, – wicked!" said the boy, with unaffected surprise. "What do you mean, dear Eva?" (23.13-14, 19-20)
Violence is the everyday norm for Eva’s young cousin Henrique, who is so used to balancing gallant behavior toward whites with brutality toward blacks that he can’t see his own cruelty and hypocrisy.
True, there is religious trust for even the darkest hour. The mulatto woman was a member of the Methodist church, and had an unenlightened but very sincere spirit of piety. Emmeline had been educated much more intelligently, – taught to read and write, and diligently instructed in the Bible, by the care of a faithful and pious mistress; yet, would it not try the faith of the firmest Christian, to find themselves abandoned, apparently, of God, in the grasp of ruthless violence? How much more must it shake the faith of Christ's poor little ones, weak in knowledge and tender in years! (31.57)
The violence to which slaves are subjected isn’t just evil in its own right – it also interferes with their religious faith. To a 19th century audience, this would have been one more good argument against such an institution.
These two colored men were the two principal hands on the plantation. Legree had trained them in savageness and brutality as systematically as he had his bull-dogs; and, by long practice in hardness and cruelty, brought their whole nature to about the same range of capacities. It is a common remark, and one that is thought to militate strongly against the character of the race, that the negro overseer is always more tyrannical and cruel than the white one. This is simply saying that the negro mind has been more crushed and debased than the white. It is no more true of this race than of every oppressed race, the world over. The slave is always a tyrant, if he can get a chance to be one.
Legree, like some potentates we read of in history, governed his plantation by a sort of resolution of forces. Sambo and Quimbo cordially hated each other; the plantation hands, one and all, cordially hated them; and, by playing off one against another, he was pretty sure, through one or the other of the three parties, to get informed of whatever was on foot in the place.
Nobody can live entirely without social intercourse; and Legree encouraged his two black satellites to a kind of coarse familiarity with him, – a familiarity, however, at any moment liable to get one or the other of them into trouble; for, on the slightest provocation, one of them always stood ready, at a nod, to be a minister of his vengeance on the other.
As they stood there now by Legree, they seemed an apt illustration of the fact that brutal men are lower even than animals. Their coarse, dark, heavy features; their great eyes, rolling enviously on each other; their barbarous, guttural, half-brute intonation; their dilapidated garments fluttering in the wind, – were all in admirable keeping with the vile and unwholesome character of everything about the place. (32.31-34)
It is a rare person who rises above the harshness and cruelties of his situation. Simon Legree deliberately cultivates a cruelty in his slaves that allows him to govern them better. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and only Tom refuses to be turned into a dog.