Uncle Tom's Cabin
by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
By her side sat a woman with a bright tin pan in her lap, into which she was carefully sorting some dried peaches. She might be fifty-five or sixty; but hers was one of those faces that time seems to touch only to brighten and adorn. The snowy fisse crape cap, made after the strait Quaker pattern, – the plain white muslin handkerchief, lying in placid folds across her bosom, – the drab shawl and dress, – showed at once the community to which she belonged. Her face was round and rosy, with a healthful downy softness, suggestive of a ripe peach. Her hair, partially silvered by age, was parted smoothly back from a high placid forehead, on which time had written no inscription, except peace on earth, good will to men, and beneath shone a large pair of clear, honest, loving brown eyes; you only needed to look straight into them, to feel that you saw to the bottom of a heart as good and true as ever throbbed in woman's bosom. So much has been said and sung of beautiful young girls, why don't somebody wake up to the beauty of old women? (13.2)
The Quaker matron Rachel becomes another paragon of perfect feminine domesticity. Just by observing the details of her appearance, Stowe’s narrator makes her love, industry, and honesty obvious. Any household ruled by this woman would be a just one.
South as well as north, there are women who have an extraordinary talent for command, and tact in educating. Such are enabled, with apparent ease, and without severity, to subject to their will, and bring into harmonious and systematic order, the various members of their small estate, – to regulate their peculiarities, and so balance and compensate the deficiencies of one by the excess of another, as to produce a harmonious and orderly system.
Such a housekeeper was Mrs. Shelby, whom we have already described; and such our readers may remember to have met with. If they are not common at the South, it is because they are not common in the world. They are to be found there as often as anywhere; and, when existing, find in that peculiar state of society a brilliant opportunity to exhibit their domestic talent.
Such a housekeeper Marie St. Clare was not, nor her mother before her. Indolent and childish unsystematic and improvident, it was not to be expected that servants trained under her care should not be so likewise; and she had very justly described to Miss Ophelia the state of confusion she would find in the family, though she had not ascribed it to the proper cause. (18.28-31)
Stowe considers housekeeping one of the essential duties of 19th century women: they must govern their staff (in the North) or slaves (in the South), manage household finances, and create a peaceful domestic retreat for their families. Although this "separate spheres" philosophy is limiting because it confines women to the private sphere of the home, it also provides a model for female government that contrasts with the patriarchy of slavery.
"My mother," said St. Clare, getting up and walking to a picture at the end of the room, and gazing upward with a face fervent with veneration, "she was divine! Don't look at me so! – you know what I mean! She probably was of mortal birth; but, as far as ever I could observe, there was no trace of any human weakness or error about her; and everybody that lives to remember her, whether bond or free, servant, acquaintance, relation, all say the same. Why, cousin, that mother has been all that has stood between me and utter unbelief for years. She was a direct embodiment and personification of the New Testament, – a living fact, to be accounted for, and to be accounted for in no other way than by its truth. O, mother! Mother!" said St. Clare, clasping his hands, in a sort of transport. . . . (19.61)
We have to admit that St. Clare’s extreme attachment to his mother borders on the ridiculous, the Freudian, or both. The melodrama at this point is completely over the top. But even while we’re snickering and calling St. Clare a "mama’s boy," we should notice the point of the passage: if St. Clare’s mother had lived, her strong moral influence on him might have turned him into someone who took action based on his principles.