Harriet Beecher Stowe was a deeply committed Christian who believed that religious faith would be a major factor in the abolition of slavery – which, of course, it was. Her most famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, repeatedly underlines the redemptive power of faith in God – from Christ-like characters who represent God’s angelic love on earth to others who desperately need that love. The novel also strongly suggests that Christianity is not meant to be legalistic. Both the stern northern abolitionists, who turn religion into a series of duties, and the southern slave owners, who use contorted interpretations of the Bible to excuse their practices, are condemned as foolish. They believe that religion is a set of laws, and the novel asserts that true faith is a pure, simple, childlike love.
Questions About Religion
Is it possible to separate the religious beliefs of the characters in the novel and their beliefs about slavery? Why or why not?
In what ways do characters use religion (or the Bible) to support slavery? In what ways do they use religion (or the Bible) to condemn it?
Does Eva’s character (specifically, her faith) work as a transformative element in the novel? Why or why not? Does Miss Ophelia’s character and faith work in this way? Why or why not?
What are the similarities and differences among different characters’ faiths – Tom, Eva, Miss Ophelia, Mrs. Shelby, Augustine St. Clare, Marie St. Clare? How do these differences operate in the novel to make the point that slavery is wrong? Are there ever instances where characters appear to use faith to make a compelling argument in favor of slavery? How does that function in the novel, given the novel’s purpose to convince people that slavery is wrong?
Chew on This
Although religion was used to justify slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin suggests that religion is also the key to its demise.
Even though it may be possible to argue that religion is what keeps Uncle Tom compliant with slavery, it is also the one thing that gives him comfort during the hardest years of his life.