December 4, 1851

Image and link courtesy of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center-Hartford, CT

Transcription of Chapter 25, Part 2

Chapter XXV.—Continued.

It is impossible to describe the scene, as with tears and sobs they gathered round the little creature, and took from her hand what seemed to them a last mark of her love. They fell on their knees, they sobbed and prayed and kissed the hem of her garment, and the elder ones poured forth words of endearment, mingled in prayers and blessings, after the manner of their susceptible race.

As each one took their gift, Miss Ophelia, who was apprehensive for the effect of all this excitement on her little patient, signed to each one to pass out of the apartment.

At last, all were gone but Tom and Mammy.

“Here, Uncle Tom,” said Eva, “is a beautiful one for you. Oh, I am so happy, Uncle Tom, to think I shall see you in heaven, for I’m sure I shall; and Mammy—dear, good, kind Mammy,” she said, fondly throwing her arms round her old nurse—“I know you’ll be there, too.”

“Oh, Miss Eva, don’t see how I can live without ye, no how!” said the faithful creature. “’Pears like it’s just taking everything off the place to oncet;” and Mammy gave way to a passion of grief.

Miss Ophelia pushed her and Tom gently from the apartment, and thought they were all gone, but, as she turned, Topsy was standing there.”[2]

“Where did you start up from?” she said, suddenly.

“I was here,” said Topsy, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Oh, Miss Eva, I’ve been a bad girl, but won’t you give me one, too?”

[Continue reading the remaining text of chapter 25, here.]

Commentary by Josephine Donovan

Emerita Professor of English at the University of Maine and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Evil, Affliction, and Redemptive Love (1991)

For the modern secular reader the death of Eva is one of the most problematic sections of the novel.  Its overt religiosity and hyperbolic sentimentality make it alien to the modern critical temper.  Conversely, for the nineteenth-century reader this scene was one of the most popular.  Indeed, in stage version of the work the subtitle was changed to “Or, the Death of Eva.” (The original subtitle had been announced in the National Era as “Or, the Man That Was a Thing,” but it was changed by the time of publication to “Or, Life among the Lowly.”)  Eva’s death was thus elevated to nearly equal status with the story of Tom.

Nevertheless, even for the contemporary reader the scenes of Eva’s dying still have a strangely moving effect, despite their hackneyed aspects—testimony to Stowe’s powers of vivid dramatization. Consider, as an example, the wrenching moment when Eva’s father St. Clare, watching her gasp for breath in “a spasm of mortal agony” turns away in anguish, grasping out for Tom’s hand, “scarce conscious of what he was doing,” crying out heartbroken at his child’s distress.  Tom holds St. Clare’s hands “between his own” “with tears streaming down his dark cheeks.”

But beyond one’s emotional reaction, and lest one dismiss her as a sentimentalist stereotype, it is important to understand Eva within the theological context of the novel as, like Tom, an exemplar of Edwardsean Calvinism.  Eva is one of the elect, a saint blessed with a kind of intuitive emotional understanding, perception, and wisdom beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.

In his “Treatise Concerning Religious Affection” (1746) American theologian Jonathan Edwards explained the type:  “All who are truly religious are not of this world, they are strangers here, and belong to heaven . . . and the[ir] nature is a heavenly nature.”Intensely emotional religious experience—the “holy affections”—is seen as a “visible sign” that one is of this elect.  And love, according to Edwards, is “the fountain of all the affections.”2

When Tom first sees Eva on the Mississippiriverboat “she seemed something almost divine . . . he half believed he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament.”3  Her appearance is described as being of an “unearthly radiance” (382).  She expresses a “strange unworldly wisdom” (385) and her “whole heart and soul seemed absorbed in works of love and kindness” (98).  “Always dressed in white, she seemed to move like a shadow through all sorts of places, without contacting spot or stain” (231).

Notes

  1. As cited in Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul:  Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 367 n.53.
  2. Sydney A. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1972), p. 303
  3. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (New York: Penguin, 1981), p. 231.  Further references to this edition follow in the text.

[Continue reading the full text of  Josephine Donovan’s commentary here.]

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