Transcription of Part 2 of Chapter 42 to End
George’s feelings and views, as an educated man, may be best expressed in a letter to one of his friends:
“I feel somewhat at a loss, as to my future course. True, as you have said to me, I might mingle in the circles of the whites, in this country, my shade of color is so slight, and that of my wife and family scarce perceptible. Well, perhaps, on sufferance, I might. But, to tell you the truth, I have no wish to.
“My sympathies are not for my father’s race, but for my mother’s. To him I was no more than a fine dog or horse; to my poor heart-broken mother I was a child; and, though I never saw her, after the cruel sale that separated us, till she died, yet I know she always loved me dearly. I know it by my own heart. When I think of all she suffered, of my own early sufferings, of the distresses and struggles of my heroic wife, of my sister, sold in the New Orleans slave-market—though I hope to have no unchristian sentiments, yet I may be excused for saying, I have no wish to pass for an American, or to identify myself with them.
“It is with the oppressed, enslaved African race that I cast in my lot; and, if I wished anything, I would wish myself two shades darker, rather than one lighter.
“The desire and yearning of my soul is for an African nationality. I want a people that shall have a tangible, separate existence of its own; and where am I to look for it? Not in Hayti; for in Hayti they had nothing to start with. A stream cannot rise above its fountain. The race that formed the character of the Haytiens was a worn-out, effeminate one; and, of course, the subject race will be centuries in rising to anything.
“Where, then, shall I look? On the shores of Africa I see a republic—a republic formed of picked men, who, by energy and self-educating force, have in many cases, individually, raised themselves above a condition of slavery. Having gone through a preparatory stage of feebleness, this republic has, at last, become an acknowledged nation on the face of the earth—acknowledged by both France and England. There it is my wish to go, and find myself a people.
“I am aware, now, that I shall have you all against me; but, before you strike, hear me. During my stay in France, I have followed up, with intense interest, the history of my people in America. I have noted the struggle between abolitionist and colonizationist, and have received some impressions, as a distant spectator, which could never have occurred to me as a participator.
“I grant that this Liberia may have subserved all sorts of purposes, by being played off, in the hands of our oppressors, against us. Doubtless the scheme may have been used, in unjustifiable ways, as a means of retarding our emancipation. But the question to me is, Is there not a God above all man’s schemes? May He not have overruled their designs, and founded for us a nation by them?
[Continue reading Part 2 of Chapter 42 to end of novel and Stowe’s departing message to Era readers, here.]
Commentary by David Reynolds
Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
The last three chapters of Uncle Tom’s Cabin offer Stowe’s thoughts on possible solutions to the slavery problem. With the wisdom of hindsight, these proposed solutions can seem idealistic or improbable. But in the early 1850s, there was nothing like a consensus about how to resolve the slavery issue. The antislavery Liberty Party had fared poorly in the elections of 1844 and 1848, and the Whigs and Democrats were splitting apart over slavery. Antislavery reformers were divided between radical Garrisonians, evangelical Tappanites, and Transcendentalist individualists like Thoreau and Alcott. The various movements saw inner conflict—Frederick Douglass, for instance, made a dramatic break with William Lloyd Garrison over the Constitution, which Douglass viewed as antislavery in spirit, while Garrison saw it as a hellish, proslavery document.
Into the fray stepped an overburdened housewife who, fueled by righteous anger, who wrote what was destined to become the most influential novel ever written by an American. The solutions Stowe proposed in her final chapters—individual moral transformation, the voluntary manumission of slaves, colonization, and education and career advancement for blacks—seemed as plausible as any other programs of the time. The first of her solutions, moral transformation, gets to the heart of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which portrays slavery as a wicked institution at odds with the Bible and with the principles of the founding fathers. Is there anything Americans can do to get rid of slavery? Stowe asks. She answers by moral fiat: “They can see to it that they feel right.” That is, if individuals have a fundamental change of heart, they will perceive the injustice of slavery and work to rid the nation of this foul institution. She invites readers to take action. Her portrayal of George Shelby indicates what she wants Southerners to do: that is, recognize that the voluntary manumission of enslaved blacks is just and humane. Stowe drives home the tragic plight of slave families when she describes Chloe’s happy expectation of an imminent reunion with her husband, an expectation dashed byShelby’s report of Tom’s death at the hands of Legree. The extreme sufferingShelby has witnessed leads him to emancipate his slaves with the promise of paying them for their labor. This act of voluntary manumission follows the emotional logic of the novel. If blacks are no longer enslaved, they cannot be bought and sold; their families cannot be forcibly ripped apart, nor can women be used as breeding machines or as helpless pawns in the Southern sex trade.
[Continue reading the full text of David Reynolds’ commentary here.]