Augustine St. Clare Of Uncle Tom's Cabin By Harriet Beecher Stowe

3256 words - 13 pages


  Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin

leaves little room for interpretation of the author's moral

point of view.  Yet, there remains one big moral question that is not as

easily answered. This is the question of the character of Augustine

St. Clare--a man who espouses great ideals on the evils of slavery,

 yet continues to hold his own slaves.  Is he a hero because of his

 beliefs or a villain because of his actions?  And just how important

is this question to understanding and responding to the novel, as a

whole?

            If St. Clare were a minor character, showing up in just a

chapter or two, as another stereotype, i.e. the southern slaveholder

who doesn't like slavery, he could almost be dismissed as just another

interesting element, one more point of view, on the issue of slavery. 

But St. Clare dominates over one third of this book--his speeches are

Stowe's mouthpiece for her abolitionist politics.  He and his moral

ambiguity cannot be dismissed.  In many ways, St. Clare is at the

very center of this book.  Not just literally and chronologically, but

morally.  Josephine Donovan calls St. Clare, "one of the most interesting

characters in the novel" (79).  Elizabeth Ammons goes even further

and calls him "the most tortured white man in the book" (175).  Here

is a man who knows what is right and wrong, has the power to do

something about it, but does not.

            In many ways, St. Clare is like Thomas Jefferson, a man who

spoke out for freedom, who espoused many ideals and even publicly

criticized the institution of slavery, but continued to hold all of his

slaves up until his death.  Jefferson is not the only founding father

St. Clare can be compared to.  Stowe herself, in her Key to Uncle

Tom's Cabin, compares him to Patrick Henry (73-74).

            So St. Clare is like the founding fathers of America--he starts

something he cannot finish.  St. Clare did not literally begin the

practice of slavery, but he supports it by his financial arrangements. 

Like the founding fathers, he's a great thinker, a believer in ideals,

yet trapped by the practical world of reality.  An issue very much

at the center of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

            A world that appeared black-and-white to many of the

abolitionists with whom Stowe associated was not so clear-cut to

Stowe.  She showed all sides of the issue as best as she could, despite

her obvious bias against slavery.  And St. Clare, the slaveowner who

opposed slavery, is the biggest example of the moral ambiguity and

contradictions that theissue of slavery, and by extension this novel,

posed.

            St. Clare's moral ambiguity makes him tough to figure out.  He

says great things yet does horrible things.  Perhaps not as horrible as

Simon Legree, but the principle is the same--just...

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