EVA SAINT CLARE
Upon gazing on a divinely white wedding dress, you cannot help but focus your attention on the unfortunate red wine stain which interrupts the beautiful consistency of purity. Similarly, in the aftermath of a rainstorm, you are instantly attracted to the single ray of sunlight that boldly breaks through the ominous clouds. In this same manner, human attention is immediately drawn to any object that differs from the norm and offsets the uniformity of its environment. You can either hate the object for tainting serenity, or you can love the object for interrupting misery. You cannot, however, do both. The decision you are forced to make could mean changing your current view or dismissing the worth of the object of difference. However, when that object is Eva, who is proven to be someone truly innocent and divine, how can a person do anything but embrace her, leaving behind the misery of slavery that Eva so perfectly contrasts?
In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe paints a heavenly picture of Eva St. Clare, a picture that is too pure for any Christian to reject. Eva catches the readers’ attention for being a distinctive beauty in a sea of despair and oppression. Stowe forces readers to choose between the angelic Eva or the institution of slavery, which sharply differs from everything that Eva represents. One cannot choose both Eva and slavery unless he is willing to be called a hypocrite. Yet one cannot reject Eva unless he is willing to reject the ideals of Christianity. Stowe successfully puts Christian readers in a position to choose divine Eva over abusive slavery, lest he be called a hypocrite.
To capture the readers’ attention, Stowe paints a heavenly picture of Eva’s life and death. Even Eva’s physical appearance manifests an angelic beauty. Tom "half believed that he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament" when he watched Eva (158). Stowe says that,
[Eva’s] form was the perfection of childish beauty…Her face was remarkable, less for its perfect beauty of feature than for a dreamy earnestness of expression, which made the idle start when they looked at her, and by which the dullest and most literal were pressed, without exactly knowing why (Stowe 156, 158).
People did not know why they were captivated by Eva’s innocent beauty, yet they could not help but be overcome by it. This description of Eva gives power to her character as it works to slowly contrast the previous descriptions of the slave environment around her. Stowe brought in Eva’s character after first describing an emotional scene of the separation of slave families due to slave trading. She uses phrases such as Tom’s "sore heart," the "poor creatures" sold to an evil slave trader, and the "sobs and tears" of the black woman who lost her husband to a slave trade (139,142). The angelic presence of Eva is a comfort in the midst of this described misery.
Eva’s physical beauty does not go unmatched by her inner beauty. Her physical description was simply a reflection of the innocence and perfection of her soul. The purity of Eva’s spirit further separates her from slavery, as seen in the way she lessens a slave’s sorrow by convincing her father to buy Tom "to make him happy" (164). She saw the dreadful state of the slaves on the boat, and she knew that because her father was a nice man, buying Tom would relieve him of much difficulty should he be sold to a different family. The best thing she could do for Tom was convince her father to buy him.
Slavery supporters could argue that Eva’s compassion for the desperate state of slaves is nothing to admire. In fact, one clergyman in the story believed this very thing. He says, "it’s undoubtedly the intention of Providence that the African race should be servants—kept in a low condition" (140). Then he goes further to quote the Bible as a way of defending the institution of slavery. While readers against slavery may clearly see Eva’s act as righteous, more evidence of Christ-likeness is needed to convince any reader who might sympathize with this clergyman.
To convince such skeptical readers, Eva does maintain her power to change hearts. Stowe continues to give readers evidence of compassion and purity in Eva’s life. She carefully plays with the desire of Nineteenth Century readers to have an appearance of Christianity and has Eva parallel so closely to Christ that anyone willing to be called a Christian could hardly overlook her. Stowe gives stories to Eva’s life and death that make her someone to be loved and cherished, sought after and mourned for.
What Christian can deny the Christ-likeness of someone who is deeply and compassionately concerned about carrying out Jesus’ command to spread the gospel to all people? Eva displayed this obedience to Christ in a powerful way. Her love showed a concern for the wellbeing of Topsy, a "devil child" whom whipping and abuse could do nothing for. After the assertion from Topsy that "nobody love niggers, and niggers can’t do nothin’!" Eva expresses her love for the black "goblin" child, giving her an assurance that she had never felt before (290). Eva encourages Topsy that Jesus loves her and "will help [her] to be good; and [she] can go to Heaven at last" (290). Topsy, to Miss Ophelia and St. Clare’s surprise, replies enthusiastically, "I will try, I will try; I never did care nothin’ about it before" (290). Eva’s love and compassion in evangelizing Topsy is yet another example of her angelic presence and power to change hearts in the midst of abusive slavery.
In response to the event just presented, Ophelia and St. Clare discuss the unusual kindness exhibited by Eva. Miss Ophelia agrees that she did not have in her the power to love the slaves. "I don’t know how I can help it. They are disagreeable to me,--this child in particular,--how can I help feeling so?" (291). Bluntly, St. Clare replies, "Eva does, it seems" (291). The reader does not long have to wonder how Eva does this because Stowe preaches through the words of Miss Ophelia soon after. "Well, she’s so loving! After all, though, she’s no more than Christ-like. I wish I were like her. She might teach me a lesson" (291). Stowe has once again shown how Eva is like Christ, fearless of difference and loving of all. She should be the envy of those like Ophelia who want to become more like Christ.
Readers continue to observe the comfort that surrounds all who encounter Eva’s loving touch. They see the strength with which Eva confronts her sickness, as she focuses on the hope of heaven. They also see the sadness of Eva, as she must leave her friends behind in their state of slavery. Most importantly, readers see her Christ-like compassion when she cries out for the oppressed.
"Uncle Tom," she said, "I can understand why Jesus wanted to die for us." "Why, Miss Eva?" "Because I’ve felt so, too." "What is it, Miss Eva? I don’t understand." "I can’t tell you; but when I saw those poor creatures on the boat…some had lost their mothers, and some their husbands, and some mothers cried for their little children…and a great many other times I’ve felt that I would be glad to die if my dying could stop all this misery" (259).
Eva’s words seem indeed like the words of Jesus himself. "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (NIV Jn 15:12-13). Like Christ, Eva was willing to die if it meant saving others from despair and oppression. She would give her life for the freedom of others. This desire, that all should be free, exhibits a powerful likeness to Christ that is distinctly different from the bondage and control that is characteristic of slavery.
The gap between Eva and slavery continues to widen, and the stark contrast is made more evident. As Eva quickly approaches death, she converses with her father about Christianity. Her father asks her what it means to be a Christian, and Eva replies, "Loving Christ most of all," an answer that no Christian can deny (279). Pious slave owners may be able to questionably defend the institution of slavery with the Bible, but they can in no way deny the Christ-like beauty of Eva and her devotion to do His will…to do so would clearly be un-Christian. Can someone be a Christian and not love the innocence of Eva? If they see anything Christ-like about Eva at all, they must see that she does not fit in with the captivity and abuse of blacks.
Stowe seems to believe that long lasting change in slavery could only be held if white slaveholders had affection for Christ and hate for sin; thus, Stowe uses her plot and characters as a pedestal to preach of the true fruits of loving Christ. Eva has shown how loving Christ with her whole heart produces love for slaves as well as the desire that they be set free. As Eva approaches her death, she is certain to do all she can to see her fathers’ slaves released.
I feel sad for our poor people…I wish, papa, they were all free. If anything should happen to you what would become of them? There are very few men like you, papa. When I am dead, papa, then you will think of me, and [persuade people to do right about this] for my sake. I would do it, if I could (285).
Just as Eva wishes that her dad would free the slaves for her sake, Christ desires that for His sake, men and women treat each other with loving kindness, as they would treat themselves. For Nineteenth Century readers, sympathizing with Eva’s Christ-like claims would mean abandoning the desire to keep blacks in such an oppressive state. It would mean taking slaves out of bondage, educating them, and teaching them about Jesus.
Though slavery supporters like the clergyman previously mentioned might not recognize the horror of slavery, they cannot deny that Eva is wholly unlike it. Through the careful rhetoric of Stowe, readers are compelled to have compassion for Eva, forcing them to fit her into their current value system. Even if readers already valued angelic children, Stowe successfully contrasts slavery to this standard by showing Eva’s distaste for it. She makes readers more conscious of the hypocrisy of holding slavery and Eva-like purity together. When one sees that Eva cannot be placed in the midst of slavery without inconsistency, they must make a decision to either hate slavery or reject who Eva is and what she stands for. Eva’s Christ-likeness forces people to examine the coherency of slavery in a Christian worldview. Positive change must be made unless Christians are content with hypocrisy.
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