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
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…
… Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Criticism 31.4 (Fall 1989): 383-400.
Lang, Amy Schrager. “Slavery and Sentimentalism: The Strange Career of
Augustine St. Clare.” Women’s Studies 12.1 (1986): 31-54.
Railton, Stephen. “Mothers, Husbands, and Uncle Tom.” The Georgia
Review 38.1 (Spring 1984): 129-144.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Presenting the
Original Facts and Documents upon which the Story Is Founded.
London: Thomas Bosworth, 215 Regent Street, 1853.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly.
Anthology of American Literature: Volume I: Colonial through
Romantic. Ed. George McMichael. New York: Macmillan Publishing,