The White Man in Uncle Tom's Cabin
Close Reading by Ninad Athale

  "I never thought on 't," said Haley, "I couldn't have said as much, myself; I ha'nt no larning. I took up the trade just to make a living; if 'tan't right, I calculated to 'pent on 't in time, ye know."
"And now you'll save yerself the trouble, won't ye?" said the tall man. "See what 't is, now, to know scripture. If ye'd only studied yer Bible, like this yer good man, ye might have know'd it before, and saved ye a heap o' trouble. Ye could jist have said, 'Cussed be' - what's his name? - 'and 't would all have come right." And the stranger, who was no other than the honest drover whom we introduced to our readers in the Kentucky tavern, sat down, and began smoking, with a curious smile on his long, dry face. (p. 201)

  This passage is taken from Chapter 12, "Select Incident of Lawful Trade," and it provides the reader with an interesting glimpse into Stowe's characterization of white men. Here, there are two distinct characters - Haley and John the drover - who speak in a similar dialect to the one used for the black slaves in the novel. Both are ignorant in terms of book learning; Haley makes this claim outright when he says, "I ha'nt no larning," and John implies it by his comical statement, "'Cussed be' - what's his name?" Yet, the similarity between these men ends there, because while Haley is portrayed as a simple-minded, self-serving slave trader, John's speech is full of irony, and he clearly does not believe in the moral rightness of slave trading. Haley's rationalized belief that he will be able to repent for slave trading later "if 'tan't right" points out the ridiculousness of the religious justifications of slavery; by using the word "calculated" he depicts the moral fallacies inherent in the man who is driven primarily by economic success. In response, John subtly attacks Haley's ideas. He refers to repenting as "trouble" which implies that he believes Haley to be devoid of true Christian feeling. Yet, for all his sarcasm, John actively does nothing, aside from sitting and smoking.

  These two characters epitomize the different aspects of the white male patriarchal society. Haley is a businessman, pure and simple, unconcerned with the effects of slavery on blacks or even what the Bible has to say about it. John, on the other hand, is clearly sympathetic to the plight of slaves, but yet he does nothing but maintain an air of curious detachment, not unlike St. Claire or even Mr. Shelby. Throughout her novel, Stowe portrays white men as being deeply conflicted over the issue of slavery, and this passage illustrates the problem of the debate; while both sides agree that slavery is potentially wrong, neither side does anything to correct the problem.


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