21 January 2009

In Praise of Uncle Tom.

I like him. I really, really do. Have you ever read the book?

Uncle Tom, knowing he's to be sold to pay his master's debts, goes along with the plan willingly. He does this because he knows that otherwise, OTHERS will go in his stead. So he takes the burdens of all upon himself. He helps others to gain their freedom while losing his own. Just imagine Jesus without a temper, always sweet and gentle in his words and wearing a bright halo, and you've got Uncle Tom.

Jesus woulda whooped their stupid butts IRL, I'm thinking.

You have to appreciate that the book is really sap. The whole literary genre is really sap. So Uncle Tom is MEANT to be sappy, corny, always loveable... just as the other characters are always drunk, always angelic, always angry... well, you get the idea. No lasting literary value at all here, which explains why most schools don't assign this work to their students.

Sure, it has HISTORICAL value. It inspired people to take a look at the humanity and Christlikeness of this FICTIONAL character, but that's about where it ends. I'd have to say that if I were to meet Uncle Tom in person and be able somehow to have a genuine conversation with him, I'd tell him he's being foolish by clinging to his principles so tightly that he deprives his children of their father. I think really, the aspect of Tom sacrificing not only himself but his whole family for the sake of others must have been lost on the reader of the times. Today, I have to read it and go, well, your morals are great, but couldn't you bend a little and help your family to EAT? To stay TOGETHER? And you're giving up all this to help massa pay his debts??

But you have to appreciate a man who sticks with his integrity even at great loss. That's what I like about Uncle Tom. But the whole concept of the noble savage is just a mite racist, ya think? I guess I can say at least they didn't make Uncle Tom a gangsta and say "they're" all like *that.* Maybe I have a preference for the type of stereotype I read about. :]

I've noticed this trend on children's television programming and it reeeeeeallllly bothers me. So, say that Jorge is a great guitarist and it makes Jeff really sad. Then later in the show, we find out that Jeff writes awesome music and everyone is happy because Jorge couldn't have won the talent show without Jeff's new musical riff, and etc.

Barf.

Shows like this make the real-life Jeffs wonder what their true talent would be, and sets them up for discouragement when it isn't found. Lemme add right here that autistic children aren't magic ponies and don't all have some sort of hidden MENSA talent like counting toothpicks or anything like on Rainman. Thought I'd mention that, because let's just say that some kids on the spectrum seem to think they should be able to call forth these magical powers and God forgot the fairy dust, ok? Some of us plod along and don't know what our talents are or even if they exist in comparison with others. Some of us need to know that we're good enough, we're smart enough... because doggone it, God loves us. Really.

So anyway, usually people are just a little more nuanced than you read about in Uncle Tom's Cabin or see on TV. Or read about in the newspaper. If Stella killed 20 people tomorrow in a Toronto shoe store, people would remember her ONLY for that and they wouldn't go, what a great reader she was! And she posted such great photos on her blog! Look at this great arrest photo on the sidebar! :]

They'd wonder what she was doing in Toronto. Let's face it. Then they'd wonder what kind of great sale the shoe store was having that 20 people would be in there at once. I think we all know that the thing she did would far outweigh the other things she was. When the made-for-tv movie comes out, there would HAVE to be some sort of foreshadowing. The actress would have to give some sidelong glance at the camera, some look of hate when platform shoes are mentioned, some sort of love interest with a shoe salesman... something that gives the viewer a clue about what's going to happen.

But I think we know real life isn't like that.

3 comments:

  1. Have you ever read Value Tales? I had them as a kid, and was so delighted to see a big stack of them at my flea market last weekend. They teach a big theme like patience or wisdom while telling the story of a famous person, like an inventor.

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  2. I might be an English Lit major but there's lots of things I haven't read & this is one of them. The old books are sometimes like that though. I know when I read the last Anne book [Rilla of Ingleside] I come smacky do up against Empirical thinking I can just remember from my childhood [all the pink bits on the world map were ours lol]& attitudes to war that just gobsmack me. I know people thought like that but what *were* they thinking?!

    I probably wouldn't bother with this one. To Kill a Mockingbird probably does a better job but if I was going to look at slavery I'd start a little closer to home with our *blackbirds*. Yes, to our shame Australia too had slaves to work the cane fields for years, Kanakas brought in from the South Sea Islands etc

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  3. There has been a trend in media toward a more "gray" world in our tales. When we look at shows like "Lost" we see actions that we judge, but then learn the backstory and see where they are coming from. Our movies are full of "everyone is flawed" type storylines, and our villains are "dimensionalized." And so, yes, we are no longer much into the "the bad guy wears black and a mask, and the good guy is in white."

    On the other hand, there is something to be said for things "just happening" to work out (like Jeff and Jorge). Granted, it is rarely as clean, clear, and perfect as the fairy tales of TV, but over and over it "just so happens" that we can be blessing to each other... no matter who we are.

    ~Luke

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Non-troll comments always welcome! :)