Analysis: Chapters XXIV–XXVIII
Critics of Uncle Tom’s Cabin often find fault with the novel’s excessive sentimentality and melodrama. These chapters, dealing with the deaths of Eva and St. Clare, figure among the most sentimental in the book; over the scene of Eva’s death in particular, Stowe intones with overbearing force:
Farewell, beloved child! the bright, eternal doors have closed after thee; we shall see thy sweet face no more. Oh, woe for them who watched thy entrance into heaven, when they shall wake and find only the cold gray sky of daily life, and thou gone forever!
Stowe emphasizes repeatedly Eva’s perfection, her exemplary Christianity, her true innocence, her angelic nature. However, Stowe renders Eva in this way not merely for the sake of indulging in the thrill of histrionic grief, or to infuse her book with spectacle. Rather, Stowe idealizes Eva in order to raise issues of religion via the vision of heaven and the immortal soul. Indeed, Eva appears as a Christ figure as she lies dying—a perfect being without sin, she allows others to find salvation through her death. In asking Ophelia to clip her curls, Eva asks to be “sheared,” thus again referencing Jesus Christ. Ophelia even says outright that she hopes to be more like Eva, because Eva is like Christ. The use of Christ figures becomes a minor motif in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, underscoring some of the book’s religious themes. The motif will appear again during the scene of Uncle Tom’s tragic death in Chapter XLI.
After Eva’s death, Stowe briefly explores the conflict surrounding St. Clare’s religious skepticism, as his persistent inability to find God clashes with Tom’s earnest desire to see his master find salvation. And this brief conflict paves the way for another climatic moment of intense sentimentality, this one as overtly religious as the last. As St. Clare lies dying, he finally discovers a religious sign, as he apparently sees his mother, an idealized being like Eva. In this way, Stowe emphasizes the moral power of Christianity to transform and save the soul—a power that Stowe hoped would eventually alter the hearts of the slaveholders and lead to the eradication of slavery.
This section witnesses not only St. Clare’s conversion, but Miss Ophelia’s as well. Ophelia finally acknowledges her prejudices, realizing the truth of Eva’s words. She knows that she must love Topsy as a Christian in order to help her. St. Clare’s comments also contribute to the conversion. When he asks Miss Ophelia what good her faith is if she cannot save one child, she realizes that the love modeled by Eva constitutes the next step in her work with Topsy.