Uncle Tom's Cabin


Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin: Metaphors 3 key examples

Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Chapter 2: The Mother
Explanation and Analysis—George's Rage:

In Chapter 2, the narrator uses vivid imagery and a metaphor to describe George Harris's reaction after he is removed from his job at the factory:

He folded his arms, tightly pressed in his lips, but a whole volcano of bitter feelings burned in his bosom, and sent streams of fire through his veins. He breathed short, and his large dark eyes flashed like live coals; and he might have broken out into some dangerous ebullition, had not the kindly manufacturer touched him on the arm, and said, in a low tone—“Give way, George; go with him for the present. We’ll try to help you, yet."

In the passage above, Beecher Stowe uses descriptive language that engages the human sense of sight to describe George's anger. Note Beecher Stowe's word choice; the words "volcano," "fire," "flashed," "coals," and "ebullition" help paint a clear image of George's physical and emotional response as one that is palpably angry and frustrated. George's anger is so intense that he appears to burn from within; the narrator then describes George's emotions as a "volcano of bitter feelings," an unexpected comparison that Beecher Stowe makes to underscore the fervor of George's rage, which is a response to the dehumanization he experiences at the hands of his cruel enslaver. This rage eventually pushes him to risk capture and escape to Canada, where he and his family can finally be free. 

This emphasis on emotions was part of Beecher Stowe's persuasive strategy when writing the novel. Aware that her audience would be more likely to receive an anti-slavery message if they could sympathize with the novel's enslaved characters, Beecher Stowe wrote scenes such as the one above with the reader's emotions in mind. Rather than describing George's motivations for escaping, Beecher Stowe presents them to the reader using vivid language, striking the reader's imagination and empathy.

Chapter 3: The Husband and Father
Explanation and Analysis—Bitter as Wormwood:

In Chapter 3, George uses a simile to describe his life to Eliza after his master forces him to leave his factory job and return to the plantation:

My life is bitter as wormwood; the very life is burning out of me. I’m a poor, miserable, forlorn drudge; I shall only drag you down with me, that’s all.

In the passage above, George makes an unexpected comparison and likens his life to wormwood, a striking example of simile. Wormwood refers to a bitter herb that can be poisonous. This comparison is not only a creative way of describing George's unhappiness but also a way to dramatize that unhappiness. Working on the plantation (where he has fewer freedoms than the factory) makes George feel even more restricted and inhuman. George also uses a metaphor when he tells Eliza that his life is "burning out." The image of a flame being extinguished, representing a transition from death to life, suggests death or a lack of vitality. 

These vivid assertions underscore the severe psychological, physical, and emotional toll life as a slave has taken on George, as well as the overall injustice of George's adversity. Overtime, slavery has drained the life out of him, in this instance literally eating away at his soul. Beecher Stowe uses this figurative language to allow the reader to gain access to George's thoughts and emotions. This, in turn, allows the reader to better understand George's motivations for running away from the plantation. This was important, as Beecher Stowe wanted readers to see just how cruel slavery was, especially in light of the recent Fugitive Slave Act. Many northerners had misconceived notions about slavery, and Beecher Stowe wrote purposefully in order to counter such beliefs. 

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Chapter 26: Death
Explanation and Analysis—Eva's Locks:

In Chapter 26, Eva uses a metaphor when she jokes with Miss Ophelia and likens her hair to a sheep’s fleece:

 Come, aunty, shear the sheep!

Eva, the St. Clares' daughter, is depicted in the novel as extremely sweet, virtuous, and devoted by all. Although Eva is joking, the association of her with a sheep here emphasizes her Christ-like nature; in the Bible, Jesus is described as a "lamb of God," a comparison that describes something innocent and precious being sacrificed. This religious reference, or allusion, is a form of characterization as well as moral persuasion on the part of Beecher Stowe; in making this allusion, she makes a direct appeal to her Christian audience, who would have been well aware of the phrase's biblical meaning.

Eva's religious nature and friendship with Uncle Tom inspires her father, Miss Ophelia, the other slaves, and also serves as an example to the reader. Beecher Stowe depicts genuine Christians as those who believe in treating all humans equally, a belief that directly opposed the practice of slavery. When Eva dies, it is presented to the reader as a tragic event. Eva's joke thus foreshadows her death, and like Uncle Tom, she becomes a martyr (or Christ-like figure) for readers to draw inspiration from. 

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