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Published: 24-12-2019

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Simon Legree and the Gothic Images

‘During the entire of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens . . . [I] at length located myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, inside view of the melancholy Home of Usher’ (317). Edgar Allan Poe’s opening sentence in ‘The Fall of the Home of Usher,’ captures a dark, gloomy, mysterious, and desolate aura that characterizes gothic literature. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe chooses to incorporate related gothic images in her novel by portraying Simon Legree as a devilish character, and associating him with grotesque photos. Her descriptions of Simon and his plantation reflect themes that are often depicted in gothic novels such as disorder, decay, and darkness.

When we 1st meet Simon Legree, his functions depict him as a monster. Stowe describes him as ‘short, broad, and muscular’ with a ‘bullet head,’ ‘shaggy,’ ‘hairy,’ ‘very dirty,’ and ‘garnished with lengthy nails, in a very foul condition’ (334). Here, Stowe does not paint the image of a human, but describes a beast. Stowe’s portrayal of Simon as a dirty and claw-like beast becomes very fitting as the novel continues, and the reader is introduced to Legree as a corrupt and cruel master of his slaves.

In her novel, Stowe chooses to progress into the gothic realm of Legree rather than quickly flooding the pages with dark pictures. She starts with the beast-like characterization of Legree, and then concludes her introduction to Simon Legree with a passage that foreshadows her subsequent chapter, ‘Dark Places.’ Stowe writes, ‘The boat moved on, — freigthed with its weight of sorrow,–up the red, muddy, turbid current, by means of the abrupt, tortuous windings of the Red river . . .’ (342). Here, Legree and his newly purchased slaves are traveling along this river, and Stowe chooses to associate their travel with the color red. Red symbolizes the doom that the newly bought slaves will face although living with Simon Legree.

By flooding the passage with imagery of a red river, it becomes clear that Stowe’s writing was influenced by Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. Here, a red river of blood surrounds the seventh circle, the location where violent sinners are kept. Stowe appears to suggest that Legree himself, surrounded by the red river, is a violent sinner. Also, 1 may argue that Stowe’s red river includes the blood of slaves that have died by the hands of their cruel masters. By creating an allusion to Dante’s Inferno, Stowe associates Simon Legree with each the devil and hell. To improve the gothic imagery of death, doom, and evil, Stowe also makes use of words such as the ‘turbid existing,’ ‘abrupt,’ and ‘tortuous windings’ to foreshadow the hell that she will introduce to the reader in the next chapter.

In the following chapter, Stowe’s use of gothic imagery becomes really vivid. Stowe opens the chapter with a quote stating, ‘The dark places of the earth are complete of the habitations of cruelty’ (343). Right here Stowe tends to make her initial connection among gothic imagery and slavery. The ‘habitations of cruelty’ refers to all the plantations in America that are run by slave owners like Legree, and cruelty, coupled with darkness, contribute to Stowe’s definition of the gothic. She then chooses to concentrate on Legree’s plantation, and how his plantation lives up to the quote that opens the chapter. Stowe describes the road to Legree’s home as ‘winding by means of dreary pine barrens, where the wind whispered mournfully . . .’ (343). Stowe’s option of words, such as the whispering wind and the winding roads, paints an eerie gothic picture really similar to the openings of Poe’s ‘The Fall of the Home of Usher’ and Alighieri’s Inferno. Also, it is plausible to associate this dark image with Simon Legree, thinking about that this winding dark road that he is traveling on leads to his plantation.

When we reach Simon Legree’s home, Stowe introduces us to a once smoothly shaven lawn that has been transposed by ‘ornamental shrubs’, ‘frowsy tangled grass,’ a ‘ground littered with broken pails,’ and ‘other slovenly remains.’ (345). Right here, Stowe evokes disorder, a theme that is really frequent in gothic novels. In Wuthering Heights, a well-noted gothic novel, Emily Bronte’s villain, Heathcliff, lives in an older castle-like home that is full of cobwebs, cluttered with utensils, and characterized by broken shutters. The disorder described in Uncle Tom’s Cabin not only reflects the lawn, but also symoblizes the disarray inside Legree’s plantation.

In addition, the truth that there was ‘once a smooth-shaven lawn,’ and that ‘what as soon as was a large garden was now all grown over with weeds,’ shows that the Legree’s plantation has not always been gothic-like, but has grown to become a forsaken place when Legree took over the plantation. The description of the plantation, covered with weeds and shrubbery that continue to grow during Legree’s reign, tends to make me think about dark clouds slowly casting shadows over a spot of doom. To contribute to this dark image, Stowe also writes of flower pots ‘with sticks in them, whose dried leaves showed they had when been plants’ (345). Along with the encroaching weeds and shrubbery, the leafless sticks represent deterioration and decay.

Stowe furthers the somber description of the landscape when she introduces the reader to Legree’s castle-like home. She writes, ‘some windows stopped up with boards, some with sheltered panes, and shutters hanging by a single hinge,–all telling of coarse neglect and discomfort’ (345). Right here, Stowe paints a image of an abandoned ghost property. The disorder introduced to the reader in the description of Legree’s landscape remains vivid in the shattered window panes and the broken shutters. To summarize these features as ‘coarse neglect and discomfort’ implies ambiguity. She seems to offer that these situations apply not only to Legree’s house, but also to Legree’s relationship with his slaves on the plantation.

For instance, the character of Cassy, like the leaves on the plants outside, loses its beauty and liveliness even though under the reign of Legree. Cassy, when an very attractive young lady, has a ‘dark wild face’ with traces of wrinkles and heavy black eyes. Cassy, like the landscape of the plantation, has turn into the item of Legree’s cruelty and neglect. In Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ the home of Usher possesses Roderick Usher by causing him an immense amount of mental derangement, and ultimately swallowing him in the house’s ‘crack.’ Roderick and Cassy have grow to be objects of decay, and their characteristics resemble those of a gothic character.

While describing the inside of Legree’s property, Stowe once once more focuses on disorder and decay. She writes, ‘it had as soon as been hung with a showy and high-priced paper, which now hung mouldering, torn and discolored, from the damp walls’ (370). Like Cassy and the landscape of the plantation, the inside of Legree’s house is deteriorating. To contribute to the gothic descriptions of the residence, Stowe describes the smell that inhabits Legree’s plantation as a ‘peculiar sickening, unwholesome smell, compounded of mingled damp, dirt and decay.’ The smell of Legree’s home clearly evokes death. Stowe describes a smell that one normally associates with a morgue, or even a gross anatomy class. Stowe then adds to this deathly feeling by stating, ‘though the climate was not cold, the evenings always seemed damp and chilly in that wonderful area . . .’ (370). Stowe describes a place that can't retain warmth, no matter what the climate. Also, adjectives such as ‘damp’ and ‘chilly’ have a unfavorable connotation, and they contribute to the gothic theme that Stowe portrays in her writing.

In addition, to boost the gothic theme, Stowe portrays Simon Legree as a single who remains consumed with the ghost of the dead slave in the garret2E Stowe writes, ‘He heard her open the entry doors that led to the garret. A wild gust of wind swept down, extinguishing the candle he held in his hand, and with it the fearful, unearthly screams they seemed to be shrieked in his very ear’ (406). Right here, the screams that ‘seemed to be shrieked in his really ear’ allude to the fact that Legree’s thoughts can't escape the legend of the ghost in the garret. Cassy, realizing that Legree is terrified of the ghost in the garret, emphasizes the gothic theme of the novel by staging ghost-like pictures and noises. ‘It was a cloudy, misty moonlight, and there he saw it!–something white,gliding in! He heard the nonetheless rustle of its ghostly garmets. It stood nevertheless by his bed–a cold hand touched his a voice said, three times, in a low, fearful whisper, ‘Come! come! come!’ (425-426). Cassy, covered in a white sheet, stages a ghost-like figure to toy with her master’s weaknesses. These ghost-like photos consume at Legree’s consciousness and ultimately result in him to have a mental breakdown. The haunting of characters, such as Legree, remains a widespread function inside gothic literature. For instance, in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the occasional piercing screams and laughter of Bertha Mason, the madwoman residing on the third floor, leads to Jane Eyre’s conclusion that a ghost haunts the estate. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Jane Eyre employ pictures of the supernatural and the mysterious in order to develop an atmosphere of worry and suspense that is typical of gothic literature.

Stowe’s option of words, her use of dark imagery, and the implementation of the supernatural contribute to the gothic theme of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Simon Legree and his plantation represent the cruelties of slavery, and by emphasizing darkness and the supernatural in her writing, it becomes clear that Stowe’s intentions were to cast a shadow upon slavery as properly.
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