A Charlotte Mason education is a long-term affair. It can be hard as the parent of younger kids to trust that you are doing the right thing, especially when your (classical) homeschooling friends seem to be doing way more. My oldest two are in high school now and I am starting to see the fruit of their labors. I posted some narrations my eldest did recently. Today I’d like to share an essay he wrote for me.
For a little background, I’ll tell you that this year I am having him study “Great American Bestsellers.” I am using the Great Courses series by that title and have selected 10 or so of their “bestsellers” to read. After each one I have him write me some sort of essay or response and then we listen to the Great Courses audio lecture. He just finished Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. His assignment was:
Uncle Tom’s Cabin Essay Questions
1. Faith plays a large part in the book. For each of the following characters, write a paragraph saying what they believed and how it affected their actions:
Augustine St. Clare
the Hallidays (the Quakers)
2. What do you think Harriet Beecher Stowe’s view are? Is there an overall statement about faith she is trying to make? Can you discern what she believes or which character(s) she would most agree with?
And here is what he produced:
In her story, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe paints an array of characters. Each has unique characteristics and traits. Belief also played a large part in the book. Belief very much governed the actions of the characters.
Uncle Tom, as the central character, plays one of the largest roles in the book. His actions are almost entirely by his belief in the Christian God. I cannot think of a single instance where he did not act as God would’ve wanted him to. He always carries his Bible with him and he is loyal unto death. He gladly takes a beating, unto death, for the sake of Cassie and Emoline. In his last words he forgave the worst man in the book. He showed Christianity to all of those around him. Even if his Christianity didn’t change them he showed everyone the strength of the one, living, and true God. I feel more like I am writing an obituary than an essay.
George Harris was Tom’s first owner. I believe that his belief is best expressed at the very end of the book when he frees all his slaves after he witnesses Tom’s death. Actions speak louder than words, and this action screams about George Harris’s faith. He is always a good steward of those put under him. He was definitely a Christian before Tom’s death, but I think Tom’s death opened his eyes to the sin of slavery.
Augustine St. Claire is Tom’s second master and he has a lot more “screen time” than Harris. St. Claire grew up with Christianity but he was never a true Christian until his final hours. His greatest love was his daughter Eva and that is reflected very clearly when he bought Tom right up until his death. He was always kind to his slaves, to a fault. He had no cares about what the slaves do as long as they get their jobs done. He doesn’t seem to care about his life, as long he has Eva. Like everyone else, St. Claire is changed by Eva’s death. It seems like after Eva’s death he doesn’t have the will to live anymore. If Eva hadn’t died Tom’s words wouldn’t have rung so true in St. Claire’s heart. You can very clearly see God’s plan in St. Claire. His actions in his final hours reveal his heart. I think at the end of his life he reveals himself to be a Christian. His major failing was not freeing his slaves, but he simply didn’t have the time for that in his life.
Miss Ophelia is St. Claire’s cousin and spends the majority of the book at his house. At her introduction she is shown to be an abolitionist but she soon shows she doesn’t know what she is fighting. She seems to be racist at her introduction but by St. Claire’s death she seems to have changed. What really had a hand in changing her was seeing Topsy change. Topsy was given to Miss Ophelia as a gift from St. Claire to act as a ward. At the start of the book she wouldn’t dream of having a black in her house, but by the end she wouldn’t dream of not having one in her house. Throughout the book she is a Christian and she is an abolitionist but God calls her to be more effective in her work and for that she needed to understand slavery better. God did exactly that for her.
Little Eva is portrayed as an innocent from her first appearance to he dying moments. The two innocents, her and Uncle Tom, both die prematurely. The Good Die Young. She is shown to be kind to all creatures, from horse to slave. She was innocent from her beginning but she only became aware of the presence of God when Tom showed her. She knew she was dying and she embraced it because she knew she was going to go to the Lord. Like others, her character was best shown in her last action, making her father promise to free Tom.
(*This would not be in a real essay* It really doesn’t help that Pandora is playing all sad songs.)
Topsy was the little black girl bought by St. Claire to help Miss Ophelia. At first she was a little devil. She stole whatever she wanted and then got away with it by asking for punishment from Miss Ophelia. But even more than Miss Ophelia changed Topsy, Eva changed her. Eva persisted in showing Topsy the Bible, even after Topsy bragged repeatedly how “very wicked” she was. Eva’s death was the final blow to Little Topsy and she broke down and finally changed her wicked ways. She became a firm Christian and ended up helping Miss Ophelia with the abolition movement in the North.
Not too much is known about the Hallidays, but their few actions showed their characters’ beliefs very well. They showed compassion on fugitive slaves and gave safety and food to the fugitives, even though they knew they would be hated for it. Their few actions speak louder about their faith than any number of their words could. They might not have had a perfect faith but they believed in a God of compassion and love and this is what was shown best about them.
Simon Legree was the “villain” of the story and he sure played the part. He is the one character in the entire book who got any real “screen time” and still kept a hard heart. (There was the slave trader at the start of the book, but he barely got any screen time.) He was changed by Tom’s actions, but it was not the same way as everyone else in the book. He seems to have killed all emotion in himself with the death of his mother. The ways people deal with death are grief and anger, frequently both, and Legree took his anger to an extreme, so much so that it killed all his other emotions. He didn’t really seem to be striving for anything either. He was just cruel. He would have made a really good Sith Lord. His killing of Tom was the action that I think showed his character best. He wasn’t looking for money, or else Tom would have lived. He wasn’t particularly looking for cruelty either. It is kinda hard to tell what he was looking for. Other than him being a superstitious atheist, the only sure thing I know about his “faith” is he lives by the Sith Code.
I think Harriet Beecher Stowe paints herself into this book as the role of Miss Ophelia. Especially the last chapter, seems to be written from Miss Ophelia’s religion. It seems interesting to me that the last chapter was so strongly portrayed from Miss Ophelia’s point of view. Both Ophelia and Stowe are strong abolitionists and females trying to work at it in a man’s word. My guess would be that Stowe started out with the same racism as Ophelia until she was shown the error of her ways.
What I noticed about all of these characters is that they are entirely governed by their faith. As long as you know their faith, you know exactly their next move. This makes the story a lot more relatable because we are all governed by our faith on one level or another. Having people who act solely on their belief and not on their emotions is interesting and it gives the book a unique aspect.
I’m pretty pleased with the results. We have really done very little in the way of teaching writing. We do a lot of narration including written narrations as well as dictation and copywork. I make observations on some things like “you really need a comma here” occasionally but I don’t tend to overemphasize these things. Last year when I had him study American short story writers, essayists and poets (see this post), I introduced the idea of an essay and talked a wee bit about the form it should take but again we really didn’t spend much time on it.
Now I am not saying this essay is perfect (he misidentifies George Harris for one thing) and I don’t honestly have much basis for comparison but here is what I like about it: he shows original thought (we actually disagreed in our interpretations of Topsy’s character), he writes clearly but with a humorous edge, and he makes connections (very CM!) to other things he knows (albeit Star Wars based). He was shocked and horrified to find that I don’t know what the code of the Sith is though I can guess. I liked his conclusion about Harriet Beecher Stowe and Miss Ophelia though I have no idea if it is true.
I also have an essay from my 9th grader which I will share soon.