Topsy’s Growing Character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

September 1, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Evolution of Topsy

They say teach a child to fish and he will never go hungry. What if you teach a child self deprecation? Will they then grow to become a helpful human being? In the case of Topsy from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the answer to this question is no. Having been labeled as the wicked black child, her character comes off as strange and rather uncivilized. Though she may seem like a troubled child, Harriet Beecher Stowe shows us that she has the ability of being more than just a “peculiar black child”. Stowe showcases Topsy’s growing character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin through the use of conventional imagery, the apparent consequences of severe slavery, and her primary encounter with kindness.

In the time which Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about, the looks of a Negro defined the type of background you had. The darker you were or the more raggedy you looked the more unintelligent and incapable you seemed. Therefore it was not surprising when we were introduced to the character of Topsy. Stowe says that, “She was one of the blackest of her race; and her round shining eyes, glittering as glass beads, moved with quick and restless glances over everything in the room… Her woolly hair was braided in sundry little tails, which stuck out in every direction (352).” Though she did not know anything about her character, Miss Ophelia begins to judge her after she sees her and asks “Augustine, what in the world have you brought that thing here for (352)?” She refers to Topsy as a “thing” not considering that she is a living child. Harriet Beecher Stowe expands a major message in the book which is the difference between slave and owner and even white and black folk.

As we notice her appearance, we are then introduced to the realities of cruel slavery that Topsy underwent. She is forced to act a certain way because she is so accustomed to being mistreated and beaten. St. Claire, the man who brought her into the house, says “Why, the fact is, this concern belonged to a couple of drunken creatures that keep a low restaurant that I have to pass by every day, and I was tired of hearing her screaming, and them beating and swearing at her (354).” She was being beaten every day and she believes that she is a wicked child because of it. Topsy admits to Miss Ophelia, “Laws, Missis, there’s heaps of ’em. Speculators buys ’em up cheap, when they’s little, and gets ’em raised for market (356).” The author shows us that kids so young were conditioned to believe that children are meant to be “raised for the market.” This can impact the way they think about themselves and even their creator. Topsy knows how to give all the right answers but she does not even know that there is a God who exists who made her.

Although she may seem like a degenerate, the readers also view a side of Topsy that could have been this sweet kind and generous young girl. For just a glimpse, Topsy experiences true friendship and kindness with Eva the Daughter of St. Claire. After Topsy is accused of stealing, Eva tells her, “Poor Topsy, why need you steal? You’re going to be taken good care of now. I’m sure I’d rather give you anything of mine, than have you steal it (362).” At this moment, the author writes, “It was the first word of kindness the child had ever heard in her life; and the sweet tone and manner struck strangely on the wild, rude heart, and a sparkle of something like a tear shone in the keen, round, glittering eye…(362).” Even though Topsy did not believe what Eva said afterward, she at least for a second appreciated a non abusive statement from someone. Harriet Beecher Stowe is conveying a message of equality and hope through Topsy’s emotion and Eva’s reaction in that situation.

Her character may have been small, but we can definitely recognize that Topsy was important to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s main message about faith, equality, and humanity. She was a character who played an eminent role in teaching readers of Uncle Tom’s Cabin about the realities of oppression. By using stereotypical imagery, apparent penalties of severe slavery, and her primary encounter with kindness Harriet Beecher Stowe showcases Topsy’s character growth vividly.

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