The role of woman as a mother in the 19th century as portrayed in some of the literature of the time is that of the home maker, the backbone which the nation stood on. Woman as mother made most of the decisions at home, or executed them, and it was the only domain she had influence in. However, some actions women made primarily to fulfill their role as mothers reverberated nationally, their echoes setting trends that others chose to emulate or raised the hopes in others. The voice of women was behind the scenes, with no representation or power to vote (Cott 1). The input of woman and lack of legal statues where she was subject to her husbands whims were similar to those of slaves; they all had little or no freedom but their participation in the society was laudable.
Those women lacked the freedoms to vote or voice their feelings in public, but this didn’t deter them from being the cogs the wheels of society revolved upon. The vital role they played from the confines of their homes often had great impact on society, and this they played in the role of mothers.
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In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Harriet Uncle Tom’s Cabin, we find women centered themes as Stowe hits at the spot where the struggles of women could not be contained but evoked to react to the injustices she felt were being wrought on black slaves. That she chose the slave as her object to reach middle class women in her novel is also a question directed to them as to their role in shaping the trends of the time, a challenge to them to look into their capabilities and power to change the course of affairs.
That the white women who felt compelled to help the black slaves, or the ones who propagated slavery is confirmation that the bond of womanhood is not strong enough to erase the bondage women find themselves in, it takes more than pity and feelings to make things happen. This suggests that womanhood is a practical matter, not just a sentimental one.
Eliza comes out as the woman who has great strength and embodies the true character of a mother. She has the will of a lioness that will risk all in a bid to protect its cub. It is a reflection of a mother who accepts her position and endeavors to fulfill to her family all that a docile mother would, with love and zeal. By being reserved, obedient and a hard worker who can be relied on is a manifestation of what a mother should be.
Motherhood in Eliza is again celebrated in her beauty. Mothers are the face of beauty and to the child the closest best thing that can ever happen to it. This Eliza carries well, and her relation to her husband, that of love and dedication is also a profound statement on the role of an ideal mother and wife.
The role of a mother as a protector is another theme that we see in Eliza when she decides to escape with her son, in Mrs. Shelby when we see her sigh with relief when she senses that Eliza has run away with her son or when she (Mrs. Shelby) is asking her husband not to sell the goodly Eliza’s son. These are the basic instincts of a mother, the welfare and safety of her children. It can also be extended to Cassy when she tries to stop Mr. Lenigree from whipping Tom.
Christianity is echoed in the actions of some of the women where they seek to be good regardless of the situations in their lives or the outcome of their actions. The likes of Mrs. Bird, Eliza and Mrs. Perry all who are good hearted in nature although their contributions toward solving the problems are different. Christianity is brought forward not only in the form of humanism, the belief that we should do good to others as we would want them to do unto us but also in the aspect that it is our call to accept the situation we find ourselves in and act as befitting our status.
Faithfulness has been brought out too. Eliza is the ultimate faithful mother, a model mother whom a fair society looks at with respect for her virtue and strong moral stand. She comes out as a fighter, one who takes the necessary action. She loves too, as depicted where, instead of leading her five year old son Harry with her hand, she carries him on her bosom, close to her heart where he forever belongs (Stowe Pg. 62).
She is the embodiment of a morally upright, strong, brave and humble woman with the resolve of steel. Chloe is the other woman who comes close to Eliza in being a family woman whose life centers around her family: Her husband Tom and her three children. The other characters that who embody the ideal mother are Mrs. Bird and Mrs. Shelby.
In motherhood we see the way women relate to their children’s mirrored in the way they relate to the world and to slavery. That Eliza is loves wholly is her doing, and later undoing, a love which she engrosses fully. This cannot be said for Ophelia St. Clare, who is without a family of her own and is beyond marriage age. Ophelia is a northerner, so we expect her to condone slavery, but it is her relationship with the blacks, aloof and non committal that comes out (Stowe 310). Just like she cannot love as a mother, lacking a nuclear family of her own, she lacks the feelings, the warmth to love and appreciate the blacks at her cousins’ place.
Ophelia’s cousin, Marie St. Clare embodies the typical bad mother. Her being perpetually sickly is compatible with the theme of lacking in the qualities in a mother that bring a smile on the faces of her children. It is her hard driving cruel slave ways that depict motherhood in the worst possible form. It is a reflection of an uncaring mother who minds not the needs and feelings of her children. By being aloof and petty she is what no man would wish in a wife, a child a mother, a lover in a mistress or a servant wish for in a master.
Mrs. Bird also is another woman who has the characteristics of motherhood in her. She is moral and has a soft heart for the slaves whom she views with pity and love, but she does not wield her power to make it happen that slaves should be freed. She is content to let the status quo remain by not doing anything to lessen the bondage of slavery.
In Eliza’s mother Cassy, we see the pain of motherhood denied. Beautiful and intelligent, Cassy is the picture sorrow in motherhood, for in having Eliza taken from her from an early age evokes the feelings of death of a child visiting a mother. Although she doesn’t believe in God she is kind, and her disillusionment is akin to the maddening feelings of a mother who has had her child taken away. She portrays a caring mother who stays attached to her children even if they might not be with her and cares for them.
The steps that motherhood takes, the way in which it is propagated is the way it is likely to be served. We see Dinah, although black, being harsh on the young children for no reason because that is the way she has been brought up to believe people should be treated, not simply because she ought be that way. It is the system that she has been brought up in she is emulating (Stowe 311)
The role of women as mothers reflects the dynamics of society. Motherhood is the smaller version of the society in general. In the works of this women we get to see the challenges of mother hood and how women dealt with them in this uncertain time in a past that was bleak for them, but overall it is the triumph of woman over adversity through sorrow, sheer iron will and love that is celebrated.
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