The Role Of The Character Of Miss Ophelia In Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin after a realization about the sinfulness of slavery. This epiphany was triggered by the passing the Fugitiveslave Law. She wrote a novel that is worthy of being considered protest literature. Stowe takes responsibility for America’s immorality and depicts every scene and character in the book. Miss Ophelia, a character from North America, is used by Stowe to demonstrate the author’s intent to both protest slavery and address the deep-rooted prejudice against blacks. Stowe’s argument, that the South must eliminate slavery, is valid in Miss Ophelia serves as a powerful example.

Miss Ophelia is the most complicated female character in this novel. Mister St. Clare’s Northerly, pious and hardworking cousin. She is educated, independent and ambitious with a strong sense of duty. As she is single and is not yet married, she agrees with Mr. St. Clare that she accompany her to Louisiana to care and tend to Marie St. Clare’s house. She says that Eva’s “afterwards declared fairly turned to her stomach” (183). Miss Ophelia says that she is prejudiced by Mr. St. Clare’s statement, “Well…I want to show kindness to everyone and I wouldn’t hurt anybody; but when it comes to kissing-” (193). However, she states that she can’t imagine ever being in such close proximity to a slave. Ophelia still believes in abolition, but is prejudiced against blacks. While Ophelia is praised for her work ethic and commitment to principle when she tours the St. Clare home, readers might not be able to stop following her around (236), but Stowe uses Ophelia as a way to mock the subtle racism that exists in the North. Stowe seems to believe that Miss Ophelia was not a fan of slavery, but couldn’t see blacks as persons. It is Miss Ophelia that she can use to talk about these issues. While many Northerners were keen to share their knowledge with the South about how to deal with slavery, they were also quick to condemn Southern practices. However, those Northerners were often reluctant to have any personal contact or interaction with blacks. Miss Ophelia, for example, hears the story about Prue’s death and asks St. Clare if he thinks so after hearing it. Is it possible that you will do something about it? Are you going to make any changes? (244). She doesn’t intend to. Stowe believes that too many abolitionists desire the freeing of slaves, but they should be sent away or kept apart. Also, they won’t meet black people personally if they can live with them. Stowe pointed out to the North that abolitionists can also be racist. He uses Miss Ophelia’s character to symbolise the hypocrisy and inaction of the Northerners with regard to slavery in South. She questions them about why they keep slaves. She reminds them of the Christian obligation to their slaves regarding education and treatment. Marie is asked by her in their first conversation about servants. She is particularly interested in the reason Mr. St. Clare still keeps slaves despite knowing that it is wrong. Miss Ophelia even shares her own thoughts on how slaves should be treated. “That’s what I think” (204). St. Clare finally gives Miss Ophelia Topsy, an African-American girl, to teach. Topsy is the first thing that the woman resents when she sees her. This can be considered a critique of Christians’ hypocrisy. “-Something [about Topsy’s appearance], Miss Ophelia later stated, “so heathenish” as to inspire that lady with utter dismay.” (261). Although she initially isn’t sure if she wants to be involved in the raising of a slave girl, she soon accepts the responsibility. It’s a strange experiment where St. Clare gives Ophelia a slave to teach her about slavery. St. Clare lets Miss Ophelia educate Topsy and give her freedom to treat Topsy as she sees fit.

Topsy steals from Miss Ophelia as she is showing her how to make a comfortable bed. Topsy lied to her even though she was attempting to confess to the things she had done. Miss Ophelia is embarrassed when Topsy says that she realizes Miss Ophelia won’t be able to love her and touch her. She’d soon let a toad handle her!” (302). Ophelia meets Topsy and learns about the challenges of teaching slaves that have been subject to brutalization and subjugation throughout their lives. Ophelia quickly realizes her own hidden racism. She says that she’s always had a prejudice about Negroes… but she didn’t know it. Miss Ophelia is disgusted with Topsy and her catechism skills. All of her discipline is ineffective because she hates touching Topsy. Topsy’s unconditional love from Evangeline is what makes the child change.

It becomes obvious that Miss Ophelia has a lot of integrity, and not just because she is flawed in her own personal life. She recognizes where she is wrong and understands that Evangeline has been able to stop Topsy from getting out of control. She’s only Christ-like…I wish she were. “She might teach me something” (303). Topsy is left feeling depressed by the loss of Evangeline. She is no longer loved and cared for. But Miss Ophelia assures her that she will love Topsy. Even though I’m not that sweet little child, I can still love you. I hope she taught me something about the love Christ has for me. I can love and support you. That is when Topsy wins her heart.

Miss Ophelia demands St. Clare sign Topsy’s paperwork over to her. This will allow Ophelia to immediately secure Topsy as Ophelia’s legal property. She declares that Topsy will be taken back to New England by her. Topsy is with her when Miss Ophelia returns home to Vermont after St. Clare’s tragic death. She becomes a committed, pious member in North Christian community, and then a missionary. With Topsy’s help, Miss Ophelia is finally a Christian. Topsy is a victim of an evil system. Ophelia recognizes its flaws. Stowe’s message goes straight to her Christian readers. They are hypocrites until realize that slavery is an unacceptable sin.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is Miss Ophelia’s story. She is the only Northerner who takes a prominent role in the novel. She stands for people who are virtuous and hardworking and have a clean conscience. Stowe portrays these people in a harsh, cold and lack of love or warmth. They are strict about following a moral code but not in a loving or kind way. Miss Ophelia, for instance, is a Christian. But she’s not Christ-like in the same way that Eva and Tom are. She uses rationalized thoughts and not her emotions to make her political and life decisions.

Another important function of Miss Ophelia is to show how slavery affects women’s domestic concerns. In Stowe’s vision, the scene in which Miss Ophelia tries reorganize Marie St. Clare’s home is pivotal to understanding his morally-correct universe. Stowe saw slavery as an outrage that impacted family life. Slavery is a violation of Miss Ophelia’s morality, just as Dinah’s kitchen waste offends Miss Ophelia’s senses of a well-organized home. You could argue that Miss Ophelia’s character has made kitchens a metaphor of social conditions in South and North America. Ophelia views kitchens in North as an example of cleanliness and economy. This is in line with her moral stance towards slavery. However, the South’s kitchens seem disorganized and wasteful. This is a direct reflection of the institution, which can be devastating for all who are involved. The character of Miss Ophelia was used by Stowe to connect the domestic and political spheres. She confronts the South’s government, as well as the North’s households. Stowe knew her audience would primarily be white women. So she cleverly plays on their guilt and uneasiness over the treatment given to slaves. She is able to address Northern white women who are unable to help the abolitionist movement but believe they can’t. Stowe used Ophelia’s condemnation about slavery to show Northern women others feel the same guilt as her.

Miss Ophelia St. clare is a powerful support for Stowe’s protest against slavery. Stowe can address the Northern white women through this character, which allows her to literally include them in her narrative alongside the characters from other strands. Stowe’s readers are begging for Miss Ophelia to reveal her revelation. It is inspired by Topsy and Evangeline towards the end. Miss Ophelia, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s educated Christian woman, supports equality.


  • jessicawilson

    Jessica Wilson is a 33-year-old essay writer and blogger from the UK. She has been writing since she was a teenager and has always been interested in writing about personal experiences and thoughts. Jessica has written for a number of online magazines and websites and has also published a number of essays and short stories. Jessica currently works as a freelance writer.