Gothic Elements In The Portrayal Of Simon Legree In Uncle Tom’s Cabin

“During the entire autumn of the years, when the sky was oppressively low and the clouds were dark and dull. . . As the evening began to fade, I finally found myself in the shadows of the House of Usher (317). The opening line of Edgar Allan Poe’s novel, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” captures the dark, mysterious, desolate atmosphere that is characteristic of gothic literature. Harriet Beecher-Stowe, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, uses similar gothic images to include Simon Legree’s devilish appearance and associating him w/ grotesque visuals. Simon and the plantation he lives in are typical themes of gothic novels: disorder, decay, darkness.

Simon Legree’s features immediately make him look like a monster when he first meets him. Stowe described him as being’short-broad-and muscular’ with a shaggy head and long nails. Stowe describes the beast, not a human image. Stowe’s depiction of Simon, as a claw-like creature, becomes more fitting as the novel goes on. Legree is presented as a cruel and corrupt master of his slaves. She begins by introducing Legree in a beast-like manner and ends with her introduction to Simon. . .’ (342). Legree is accompanied by his newly acquired slaves as they travel along the river. Stowe chose to associate their journey with the color red. Red is the symbol of the doom facing the newly acquired slaves while they live with Simon Legree.

Dante Alighieri’s Inferno is evident by the way that Stowe floods the passage with imagery of red rivers. A red river is seen surrounding the seventh circle where violent sinners can be found. Stowe suggests that Legree, who is surrounded by the river of blood, may be a violent sinner. Stowe’s Red River may also be thought to contain blood from slaves who had been tortured by their cruel masters. Stowe makes an allusion Dante’s Inferno by naming Simon Legree as both the devil or hell. Stowe makes use of words such the turbid current,’ abrupt,’ and â€TMtortuous wings’ to add depth to her gothic imagery.

The chapter that follows sees Stowe use gothic imagery at its most vivid. Stowe begins the chapter by quoting, “The dark places on the earth are full habitations for cruelty” (343). Stowe’s first link between gothic imagery, slavery is made here. Stowe defines the “habitations for cruelty” as all plantations in America run by slave owners like Legree. This includes cruelty combined with darkness. Legree’s Plantation: She focuses on how Legree lives up to that quote. Stowe describes Legree’s journey as a ‘winding through dreary, pine barrens. Where the wind whispered in mournful tones. . .’ (343). Stowe’s words choice, like the whispering wind or the winding roads, creates an eerie and gothic atmosphere that is similar to the openings of Poe and Alighieri’s Inferno. Because he is traveling along a darkened road, it is easy to connect this image to Simon Legree.

Stowe welcomes us to Simon Legree’s place. He explains that the once smooth lawn has been changed by ‘ornamentals shrubs’, ‘frowsy triangular grass’, and a ground littered wit broken pails’ as well as ‘other loathsome remains. Stowe here invokes disorder, which is a popular theme in gothic literature. Wuthering Heights is an iconic gothic novel. Emily Bronte portrays Heathcliff as a villain in Wuthering Heights. The house is older and castle-like, with many cobwebs. Uncle Tom’s Cabin describes the disorder in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It also mirrors Legree’s disarray at the plantation.

Further, Legree’s plantation became a forsaken place after he took over. I imagine the plantation as a dark place with dark clouds, covered with shrubbery and weeds that have continued to grow since Legree took over. Stowe adds to the dark picture by describing flower pots “with sticks in them” (345). The leafless sticks, along with the shrubbery and encroaching plants, represent decay and deterioration.

Stowe’s somber description continues when she introduces Legree to her castle-like home. She writes, “Some windows are blocked with boards; others have sheltered panes. And shutters hang by one hinge. They all tell of coarse neglect, discomfort, and incontinence.” (345). Stowe shows us a ghost-house that has been abandoned. The shattered shutters and broken window panes are a reminder of the disorder described by Legree. These features are described as “coarse neglect, discomfort” and it is ambiguous. These conditions are not just applicable to Legree’s home but also to Legree’s relationship with slaves on his plantation.

Cassy’s character is now less attractive and more stale than the leaves outside. Cassy was once a beautiful young woman. However, her face has become ‘dark and wild’ with wrinkles and dark eyes. Like the plantation’s landscape, Cassy was a product of Legree’s neglect and cruelty. Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher shows Roderick Usher in a state of mental derangement. The house of Usher eventually swallows Roderick Usher in the house crack.

Stowe once more focuses on disorder, decay and the interior of Legree’s house. Stowe wrote that Legree’s home had been once covered with expensive, showy paper. It was now dampened and moldy. As with Cassy’s landscape, Legree’s interior is rapidly deteriorating. Stowe describes Legree’s home as a suffocating, sickening, unwholesome, compounded smell made up of mingled damp dirt, dust, and decay. Stowe described a smell that would be associated with a graveyard or an anatomy class. Stowe describes this deathly sensation further by noting that although it was not cold outside, it felt like the evenings were damp and cold inside the great room. . .’ (370). Stowe describes a place where there is no warmth regardless of the weather. Stowe’s writings also include negative adjectives like ‘damp and ‘chilly’.

Stowe depicts Simon Legree in a gothic setting. Stowe writes: ‘He heard her open entry doors leading to the garret. The candle that he was holding in his hand was extinguished by a wild wind gust. These screams, which’seemed like they were shrieking inside his very ear’, refer to Legree’s inability to escape the myth of the ghost in Garret. Cassy recognizes Legree’s terror and creates ghost-like noises and images to highlight the gothic theme in the novel. “It was cloudy and misty moonlight. And there he saw it!” – Something white, gliding into! Its ghostly garmets rustled in his ears. It stood still near his bed. His hand was touched by a cold voice. come! come!’ (425-426). Cassy, clad in a whitesheet, creates a ghostly figure to play with her master’s weaknesses. These ghost-like images slowly eat into Legree’s consciousness, eventually leading to his mental breakdown. It is not uncommon for gothic literature to feature Legree’s haunting. Jane Eyre believes that Bertha, the mad woman residing on the 3rd floor, makes it sound like a ghost. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Jane Eyre and other gothic literature use images of the supernatural and mysterious to create a sense of terror and suspense.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a gothic tale. Stowe’s words and imagery are dark, as well the use of supernatural imagery. Simon Legree’s plantation and its cruelties are represented by Stowe. By emphasizing the supernatural and darkness in her writing, it becomes apparent that Stowe intended to cast a shadow on slavery.