TRANSATLANTIC GROWTH THROUGH SLAVERY AND FREEDOM IN HARRIET BEECHER STOWE S UNCLE TOM S CABIN AND GERTRUDIS GÓMEZ DE AVELLANEDA S SAB * - PDF

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Marta Miquel Baldellou 127 TRANSATLANTIC GROWTH THROUGH SLAVERY AND FREEDOM IN HARRIET BEECHER STOWE S UNCLE TOM S CABIN AND GERTRUDIS GÓMEZ DE AVELLANEDA S SAB * Marta Miquel Baldellou ** Abstract: This

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Marta Miquel Baldellou 127 TRANSATLANTIC GROWTH THROUGH SLAVERY AND FREEDOM IN HARRIET BEECHER STOWE S UNCLE TOM S CABIN AND GERTRUDIS GÓMEZ DE AVELLANEDA S SAB * Marta Miquel Baldellou ** Abstract: This article is meant to be a comparative analysis of the development of the main characters in relation to the dichotomy established between liberty and slavery as presented in Harriet Beecher Stowe s Uncle Tom s Cabin and Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda s Sab. The aim of this article is to identify the similarities and differences between both novels as regards their main characters (Tom/Sab), their social discourse (abolitionism/ antislavery) or their genre (social novel/romantic novel) so as to highlight the importance of the Cuban writer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda as precursor of the antislavery novel, which eventually gave way to the abolitionist genre represented by Harriet Beecher Stowe s seminal novel, published some years later. Keywords: transatlanticism; coming of age; antislavery and abolitionist discourses; religion; education; social discourse; sentimentality; slavery and women s situation. Resumen: Este artículo es un estudio comparativo del crecimiento de los personajes principales en relación a la dicotomía entre libertad y esclavitud desarrollada en la novela La cabaña del tío Tom de la escritora norteamericana Harriet Beecher Stowe y la novela Sab de la escritora cubana, aunque española de adopción, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. El propósito del artículo es identificar las similitudes y diferencias entre ambas novelas en relación al desarrollo de los personajes principales (Tom/Sab), el discurso social (abolicionismo/ antiesclavismo) o el género (novela social/novela romántica) con el fin de dar a conocer la obra de Gómez de Avellaneda como precursora de la novela antiesclavista, que llegó a su apogeo con la obra abolicionista por antonomasia escrita por Harriet Beecher Stowe años más tarde. Palabras clave: transatlanticismo; crecimiento; discurso antiesclavista y abolicionista; religión; educación; discurso social; sentimentalismo; esclavismo y situación de la mujer. La esclavitud es una y persigue un fin común de explotación del trabajo, y la nacionalidad del explotador poco quita o agrega. También rechazamos que haya diferencias por la religión del explotador [...] Para la masa esclavizada, la esclavitud fue siempre una y la * Date of reception: May 2006 Date of acceptance and final version: July 2006 ** AGAUR Research fellow, Departamento de Inglés y Lingüística, Universidad de Lleida; 128 Marta Miquel Baldellou misma, y las diferencias de grados de explotación se originaron en razones económicas [...] También rechazamos todo tipo de connotación racial que determinara una preferencia de los esclavistas por los africanos (Rivas 1990: 87) 1 There is an extensive and significant corpus of bibliographic studies about the Cuban 2 writer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda s first novel, Sab, published in 1841, in which scholars often remark the fact that this antislavery novel chronologically precedes the publication of the most well-known antislavery 3 novel of all times, Uncle Tom s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in An example of these comparative studies is the reference José Servera makes when he mentions that Sab era la primera novela en español en la que se denunciaba esa práctica [la esclavitud], y se adelantaba a La cabaña del tío Tom (Servera 1997: 50) Similarly, Avellaneda s biographer, Carmen Bravo-Villasante, also alludes to both novels and remarks the underlining differences between them when she says that no obstante los alegatos contra la esclavitud, [...] en Sab el elemento abolicionista es lo de menos, y lo más importante es el canto a la naturaleza [...] y sobre todo describir el sentimiento de un mundo primitivo y la fuerza pasional de los temperamentos sensibles (Servera 1997: 50). Luis Alberto Sánchez also mentions that entre las primeras novelas idealistas figura Sab, por doña Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, [que] trata de la esclavitud del negro en Cuba, [mientras que] La cabaña del tío Tom por Harriet Beecher Stowe, es posterior; ella inaugura la guerra entre esclavistas y antiesclavistas and remarks that Sab no fue tan eficaz porque las circunstancias eran diferentes (Sánchez 1968: 129). Moreover, Mercedes Rivas also mentions both novels and defends that en el fondo responden a una actitud semejante ante el problema negro, pues, como afirma Jacqueline Kaye, son el producto de crisis surgidas en el seno de sociedades capitalistas de América cuyo sostén fue el trabajo de esclavos (Rivas 1990: 164). The remarkably earlier publication of Sab in comparison with other novels of the same genre, especially taking into consideration that its writing was even earlier than its actual publication, 4 turns it into one of the first antislavery novels. Sab is considered as 1 This quotation, through which Mercedes Rivas refers to M. Moreno Fraginals, reveals the universal feeling of rejection towards the abominable institution of slavery, despite the differences in the countries where these practices take place, their religion, the degree of exploitation of the slave, or even his or her race. It is believed that this universal feeling of rejection joins all novels regarded as antislavery, regardless of the nationality of the author, or the country where these novels were published. 2 In spite of her Cuban origins, Gómez de Avellaneda lived in different localities of Spain throughout all her life, and it is precisely in Madrid where her literary career began to arise. 3 Mercedes Rivas distinguishes between antislavery novels and abolitionist novels, and she regards Sab as an antislavery novel, that is, against the institution of slavery. However, she does not claim the novel is abolitionist, since Cuban slaves were not granted their freedom until 1886 (when the so-called Ley de Patronato or Ley de la abolición de la esclavitud was passed; however, despite the fact this law defended the abolition of slavery in 1880, the slavery regime subtly continued for six years more) and Sab was published in 1841, when the abolitionist possibility had not been profusely contemplated yet. 4 The chronological difference between its writing (towards 1838 according to José Servera) and its first publication (1841) was due to censorship. Even the author herself decided not to include Sab in her collected works, Obras Literarias ( , 5 vols.), since its publication in Cuba would not have been accepted due to its marked antislavery discourse. Marta Miquel Baldellou 129 one of the most important novels of the genre in Cuba, 5 and scholars usually highlight both the fact it was written by a woman and that it develops a noteworthy discourse of social condemnation against different ways of slavery. It is the aim of this essay to analyse the different aspects that contribute to developing this discourse in Gómez de Avellaneda s Sab and Harriet Beecher Stowe s Uncle Tom s Cabin, taking into account chronological and national distances so as to describe how the transatlantic antislavery discourse developed in the nineteenth-century novel in both Cuba and the United States of America. The antislavery discourse manifests through the development and coming of age of the protagonists in both novels. The main character in Sab is presented in contrast with others so as to highlight the difference between social classes, the landlords and the slaves, and thus, develop both the antislavery and romantic discourses that characterise the novel, that is, the opposite, or binary, portrayal of differing pairs of characters in the novel which indicates the social stratification of the Cuban society of the time. 6 The first character introduced in the novel is Enrique Otway, an English young man, a so-called buhonero (seller) who enjoys a period of remarkable economic prosperity, and whose main aim is to arrange his marriage with Carlota, don Carlos daughter. At the beginning of the novel, Enrique arrives at Bellavista 7, don Carlos finca, to visit his fiancée Carlota. Enrique belongs to the social class of the criollos. He enjoys a comfortable social position, and well-aware of the privileges of his class, he aims at enlarging his economic dominion. As regards his opinions towards the slavery regime, he never declares himself a supporter, although he never complains about it either. Actually, he even sometimes uses it to his own benefit. Through the description of his physical traits in the first chapter of the novel, he is portrayed as a criollo in sharp contrast with the male protagonist of the novel, Sab, who is depicted as a mulato and a slave. The traits used to describe Enrique Otway s physical appearance seem to have been especially chosen so as to show his social origins, since it is said that su tez blanca y sonrosada, sus ojos azules, y su cabello de oro [denotaban] que había venido al mundo en una región del Norte (Gómez de Avellaneda 1997: 102). Despite the fact that Enrique belongs to the upper-social class, he finds himself in the need to ask Sab for help. At first, Enrique mistakes Sab for a landlord of good breeding due 5 Important Cuban antislavery novels are Félix Tanco Bosmeniel s Petrona y Rosalía (1838), Anselmo Suárez y Romero s Francisco. El ingenio o las delicias del campo (1839), Antonio Zambrana s El negro Francisco (1875), Cirilo Villaverde s Cecilia Valdés o La loma del Angel (1882), Juan Francisco Manzano s Autobiografía de un esclavo (1838), Pedro José Morillas El Ranchador (1856) and Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda s Sab (1841). Mercedes Rivas mentions this group as the most outstanding Cuban antislavery novels according to tradition. However, scholars do not agree on which of them can be regarded as the first Cuban antislavery novel. José Servera mentions Sab, Petrona y Rosalía, Francisco, and Cecilia Valdés as possible pioneers within this genre in Cuba. 6 Mercedes Rivas mentions that the social stratification of the time in Cuba was based on the three-partite division between the world of the whites (el amo, la ama, el hijo del amo, la hija del amo, los comerciantes, el personal libre del ingenio and los campesinos o rancheadores), the world of the free coloured men (el mulato and la mulata), the cimarrones (rural and urban) and the slaves (men and women). 7 The narrator locates Bellavista at about four leguas from Cubitas and about three leguas from Puerto Príncipe (today it is known as Camagüey, where Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda came from). The fact that actual places are mentioned reveals the historical and social discourse in the the novel, as happens with Beecher Stowe s novel, where references to real spaces also abound. 130 Marta Miquel Baldellou to his mulato appearance, and so, Enrique asks him about directions to find Bellavista. When Enrique discovers Sab s true identity, his racial and social prejudices lead him to abandon the good manners he had been using to address Sab so far and, from then onwards, Enrique s words acquire el tono de despreciativa familiaridad que se usa con los esclavos (Gómez de Avellaneda 1997: 108). This initial episode, together with the fact that both men aspire to Carlota s love, despite their differing aims, establishes the contrast and rivalry that will develop between both characters throughout the novel. This contrast of characters will prompt their coming of age as men. Enrique is idealised by Carlota, but we soon learn that both Enrique, and his father Jorge, are only interested in gaining economic profit out of the marriage between Enrique and Carlota. Actually, Enrique states that he cannot help feeling some kind of emotion towards Carlota. Nevertheless, he definitely rejects his intention to marry her once he discovers the amount of the promised dowry does not surpass his expectations 8. Only the fact that Carlota won the lottery prize 9 urges Enrique to change his mind and fulfill the marriage proposal his own father Jorge had advised him to contrive. The egotism that characterises Jorge is especially manifested when, on his wedding day, he reprobates the fact that Carlota does not look happy, when he is well aware of the fact that her father has left her to visit his son, and that her friend from childhood, Sab, has recently died. Moreover, once Enrique and Carlota are married, Carlota is submitted to a situation of oppression and submission, since she is no longer permitted to enjoy the liberty that characterised her youth at Bellavista, where she lived with her family. Actually, it is mentioned that Carlota no podía desaprobar con justicia la conducta de su marido, ni debía quejarse de su suerte, pero a pesar suyo se sentía oprimida (Gómez de Avellaneda 1997: 259), since Enrique is totally devoted to his business and disregards Carlota once he has already begotten her dowry. Thus, Enrique embodies the master of slaves per se, since he contributes to the permanence of the social slavery of the black and the mulatos, in addition to being a clear representative of the Cuban patriarchal society where the novel is set. Enrique also contributes to the discourse about the figurative slavery of women, who are enclosed in a domestic space and whose functions are traditionally reduced to the care of the family and procreation, thus denying them any right to intervene within the public sphere of the Cuban society of the time. If Enrique Otway is depicted as a subject defending and ensuring the continuity of slavery, Sab, the protagonist of the novel is portrayed as the object subjugated to this slavery, thus drawing a contrastive binary structure within the novel. Despite this characterisation, Sab is not representative of the slave population, since he enjoys quite a privileged position for those belonging to his class. Sab is a mulato as opposed to the rest of slaves, who are usually black. Actually, it is mentioned that Sab no parecía un criollo blanco, tampoco era negro ni podía creérsele descendiente de los primeros habitadores de las Antillas (Gómez de Avellaneda 1997: 104), and it is hinted that he was probably the 8 Don Carlos, Carlota s father, is disinherited once it is discovered Carlota aims at marrying a buhonero, Enrique Otway, since this fact presumes that, although Enrique may enjoy a buoyant economic position, his father s origins are too dubious to be accepted. 9 Later on, it is discovered that it is actually Sab the one who won it but gave it to Carlota so as to secure her happiness with Enrique. Marta Miquel Baldellou 131 result of miscegenation between two different social classes, which was considerate absolutely inappropriate at the time despite its common occurrence. Sab is also in charge of don Carlos finca, and as a result, he is enabled to give orders to the rest of the slaves at Bellavista. He has also received an uncommonly advantaged education for those of his class, since he was instructed under the same conditions of his beloved Carlota. Sab maintains a tight relationship with her and we know that Carlota makes sure Sab is never inflicted with any kind of torture, 10 which normally abounds in other antislavery novels. Finally, Sab is portrayed as possessing a powerful physique, which again endows him with qualities that convert him into a superior being, since the narrator mentions his appearance belonged to una de aquellas fisonomías que fijan las miradas a primera vista y que jamás se olvidan cuando se han visto una vez (Gómez de Avellaneda 1997: 104). Similarly, Sab s privileged position with respect to other slaves is also rooted in his noble origins, since his mother was an African princess and, as for his father, although Sab mentions he never met him, there exists the possibility that Sab is the son of Don Luis, don Carlos brother and Carlota s uncle. Consequently, it is hinted that Sab and Carlota might ultimately be cousins, since their respective fathers were brothers. In order to corroborate Sab s noble origins, scholars have remarked the resemblance of his name with that of the Queen of Sheba and he is often identified with the son she had from Salomon, 11 named Menelik. Despite his social class as a slave, Sab s true reason for suffering in the novel is the love he feels towards Carlota, which turns him into a literal slave for love; a totally platonic and idealised kind of love, since not only does social class and race separate them, but Carlota is also in love with another man, Enrique Otway. The fatality of this fact, along with others, converts Sab into a paradigm of the Romantic hero. 12 One of the traits that define Sab as a Romantic hero is that he is often presented as intimately related with nature and its intricacies. Sab exerts some kind of dominion over the realm of nature and animals. This is particularly shown when it is Sab who saves Enrique twice, when he falls off his horse during a storm and when he slips down in the cave of Cubitas. Another aspect which characterises Sab as a Romantic hero is that, despite being a slave, Sab has received an important educational background and possesses the gift of creativity. Nevertheless, as opposed to Enrique, Sab s education is not only academic, but he also shows a remarkable knowledge as regards the popular traditions of his country, that is, tales, songs 13 and legends that he learnt from the Indian woman, Martina, whom Sab 10 Episodes including extreme violence inflicted on slaves abound in Uncle Tom s Cabin, whereas they are totally inexistent in Sab. Despite the fact the unjust position and treatment attached to slaves is recurrent in Sab (especially illustrated in Enrique s prejudices towards slaves), no slave is submitted to any kind of violence throughout the novel, probably due to the censorship of the time. 11 Another different interpretation as regards the meaning of his name alludes to the fact that Sab probably belongs to the tribe of the san or bushmen since it is mentioned that era su color de un blanco amarillento (104), and this colour is often attached to the peoples living in certain zones within the African continent. This interpretation is defended by Mary Cruz in the 1976 edition of Sab, and it is also cited by José Servera in the 1997 edition of the novel. 12 The Romantic Movement in Spain, which began towards the second half of the nineteenth-century, becomes appropriate to develop a social discourse of deprecation that will give way to social change. 13 The first time Sab appears in the novel, he is singing a popular song, probably inspired by the love he feels towards Carlota. In contrast, in Uncle Tom s Cabin, slaves only dance, sing or perform when their masters ask them to do it. In Sab, he sings out of his own will. 132 Marta Miquel Baldellou regards as a mother since he is an orphan. Another trait that immediately associates him with the Romantic hero is the very fact that Sab is a slave in spite of his nobility of birth, since Romantic literature often recovers and gives especial precedence to those characters belonging to peripheral or marginal spaces. 14 Sab also embodies the figure of the noble savage. 15 Moreover, Sab also represents the romantic ideal through his spiritual presence all through the novel. His constant presence converts him into an ethereal character commonly found in Gothic tales, 16 which precisely aroused during the Romantic Movement. He is often portrayed as a silent presence that accompanies Carlota, acting as the protective angel of his beloved cousin. This presence, although is never truly identified, is supposed to be that of Sab. Moreover, as an ultimate Romantic trait that characterises Sab, his personality is described through a duality. He is Christian and pagan, submissive and rebellious at the same time, which again underlines his mediating position between the white an
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