In Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, the prevalence of slavery appears throughout the South in a variety of ethics. Stowe uses these different ethics to reveal the conflicting views of slavery in 19th century America. Some show slavery as beneficial to slaves, while others, as detrimental. In establishing these opposing views, Stowe shows not only the physical burden that slaves bear, but also the psychological decline of slaves. By showing the mental effects of slavery, Stowe shows that the negative consequences of slavery are mainly due to masters' manipulation of slaves' minds rather than physical abuse.
Sambo and Quimbo are two such slaves who become victims of the mental aspects of slavery. Rather than being physically abused, Sambo and Quimbo are actually very close to their master Legree, who convinces them that he is more trustworthy than his other slaves. By ranking Sambo and Quimbo higher than the other slaves on his plantation, Legree successfully alters their thoughts to turn them against the other slaves, as seen when they willingly beat Tom under Legree's orders. On the other hand, if Sambo and Quimbo had been physically abused, Legree would not have convinced them to turn against slaves, such as Tom, so easily. By displaying Sambo and Quimbo as traitors to their fellow slaves, Stowe successfully shows the effectiveness of Legree's control of his slaves' minds over his option of physical abuse.
Cassy's experiences with her masters also show the effectiveness of mental control over physical punishment. After having her children sold off to other masters, Cassy is unable to care for her newborn child since her mind is flooded with thoughts of the separation from her children. At this point, her previous master's actions to separate them have "made up [her] mind" (417) to kill her newborn. By admitting that she made up her mind, Cassy actually succumbs to the mental consequences of slavery and, like Sambo and Quimbo, Cassy betrays another slave, her child in this case, as a psychological victim of slavery. Once again, Stowe shows power of the manipulation of slaves' minds over beating slaves.
Lastly, Tom is the most strongly affected victim of mental manipulation. Unlike Sambo, Quimbo, and Cassy, Tom remains faithful to God and does not go against other slaves. Instead, Legree's rejection of Tom's principles eventually causes Tom's psychological downfall. His faith in God with his earlier kind masters, such as Shelby and St. Clare, hid him from the misery of having a cruel master, making him unprepared for his future master, Legree. When Tom is suddenly sold to a cruel master, he is still faithful to God and believes that he should not resist and flee for his own well-being, leading to his death. His refusal to protect himself is a result of the mental effects of his kind masters, under whom he never needed to protect himself. Stowe shows that by allowing Tom to believe in human kindness in his mind, Shelby and St. Clare put Tom in his inevitable death under a merciless master.
Stowe uses the manipulation of the slave mind to show that masters have so much power that they can even control the thoughts of slaves to their advantage. This will eventually turn into strong racism between whites and blacks. Racism in American society over the next century after the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin becomes an even greater power struggle, as whites try to keep control over blacks while blacks try to free themselves of white supremacy. Thus, Stowe is warning the reader that an attempt of one race to control another race will only intensify conflicts in the future.