The Kisses of Tom and Eva: Not in Stowe’s text

In the text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin that can be attributed to Stowe, Eva does not kiss Tom, though literary critics seem to imagine that she does. Sarah Robbins refers to the “angelic mother-child Eva kissing Uncle Tom.” (539). Henry Louis Gates echoes this theme in his introduction to the Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin, where he says that Tom and Eva “touch, kiss, hold hands, hold each other closely” (xviii).

Below is a list of every instance of the word “kiss” in John P. Jewett’s 2-volume edition (according to text from Early American Fiction) during the portion of the work in which Eva and Tom are both present:

“O, there’s Mammy!” said Eva, as she flew across the room; and, throwing herself into her arms, she kissed her repeatedly. (1.238)

Eva flew from one to another, shaking hands and kissing, in a way that Miss Ophelia afterwards declared fairly turned her stomach. (1.238)

“Well, I want to be kind to everybody, and I wouldn’t have anything hurt; but as to kissing–” (1.238)

“Do hear the darlin talk!” said Mammy, as Eva thrust it into her bosom, and, kissing her, ran down stairs to her mother. (1.261)

“You sweet, little obliging soul!” said St. Clare, kissing her; “go along, that’s a good girl, and pray for me.” (1.262)

They fell on their knees; they sobbed, and prayed, and kissed the hem of her garment; and the elder ones poured forth words of endearment, mingled in prayers and blessings, after the manner of their susceptible race. (2.104)

Her father had been in, in the evening, and had said that Eva appeared more like her former self than ever she had done since her sickness; and when he kissed her for the night, he said to Miss Ophelia,—“Cousin, we may keep her with us, after all; she is certainly better;” and he had retired with a lighter heart in his bosom than he had had there for weeks. (2.111)

There are no kisses between Tom and Eva. Period. Eva kisses Mammy. Eva kisses the St. Clare servants generally. While one might suppose that she kisses both male and female, Stowe’s “shaking hands and kissing” could as easily suggest a gender divide to these gestures. In any case, Tom is not in the assembled group, as he remains associated with the arriving vehicle, not the household’s greeting party. St. Clare and Miss Ophelia’s discussion does not insist that gender matches the gesture–kiss for female servants, handshake for male–but all of Eva’s subsequent kisses are exchanged with Mammy or with St. Clare. The only other possible kiss is that Tom is among those who kiss the hem of Eva’s garment while she is on her deathbed.

Touch, hold hands, cradle, no doubt. But no kisses. Undoubtedly, however, the suggestion of sexual energy envelops the relationship between Eva and Tom in the Lake Pontchartrain Eden-like garden, given also, for example, Eva’s “I want him,” as Hortense J. Spillers points out (558, cf. UTC 1.218). But the eroticism is so coded as to dare the 19th-C. reader to infer a reading that the text resists. Hammat Billings’s illustration has been glossed as suggestive by James F. O’Gorman (84, ctd. in Morgan 27). But Jo-Ann Morgan (Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Visual Culture) responds that the “implication of physical intimacy between them would have been highly incendiary” (28).

And this fact is crucially important. Eva does not kiss Tom because the gesture would have elicited a firestorm of criticism. Billings’s illustration brings out the suggestive eroticism while the caption instructs readers not to allow the possibility that is being suggested (cf. Morgan 28). Eva’s youth, her Christian faith, Tom’s faith, and his status as a black slave close off any suggestion in the wreath of flowers or in her hand on his knee–present-day reader, keep your mind on high-minded topics.

Tom and Eva do exchange kisses, just not in Stowe’s text. For example, in on acting script for an early 20th-C. version by the Harmount company. See text at UTC & American Culture. Tom does kiss Eva. But this is not Stowe’s version: this is a modern remake. The literary criticism with which I began is also a remake: 20th and early 21st-century re-imaginings are applied to a text in a manner that I don’t think is conceivable for serious public fiction at the time Stowe wrote. By bringing a below-consciousness subtext to conscious attention with the text’s nonexistent kiss, we miss Stowe’s use of Christian morality to ward off any such suggestion.

Most present-day readers of a Jewett edition reprint would likely pass over mixed-race kissing without notice–though my student readers thought that Tom’s efforts to lure the child Eva a little creepy–but the kisses between Tom and Eva are not part of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. While the text is of our time, it is also of the mid-19th Century, and historically sensitive critical reading is better served if critics actually read the text with norms of 19th century conduct in mind, not create in the text imaginary episodes not supported by evidence.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Introduction. Annotated Uncle Tom’s Cabin. New York: Norton, 2008, xi-xlvii.

Morgan, Jo-Ann. Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Visual Culture. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2007.

O’Gorman, James F. Accomplished in All Departments of Art–Hammatt Billings of Boston, 1818-1874. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.

Robbins, Sarah. “Gendering the History of the Antislavery Narrative: Juxtaposing Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Benito Cereno, Beloved and Middle Passage.” American Quarterly 49 (1997): 539.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly. Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Electronic Resource. The Electronic Archive of American Fiction, 1850-1875. Charlottesville: Electronic Text Center, 2003. Online.

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