An American Epic

After having read excerpts and discussing The Iliad and The Odyssey, I have thought much about a story that relates to the national beliefs and foundation of The United States of America. An epic portrays philosophies, ideals, and characteristics held in high esteem of the society. It celebrates the grand acts of valor of the hero and includes supernatural interference. For the Greeks, Odysseus was highly intellectual and obedient something esteemed in their culture. Because of his character the gods find him worthy of their attention and thus interject to give advice or to complicate his journey. The stories that make up The Odyssey are all about his adventures and his accomplished feats requiring superhuman courage.

I feel that Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe could be a fair representation of an American Epic. It came forth in a time when America’s foundations were quivering as a civil war loomed over the doorstep, and it served as a reminder of what America really advocates. America was created as a place to escape religious persecution, and developed into a nation where one could really be free. The United States Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator by certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. . . “

Stowe’s novel perpetuates this belief as slaves struggle for their freedom. Begging the world and the nation to see them as human, and possessing these “unalienable rights”. Included in this struggle for freedom is one character named Eliza. Eliza runs away in pursuit of Ohio, where she could be free. In order to reach her destination she had to cross a river in the winter. The river was filled with ice and would be dreadfully cold to wade across. Another character relating her escape claims that it was as if the Lord took her across the river on a chariot of fire. Further proclaiming that such a feat is not capable without the Lord’s help. Thus we have supernatural interference.

As for a hero, there’s Tom. A loyal slave his whole life Tom is promised freedom but is later sold to a wicked owner. Perhaps his most heroic act is not one of conquest and life, but in the act of his death. His wicked new master beats Tom nigh unto death. When his previous master returns to buy him back and finds Tom nearly dead, Tom finally shows his true power. He speaks with power as no man can own him now. He seeks for no pity. And finally passes. His death gives George, his previous master, a new conviction for everyone’s right to freedom. A true hero’s legacy is perpetuated by the generations to come. Such was the case of Odysseus, and Achilles, and such is the case of the characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.