In class this week we began discussing Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the background of the novel and its author, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe’s story became a household name to families in the United States as they waited patiently every week for a new chapter to be released in The National Era. The narrative was so well-loved that people would even send in complaints to the Era when Stowe missed a week. However, not everyone appreciated her stories. Many people, especially Southerners, objected her work. They brought up the fact that she was a white woman from the North; so, she could not have any idea what she was talking about. They argued that her stories were nothing more than that: made up stories. There were even other novels written, now called anti-Tom novels, to portray the South and slavery in a more positive light.
However, she used stories she had been told in order to create her narrative. She released A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1853 to prove the validity of the slavery stories told in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The subtitle is even called “Presenting the Original Facts and Documents upon Which the Story Is Founded, Together with Corroborative Statements Verifying the Truth of the Work.” However, there were still people who opposed her and claimed that she took the worst of the worst in order to make her stories seem true.
These objectors did not reject the pathos or logos of her stories; instead, they called upon her ethos. I remember learning about ethos, pathos, and logos in high school. I remember thinking about it like this: ethos= character, pathos= feelings, logos= words. Your ethos is your credibility, why someone should trust you on your subject. Your pathos is your emotions, how you use the reader’s emotions to pull them in a certain direction. Your logos is the words that you use, what you write. Personally, I think that ethos is the most important part of writing; if you are not a reliable person on the subject you are writing about, then why would anyone listen to you? Makes me think of all the drama surrounding vaccines and how people take information from proven un-reliable sources as the truth. However, there are millions of other arguments that stem from that ridiculousness that I should not delve into in this blog post. (Maybe send me a message if you are interested in having a debate on that subject. I love going into the ethics of it all.)
Without a reliable ethos, then your pathos and logos mean nothing. This can also be applied to our daily lives. When someone you know is not reliable comes to you and cries, “I swear. I will be better this time,” but you have already given them chance after chance to change their ways, would you really be swayed by their tears and pleas? Would their emotions and words have any effect on you? Honestly, I will be transparent here and say I have been the naïve one who accepts someone back time and time again after being hurt. I want to see the best in people, but sometimes that comes at the cost of my own joy. (I purposefully did not use the word “happy.” Being joyful and being happy are two completely different things, and, again, I could write a whole post just about that.) Just in the last semester I have had to learn the hard way that history repeats itself and the only way to end that cycle is to get out of it. The Bible tells us that we must forgive our brother 7 x 70 times over, but it does not say that we have to continue to put ourselves in situations where that forgiveness would have to be asked for.
Moral of the story: be a reliable person, forgive when forgiveness is asked for, and get out of toxic situations that steal your joy.