Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin has many villainous characters, chief among them Simon Legree. Another devilish character is Augustine St. Clare’s wife, Marie, who is the epitome of selfishness.
Marie sees herself as faultless and her slaves as selfish, explaining to her husband how selfish Mammy is, “I think it’s selfish of her to sleep so sound nights; she knows I need little attentions almost every hour, when my worst turns are on, and yet she’s so hard to wake. I absolutely am worse, this very morning, for the efforts I had to make to wake her last night.”
When Augustine suggests that someone else take care of Marie for a night or two to give Mammy some rest, Marie says, “‘How can you propose it? St. Clare, you really are inconsiderate. So nervous as I am, the least breath disturbs me; and a strange hand about me would drive me absolutely frantic. If Mammy felt the interest in me she ought to, she’d wake easier,—of course, she would. I’ve heard of people who had such devoted servants, but it never was my luck;’ and Marie sighed.”
To choose selfishness rather than selflessness is to choose not-God over God. Marie St. Clare is a sage of her own decadence and in so doing chooses a lifestyle of suffering, not just for herself, but for all those around her. She endeavors to drag everyone near into her suffering. If they refuse, they are selfish for not consulting her ease. Marie’s entire will is hatred, negation, and destruction. Yet, she is no happier accomplishing her will in its entirety. Why? Because happiness is not in her. Those who indulge in the lust for destruction are in no way happier for it. Marie is miserable but persists in her dolor because she has destroyed her will for anything else. She measures other people’s worth by spewing severity but then insists that other people measure her worth by the frequency of her fomented grievances. It is a cock-and-bull state of mind because the intellect is one of the first things that evil destroys.
The lust for destruction exists not only in Marie. It can exist in people today. Sometimes we might notice it in ourselves, perhaps in a moment of jealousy that manufactures opportunities for soul-tormenting distrust, or in the savage resentment against those who point out our sin. The misandry of Marie St. Clare is often housed in the latest condition or diagnosis, which is yet another excuse to be miserable and talk incessantly about it.
The old enemy of selfishness may overtake us all if we are not on guard. Selfishness flows especially free amid the stress and insecurity of life. Within the home, it’s easy to unwittingly adopt the outlook of Marie St. Clare and flash specks of judgment upon your “selfish” spouse with complete blindness to your beams of hard-hearted demands. This kind of self-regard causes you to be so much engrossed in your own wants that you barely notice the needs of others. The tendency to be so steadily fixed upon your wants simultaneously forgets that the love of Christ patterns sacrifices over freedom. “If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died … it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Rom. 14:15, 20b-21).
The irony of selfishness is that when we live only to ourselves, we ruin our souls. “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-15). There is a decided disadvantage for those controlled by the love of self rather than Christ. Devotion to self is living in a small world. Devotion to Christ is life in a much larger world. The reason is obvious. In devotion to self, “love” is restricted to one. In devotion to Christ, love is multiplied to many.