Honestly Modesty

 (See definition #2)

Throughout literature, female modesty has been a defining characteristic of proper society- consider the women of Jane Austen’s time who dared not expose an ankle lest they ruin their reputation or, in contrast, the unfortunate Scarlett O’Hara and Anna Karenina who had no such reservations and suffered use and abuse by the men that they tempted. The classics make no doubt about it: modesty is essential to true female dignity, as well as keeping male minds focused on purity.

But what is modesty? Some might call it outdated, confining, un-feministic. I will not bother addressing these views at the moment. Instead, I would like to challenge those readers who nodded their heads throughout the first paragraph, those who think that they know what modesty truly is.

Most of the women that I know dress modestly and let me begin by saying thank you for taking this often-inconvenient step to protect our brothers and guy friends away from the sin of lust. However, I am concerned that there is a lack of true modesty beneath our layered camisoles and knee-length dresses; modesty is not all about what we are or are not wearing, how many layers we have on despite the heat, or even how much skin is showing.  Certainly a decency of dress is one way in which we manifest modesty, but it is only one tiny aspect of this virtue.

The Merrium-Webster dictionary defines “modesty” as a “regard for decency of behavior, speech, and dress.” Notice that this definition mentions dress as only a part of this “regard” and the last part at that! Before it even mentions dress, modesty is said to be a guideline for behavior and speech.

So what does this mean?  Does it mean that girls must never speak to boys? That we must always sit demure by our hearths with our eyes downcast and knitting in our laps? Certainly not! Modesty is respect, pure and simple. Just as the dictionary says, it is a regard for decency and thus a regard for others. I choose to dress modestly because I never want to be the object of a sinful thought; I do not want to distract and disrespect those around me. But as I said (well, as the dictionary said…) modesty goes beyond clothes. In the same way that I dress neatly to respect myself and others, I want to act modestly: properly, respectfully, and humbly. It baffles me that girls who cling so faithfully to their modest apparel often are the quickest to fall into flirtations. Granted, I am as guilty of this as anyone, for let’s face it, flirting and the attention it garners can be fun. However, I do not believe that this aggressive pursuit of boys (sorry, I will be blunt) is in line with complete modesty. To truly claim that I or you or any other woman out there (or man, but being a girl, I must address the females first) possess the virtue of modesty, we must strive to exhibit every aspect, not just the one most obvious to the observer.

Ultimately, I am just restating the age-old truth written in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control…with what is proper for women who profess godliness- good works.” This verse does not say “Thou shalt cover thy body and therefore be totally righteous.” Rather, it says that women should dress sensibly and decently and also practice self-control in work and word. For a woman or girl to effectively display the modesty she professes, she must demonstrate a modesty of speech and behavior in conjunction with dress; without these forgotten forms of modesty, which stem from a purity of heart and mind, all the sweaters and Capri pants in the word are no more than facades of faithfulness.

Human Attraction

I am a proud Sherlockian and for those of you who are not citizens of a geek fandom, that is simply someone who is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, whether it is the BBC television show, Benedict Cumberbatch in general, or the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I was first inducted as a Sherlockian when I happened upon the BBC show on Netflix, having already watched every Disney movie and Bigfoot documentary available. The show inspired me, for it provided a fresh, modern take on classic tales without making a mess of them as many have done (cough cough…Elementary…). After watching every episode at least twice and knowing it will probably be at least a decade before season four, I picked up a gigantic copy of the original stories and have been lugging it around with me for the past few weeks. (That in itself is a feat as it weighs at least five pounds; my biceps are getting huge!)

This morning as I read one of Mr. Holmes’ many adventures, “The Engineer’s Thumb,” I found myself more confused than poor Mr. Watson. You see, while Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing is impeccable and his tales chillingly pleasant, I often find myself wondering why he chose the plot lines that he did. After all, why write about an ordinary murder when death by boomerang is more surprising and also fits the evidence? Why purposefully leave a case unsolved or allow a criminal to escape? But most importantly, why don’t these frustrating details hinder my enjoyment of these stories? I personally love Sherlock Holmes, but it seems that the neatly-packaged resolutions of Nancy Drew might be more pleasant to the average reader. These questions and more have tantalized my brain for the past week, and so, following my hero’s example, I have deduced that the answer is elementary.

This brings me to my deduction: classic literature endures not because its plots are smooth and its resolutions entirely satisfying, but because it is distinctly human. In the case of the Sherlock Holmes tales, if every mystery had been sensational and every loose end tied up, it would not be believable. No human life is exiting all of the time and no human life has every problem resolved perfectly. The same statement is true of Anna Karenina, Gone With the Wind, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Vanity Fair, the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, and nearly every other piece of true literature. None of these renowned books has the perfect fairy-tale ending that audiences today expect and none of their plots are completely fantastic. If they had such endings and plots, they would be predictable and dull and probably not survive more than a generation. But they do not! AK made the terrible choices characteristic of humanity’s sinful nature, GWtW was wrought with tragedy and unstable relationships, TPoDG certainly did not end well, VF was riddled with unfortunate and unpredictable circumstances, and even the beloved fairy tales we heard as children were in actuality filled with gore and sorrow. None of these great books have complete “happily-ever-afters” or crystal-stair plots, but they did not need to. What makes a story a classic is its ability to reflect, even through fiction, the human condition, which is not generally solved by wit or relieved by magic.

However, none of this is to say that these stories are dull! They would not have lived through generations of frivolous human readers if they were. Rather, as Sherlock Holmes states, “Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent… it [makes] all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”  Thus, unlike certain modern tales of predictable sensationalism and tidy endings (hint hint…Twilight…), these classic works will endure as long as mankind because they are the mirror of man’s humanity and, according to current psychology, we are attracted to what is representative of ourselves.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Call to Serve a Different Master

“Tom read,—”Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
“Them’s good words, enough,” said the woman; “who says ’em?”
“The Lord,” said Tom.
“I jest wish I know’d whar to find Him,” said the woman.” 
― Harriet Beecher StoweUncle Tom’s Cabin


The woman in this excerpt from one of the most powerful pieces of American literature, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, did eventually find the beloved Lord of Whom Tom spoke. Her character, downtrodden and despised, could not at first fathom the presence of a merciful Redeemer in the midst of slave quarters and she certainly could not believe in a Heavenly Master under the looming threat of her perverted earthly master. However, through the simple and incorruptible faith of the title character, Uncle Tom, she was purchased through grace and faith; while her physical body might be sold to another master, her immortal soul was secure in the scarred hands of her Savior.

This theme of eternal salvation triumphing over sinful oppression was woven throughout the entirety of this not-entirely-fictional novel to expose the evils of a legal system of slavery and the dehumanizing effect it had on both slave, corrupted under the hard hand of cruelty, and master, corrupted by limitless power. The main characters of Uncle Tom’s Cabin illustrate this as Mrs. Stowe examines each of their lives and subsequently forces the reader to adopt a stance on the obvious issue of slavery, as well as what she paints as the more dire issue of faith and righteousness.

The first set of characters we encounter are pushed to run away from their bondage in order to preserve their marriage and family, indicating that slavery was a man-made institution that ruined the holy institution of the family and therefore, slave owner were guilty before God for tearing apart what He had joined together. These characters found their redemption in Canada and, I was pleased to read, lived happily for the remainder of their days.

The next character, in a way, achieved an even higher level of freedom. Uncle Tom is described from the first as a “man after God’s own heart” in total contrast to those society perceived as above him. Born into slavery, sold from his family, beaten, bruised, and rejected, he seemed only to be pitied, but never did he allow his countenance to fade or his faith to swerve. He had nothing in the end except the thankfulness and love of the lowly and the grudging respect of his oppressors. His character parallels the Lord whom he served and, like this Suffering Savior, he laid down his life to protect those he loved with nothing but forgiveness and praise on his lips. (There are so many parallels to the life and crucifixion of Jesus that I could point out, but this is only a blog post, not a commentary.) He did not reach Canada or receive the liberation promised by kinder masters, but the author leaves no question that Uncle Tom found freedom and victory in a better land.

The lives of the characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin are, at their most basic interpretation, examples to expose the atrocities of the American system of slavery. But, if we truly read the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe, we will find that there is a message of hope and repentance applicable in any age, even today. Slavery has long been abolished, but how often do we find ourselves hopeless, struggling, fearful, prideful, or abusive in word, deed, or thought? The convicting insights of this book are timeless and serve as a call to righteous action that, like the prayers of dear Uncle Tom, can never truly be silenced, for their impact is manifest across the nation and its generations.