Sunday, August 24, 2008

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel has been described as one of the most influential books in the history of America, as hundreds of thousands of copies were sold the first year it was published. When Abraham Lincoln met Stowe, he said to her,"So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!" While he may have been exaggerating in this statement, Stowe's book was (and is) an extremely powerful picture of all aspects of slavery.

Though the main story revolves around Uncle Tom, an honest, hardworking slave, who is also a loving husband and father, there are several other stories that unfold as well. When plantation owner Mr. Shelby finds himself in a great amount of debt, he believes his only choice is to sell some of his slaves, or he will lose other valuable property, such as land. The slave trader who is collecting Mr. Shelby's money decides on 2 slaves that will settle the debts. The first is Tom, who is not only tall and strong, but also trustworthy and submissive, and the second is a good-looking child named Harry, who will fetch a good price in the slave market. Harry's mother Eliza overhears this deal and decides to make a run for Canada, rather than give up her beloved son. Her husband George recently ran away from his master as well, after undeserved harsh treatment. Eliza and Harry have been treated very well in the Shelby household, but Eliza would rather risk her life than live comfortably without her son. The reader follows Eliza and Harry through their frightening journey to try to find freedom.

Tom does not run away, though he hears of Mr. Shelby's decision to sell him. He says goodbye to his wife and children, and tells them to trust in the Lord as he does, and he hopes to see them again one day. Mrs. Shelby makes a promise to Uncle Tom that she will do everything in her power to buy him back. Tom has strong faith in God, that no matter what happens to him, no matter where he ends up, he will always be kind, loving, and do as he is told. He knows his time on earth is short, compared to the eternity he will spend in heaven. Tom goes through both happy times, and extremely wretched times, but he never loses his faith.

St. Clare and Evangeline, Ophelia and Topsy, and Cassy and Emmeline are other characters the reader meets. They all have different stories, and all of their lives are touched and changed by Uncle Tom and his love and faith. Through this cast of characters created by Stowe, the appalling institution of slavery is demonstrated. During this time period, many argued that slaves were better off being slaves, because they were given food and a roof over their heads. Some slaves had kind masters, who took very good care of them. However, no matter how rose-colored the situation can be painted, slavery at its best is still believing humans to be property and not worthy of freedom. America was founded on the very principle of freedom. "Is there anything in it glorious and dear for a nation, that is not also glorious and dear for a man? What is freedom to a nation, but freedom to the individuals in it...To your fathers, freedom was the right of a nation to be a nation. To him, it is the right of a man to be a man, and not a brute; the right to call the wife of his bosom his wife, and to protect her from lawless violence; the right to protect and educate his child; the right to have a home of his own, a religion of his own, a character of his own, unsubject to the will of another" (398). How could a nation founded on these principles, say it is OK to own, trade, sell and treat humans as if they are animals?

Not only are Southern slave owners depicted, but Northerners as well. Though some considered themselves abolitionists, they still looked down upon those with darker skin. As said by the southern St. Clare to his northern cousin, "We are the more obvious oppressors of the negro, but the unchristian prejudice of the north is an oppressor almost equally severe" (324). Stowe points out that if one despises the institution of slavery, but does absolutely nothing about it, they are no better than those who own slaves.

Reading Uncle Tom's Cabin brought tears to my eyes more than once. Stowe did not just write a powerful story, but she brought to light the evils of slavery, and through her book, appealed to Americans to do something to stop allowing it to happen.

Date completed: August 24, 2008
# of pages: 464

10 Comments:

Dar said...

I had read this last year and agree that it is a powerful story. I find novels like these hard to read but at the same time they always remind me of how this should never have happened and never should again. I found her writing hard to read at times but this book is absolutely worth taking the time to read. Thanks for a great review Laura.

Jeane said...

I read this a few years ago. It is one of the most detailed pictures of slavery in America I have read so far. I think there's a sequel- Uncle Tom's Children- have you heard of it?

Becca said...

Great review Laura. I've owned this book for years, but still haven't gotten around to reading it. I've read plenty of excerpts though and know it will be worth the effort once I do.

Also, I just read Beloved by Toni Morrison, and it's often considered a follow-up to Uncle Tom's Cabin (although it wasn't written until 1987). It's about the transition slaves made during and after the war. It's difficult to read because of the violence, but definitely worth it.

Literary Feline said...

I read this book in high school and had to give an oral book report on it. I remember being so nervous! I always think of that day whenever I see mention of this book. :-)

I may have to revisit this book one of these days. I remember that it made a big impression on me all those many years ago.

Laura said...

Dar-The dialoge was a bit difficult for me, and I found that reading outloud sometimes helped. It was definitely worth the extra time it took to read though!

Jeane-I haven't heard of the sequel, but I'm going to look into it!

Becca-I read your review of Beloved, and you made me want to read it, but especially if it is considered a follow-up to UTC--I really want to read it! I hadn't heard that before!

Nymeth said...

Beautiful review, Laura. I really want to read this one sometime. It'll be hard to fit it in until the end of the year with all the challenges I want to complete, but I should make a point of reading it next year.

Trish said...

Now I really feel like I need to read this one! Great review, Laura. "Stowe points out that if one despises the institution of slavery, but does absolutely nothing about it, they are no better than those who own slaves." Such a powerful statement--and I think it is something that still rings true today (perhaps not for slavery, but just in general).

Laura said...

~Nymeth-Because of the length and the writing of this book, it is not one that is possible to read quickly. I definitely recommend taking the time to read it though! It is well worth it!

~Trish-You do need to read it! I think you should switch it out and read it for your challenge!

I know what you mean as far as the message still rings true today--there are terrible things taking place now in the world, and it is so easy to sit back and hope someone else will do something about it.

Josette said...

I read this book last year and it definitely left a lasting impression. One feels sorry for the characters especially Eliza and contempt for Legree!

Here's my review of it. :)

Susan Brown said...

i recently read this book.it really shows us how unfair to those slaves during that"dark era".Hope Gods makes all their sadness ,tears and misery vanish.