Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an abolitionist novel to illustrate the evils of slavery. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made it illegal to support or help a runaway slave (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2016), the author was inspired to write the novel. The novel, which was written in 1852, is widely credited with sparking anti-slavery movements in the United States.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in the state of Connecticut in the year 1811. Her father was a Christian priest, and she was his daughter. She attended Hartford Female Seminary and later became a teacher there. At the age of 21, she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she met and married Calvin Stowe. Calvin Stowe was a professor of theology. In the early 1850s, the Stowe moved to Maine and here she drafted Uncle Tom’s Cabin and it was published and appeared as a series in The National era (LitCharts, 2017).
I choose to read the book because of its huge international impact and it was also highly recommended by my colleagues and teachers. The book exposes the cruelty of slavery and it is one of the triggers of the Civil War. In my opinion, the book is very interesting to read. Slavery is evil and should be opposed by everyone.
The main topic of the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, describes the evils of slavery. The central ideas of the book are to provoke Christians to rise against slavery and abolish it. The book also advances feminism ideas by portraying women as powerful and equal to men.
The book focuses on the lives of two characters, Uncle Tom and Eliza. Initially, Uncle Tom and Eliza are owned by Mr. Shelby who treats his slaves very well. Mr. Shelby allowed his slaves a certain degree of freedom to the extent that they are allowed to own families and hold religious meetings. However, Mr. Shelby is indebted to a man named Haley, a slave-trader. Mr. Shelby is not able to repay his debts and in return, Haley wants two slaves one of them being Harry, the son of Eliza and Uncle Tom, a devoted Christian. Eliza hears about the deal and rather than lose her son whom she loved so dearly she decides to run away to Canada. She persuades Uncle Tom to also escape but he refuses.
Eliza and her son, Harry, escapes and they are pursued by Haley. However, Haley is not able to catch up with them because they have moved from Kentucky to Ohio. Nevertheless, he hires two slave hunters to track them. Haley then comes back to Shelby’s firm and takes Uncle Tom to a steamboat headed for the south. On the boat, Uncle Tom meets and befriend a little girl, Eva. Uncle Tom and Eva have similar views on Christianity and therefore, they discussed the bible together. Eva is very much impressed by Uncle Tom’s characters and she convinces her father, Augustine St. Clare to acquire him. Uncle Tom is bought and made the one in charge of the horses. Augustine St. Clare is a wealthy and intelligent man who allows his slaves to do as they wish. However, despite his ability to oppose slavery, Augustine is too idle to oppose it and instead he allows slavery to proceed uninterrupted. Marie, his wife, is so concerned with herself to take care of their daughter Eva and therefore, Augustine brings his cousin, Ophelia to take care of Eva. Uncle Tom is treated very well by Augustine and he contents with his new owner.
Meanwhile, Eliza is booked to a Quaker settlement where she meets her husband, George, who turns out to be a very intelligent man. George runs away to the Quaker settlement by disguising himself as a Spanish businessman. He is a mulatto and therefore, his appearance resembles that of a white man. George takes with him another slave to the Quaker settlement in order to trace his wife. After meeting his wife news break out that they are being followed, so they run away. However, they run into a confrontation with their hunters whereby George shoots one of them. After healing the hunter decides to quit slave hunting. Eliza, George and their son, Harry, dress up as two men and a girl and take a ferry to Canada.
On the other hand, Uncle Tom is still enjoying life under the ownership of Augustine St. Unfortunately, Eva dies and Augustine is extremely affected by her death and he begins to think about humanity and the moral effects of slavery. After thorough considerations, he decides to free his slaves including Uncle Tom whose wife is trying to raise money in order to buy back. Uncle Tom is delighted after hearing that he will be freed. However, St. Clare is killed in a bar fight before he can process the release papers for Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom is then sold in an auction before the Shelby’s slaves can reach, for they are to buy him back.
Uncle Tom’s new owner is Simon Legree, a cruel slave owner. Legree is a mean man who mistreats his slaves. He encourages his slaves to boss fellow slaves. He hates Christianity and does everything to make Tom denounce his beliefs. Legree beats Uncle Tom to death after he refuses to confess the whereabouts of two women who are running away. By refusing to disclose their location, Tom helps the two to escape. The two women happen to be relatives of George and Eliza. They finally escape to Liberia, a country created for freed black slaves. The story of Uncle Tom brings to light the sufferings.
In conclusion, Uncle Tom’s cabin urges the readers to put up a fight against slavery and abolish it. It highlights the suffering of the slaves and tries to show that they also have feelings like the whites.
In the 1800s slavery was legal and was fully supported by the American government. The whites were allowed to buy and sell slaves. When the slaves tried to escape the government passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that prohibited the aid for an escaping slave (Charles River Editors, 2016). The law also included a clause that allowed a slave-hunter to be compensated for capturing an escaping slave. The inspiration of Harriet Beecher Stowe to write this book was, exactly, a response to that Act. The writer was herself an abolitionist and a devoted Christian having being raised in a Christian family.
At the time of writing the book, both the North and the South were deeply divided on the issues of slavery. The South relied on agriculture and mostly grew cotton which they sold to the North. The South depended on slaves to provide free labor on their farms. On the other hand, the main economic activity in the North was manufacturing, hence, they were dependent on the cotton from the South for their manufacturing industry. The South, therefore, supported slavery whereas the North did not. Despite the fact that the North opposed slavery, they did not make an effort to abolish it. It is for this reason that Harriet Beecher Stowe decided to write a book in order to convince the North to openly oppose to slavery and end it.
Harriet Beecher Stowe is credited by some historian for starting the civil war. In fact, it is alleged that when she met President Abraham Lincoln he supposedly said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war” (SparkNotes, 2017). As a daughter of a Christian minister, Christian values are depicted throughout the book and they heavily influence the narrative. In fact, despite the book being an anti-slavery narrative it also a sermon that tries to convince Christians that slavery is an evil institution that must be shattered (litcharts, 2017). Harriet Beecher Stowe grew up in Northeast but stayed in Cincinnati and this allowed her to see both sides of slavery discussion. Cincinnati was evenly divided concerning slavery. She wrote several satirical pieces on the subject of slavery for the various media outlet. Although Stowe, encountered firsthand experience on the evils of slavery, she consulted her cooks and household servants during the writing of this book. She did extensive research and even went to an extent of writing to Frederick Douglass, who was an African-American abolitionist in the South at the time of writing the book. and others for assistance in helping to create a realistic picture of the lives of slaves in the south. Therefore, Stowe’s narrative is massively shaped by existing laws at the time, Christian values and the narratives of her servants who had experienced slavery. Her book was hugely successful and was especially popular with the North population. The book sold 10000 copies within the first week and 300000 copies by the end of the year (litcharts, 2017).
The purpose of writing the book was to show the evils of slavery and to persuade people to make an effort to abolish it. Its main point was to convince the large North leadership to intervene in the South and end slavery. Throughout the book, there are three main criteria that can be used to judge the book. The three main criteria are; theme, setting and writing style.
In Uncle Tom’s cabin three main themes emerge: the evil of slavery, incompatibility of slavery, Christian values and power of women.
The novel exposes all forms of slavery and shows it as being evil for the humanity. Slavery tore up families as it happens in the case of Uncle Tom who was separated from his wife and kids. Although Shelby treats his slaves well, he uses them to settle his debts and this portrays him as being morally weak. Augustine St. Clare gives authority to his slaves to run the household, he understands the evil of slavery, but he does not oppose it till it is too late. Simon Legree, on the other hand, is depicted as a cruel master who beats his slaves and often kills them (Stowe , 1852). Miss Ophelia represents the North abolitionist movement but she is finding it hard to touch a black slave, Topsy. Through all these events, Stowe shows that all forms of slavery whether good or bad is evil and leads to immorality among the whites and the blacks. Furthermore, it leads to an unchristian life. In fact, Stowe highlights this conflict between slavery and Christianity.
Harriet Beecher Stowe references the bible throughout her novel and she shows slavery as incompatible with the values of Christianity. She fails to understand why Christians would tolerate slavery. In her book, Eva, the most ethically perfect character in the novel, fails to comprehend why anyone would see a difference between the blacks and the whites. In the novel, the character, Uncle Tom owns only one book, the bible. He often quotes the bible to teach Eva, Cassy, and others. Christianity helps him to triumph over slavery by adhering to the doctrine “love your enemy”. The Quakers help George, Eliza and Harry not as a show of kindness to the blacks but as a duty to serve God. Miss Ophelia although being a Christian is unwilling to personally help the slaves. Therefore, through these depictions, the story exposes the conflict between Christianity and compatibility.
The book also serves to depict the power of women in the society. It serves as a sample of early feminism. The book tries to create a picture of an ideal and perfect girl, Eva, who is against the vice of slavery. Miss Ophelia is a Christian and believes in work as a form of Christian charity and love. She helps to mold Topsy into a good Christian woman. On the other hand, Marie St. Clare is lazy, self-loving and blames others for her misfortunes. Mammy. Eva’s maid is hardworking and committed to helping the Augustine family. Eliza and Mrs. Shelby are depicted as caring and loving mothers. Mrs. Shelby helps to distract the hunters pursuing Eliza. Therefore, throughout the novel, women are depicted as being powerful, loving and caring towards their family.
In general, Uncle Tom’s Cabin gives a clear picture to the reader about the evils of slavery towards women and the society at large. It also helps show conflict between Christianity and slavery.
In the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin the North symbolizes freedom whereas the South symbolizes slavery and brutality. The two main narratives in the novel i.e. the story of Eliza and George and the story of Uncle Tom takes place in two different settings. One story shows Eliza and George escaping to freedom while the story of Uncle Tom shows his decent towards slavery and the oppression he faces until his death. The escape of Eliza and George happens in the North and ends in Canada while the death of Uncle Tom happens in Louisiana in the South. The split in the setting of the story represents the great gap between freedom and slavery and helps Stowe to use parallel settings and contrast in putting across her political views (Shmoop Editorial Team, 2008).
The style of writing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin novel is informal and uses the third person to narrate the story (Hegde, 2017). The tone is sentimental and seeks to depict the life among the slaves. The sentimental tone helps to awaken a sense of guilt and compassion in our hearts. It convinces the reader that he/she has the ability to end slavery.
I had a hard time reading the novel because of the cruelty depicted in the novel. The novel was so emotional especially in instances where the slaves are oppressed. However, I can highly rate the novel as a very good book to read. It deserves the praise it has received since its first publication. It clearly helps us come into to terms with the reality of slavery and oppose any form of slavery in our modern society.
Any form of slavery is evil and should be abolished. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a clear and organized manner. She uses her knowledge to make a good argument for the abolition of slavery. She clearly outlines the evils of slavery and its contradiction with the Christian values. The book is sentimental and provokes one to rise against slavery. Through the sentimental tone of the book, the author is able to address Christians and convince them that they no longer need to remain silent on the issues of slavery. This novel opened my eyes to the reality of slavery. It taught me a lesson on why the slaves were fighting so hard to be set free.
I found the book to be very interesting and I would, therefore, recommend it to anyone who loves literature and history of this great country.
Charles River Editors. (2016). The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850: The History of the Controversial Law That Sparked the Confederacy’s Secession and the Civil War. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.
Hegde, M. (2017, July 14). Book Review: Uncle Tom’s Cabin-Harriet Beecher Stowe. Retrieved from book review circle . com: http://www.book-review-circle.com/Uncle-Toms-Cabin-Harriet-Beecher-Stowe-2.html
litcharts. (2017, July 14). Uncle Tom’s Cabin Study Guide from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes. Retrieved from LitCharts : http://www.litcharts.com/lit/uncle-tom-s-cabin
Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008, November 11). Uncle Tom’s Cabin Setting. Retrieved from shmoop: http://www.shmoop.com/uncle-toms-cabin/setting.html
SparkNotes. (2017, July 14). SparkNotes: Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Themes, Motifs & Symbols. Retrieved from SparkNotes: http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/uncletom/themes.html
Stowe , H. B. (1852). Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2016, July 5). Fugitive Slave Acts. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/event/Fugitive-Slave-Acts