A Historical Book Review of Uncle Tom's Cabin
By all accounts, there were few to no works of literature that properly convey the atrocities of slavery. Literature was largely in favor of slavery and most authors wrote only of what they wanted you to know, giving slavery a false façade of being far less atrocious than it really was. However, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is regarded as one of the most influential books of all time, because of its differing from this normalcy. It was a milestone for the advancement of civil rights and equality. It is irrefutable that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is unparalleled in its ability to make the reader understand a little more of the life of slaves, as well as to assist the development of empathy from the reader and for the topic. This aspect of it sets it aside from the rest. It allows for a stronger and more emotional connection to the characters. While reading the book, it was impossible to avoid getting enthralled in the overall story and message that was being conveyed. Also, the author herself was an anomaly in the chain of bias and racist authors. Her experiences and knowledge of slavery, chronicled in A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, made for a realistic and truly empathetic experience. Therefore, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has survived as an American classic, even through the misinterpretation and controversy that it has faced, because of its realistic and truthful accounts of slavery.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, who as stated prior, wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was born in Connecticut, and later in life, after a few moves, moved to Cincinnati Ohio, where she witnessed much of the aspects of slavery that she would later incorporate into her writing. Not only did she witness the actual treatment of slaves, but she also was there for the pro-slavery riots in Cincinnati in 1836. This qualified her to write of the adverse effects that slavery had on people and how they viewed slavery. Also, she hired a servant girl from Kentucky, whom was free because of her mistress bringing her to Cincinnati and allowing her to stay. Later, the master was in town and was legally capable of retrieving her. Professor Stowe and his brother proceeded to arm themselves and escort the girl to a friend, taking untraversed roads in a covered wagon. This became the basis of the escape of Eliza and Harry in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This further qualifies her because of her first-hand experiences. Stowe was also well educated, and had plenty of prior experience in writing, allowing for her to properly depict the image that she needed to show. The largest proof of her qualifications, though, was her ensuing publication of A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She published this to show those who disputed her ideas or depictions that she was being entirely straightforward with the accounts of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, neither sugar coating in, nor over stating it. She was incredibly ahead of her time, being that she was an abolitionist, and a strong one at that. Growing up, she saw how terrible slavery was and developed an opposition to the idea of keeping human beings as slaves. An idea that was incredibly unpopular in her time. That is not to say that there was no one who agreed with her incredibly humane views. There was, after all, an entire movement and group of people dedicated to the idea, the ideals of which were embodied in her book. That being said, there was also a movement that was in opposition to that movement, which goes to show that her personal experiences and backgrounds were not the general consensus for people in that time. In my opinion, her own experiences and ideas being in the minority furthers her credibility not only because they were able to convey an incredible level of emotion to accompany the facts, but also because her ideas were unique, being untaught by people of bias, but rather by deduction of a humane mind. Put simply, her ideals have a higher semblance of believability and credibility because of their lack of being riddled with a preordained bias. All of this together shows the extensive qualification and justifications that Stowe had for writing her book.
Stowe wrote the book to show why slavery was a terrible thing and made a point trying to show just how terrible the conditions and the situations of slaves are, as well as the rift that it caused between people. She even goes as far as to create a few characters that help Eliza and her son escape form the slave trader, Haley. She delves into one of the character as being a senator and having passed a law to return runaway slaves to their masters, and another as the wife of the senator, who is trying to get him to see that he was wrong in his rash passing of the law. In the end, of course, he does come to that same conclusion. Stowe uses the statement: “Now, if the truth must be told, our senator had the misfortune to be a man to had a particularly humane and accessible nature, and turning away anybody that was in trouble had never been his forte” (Stowe 96), to show that despite himself, he would not turn away anyone who needed help. His helping Eliza and her son is exactly what occurred and as a result, he took them to another family that was even more dedicated to abolitionism. This helps her make one of the points that she was trying to make. The deep and differing alignment of those who held different views on slavery. This is, of course, only one reason for her writing of the book. She goes about making her other point (that slavery is a terrible thing) by using a mixture or real accounts given by slaves and having been observed by her as well as fictional writing that works in conjunction with one another to form the basis for her book. One of her favorite events to reiterate was the separation of children and their mother because of the negligent attitudes of the slave traders in regard to the detrimental and cataclysmic outcome of interfering with the bond between mother and child. She went a little overboard with this, reiterating it so many times that it began to lose its meaning. In contrast, most other problems were iterated a limited number of times, as to avoid the same outcome, which is indicative to the idea that she deliberately reiterated the same issue copiously to show how common occurrences, regardless of the magnitude of heinousness, can become desensitized when one views it for prolonged periods of time. Using this approach, she more than likely intended the book for all audiences, including facts and ideas that could influence that of both parties, so that they could develop or further their understanding on how slavery truly worked and why slavery is and was inherently wrong. This brings about the argument: that slavery is inherently wrong, no matter the humanity of the slave owner. She once again uses the St. Clare family to illustrate this idea. Despite the extensive kindness of Eva to the slaves, she still understands that it is a terrible thing. When a relative of hers tries to justify his “ownership” and abuse of slaves Eva responds with: “Would you think you were well off, if there were not on creature in the world near you to love you?” (Stowe 304) stumping her relative, who then made a vain and unsuccessful attempt to counter. The book is built on this theme and every event that occurs in the book just further the idea, ranging from Tom himself being sold, to his death, as to encompass the entirety of time that elapsed in the book. That is not a limitation, however. The death of Mr. St. Clare is also a major point in the mechanics of slavery, being that the slaves are like property and are simply sold off when their “owner” dies, dehumanizing them further.
Overall, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is incredibly effective in its purpose because of its author’s incredibly convincing writing and fictional take on real accounts given by slaves that have actually lived through the very thing that her book is condemning, making it highly refutable as a source and basis for the realities of slavery.
These unique, and at the time, somewhat blasphemous ideas about slavery were new in almost every regard new. There were abolitionists, yes, but more often than not they did not feel as strongly or as thoroughly convey their thoughts, stances, and opinions on slavery as in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was one of the first books to actually contribute a genuine and realistic view into the life of slaves, helping give the people of their time a more accurate depiction of slavery than that of which people so optimistically chose to see. Through its characters, it described an ideology that was entirely dismissed at the time. This was particularly evident with the character Evangeline St. Clare, who was eloquently described by in the eyes of Tom with, “To him she seemed something almost divine; and whenever her golden head and deep blue eyes peered out upon him from behind some dusky cotton-bale, or looked down upon him over some ridge of packages, he half believed that he saw one of the angels stepped out of his New Testament” which shows how she inadvertently acted angelic and empathetic. The general ideology that she embodies is that of fair and friendly treatment of all people regardless of any number of variables or factors, particularly race, in this case. There is also a show of ideology in a less material representation (meaning it is harder to identify because it is largely symbolic), in which names play a large role. The name Tom is given to a few different characters, which connotes the implications that everyone is the same in one way or another, and the segregation and oppression of any one race is foolish to no end. Contrarily, we have the views of the unsavory slave holders, embodied by the character Simon Legree, Tom’s last and his most brutal master. Legree illustrates the sadism of and deplorable behavior or slave owners as well as the most common environment of the slave, which up to that point it had been depicting with Shelby’s plantation and the St. Clare plantation. Stowe did wonderfully in portraying the environment of slaves and the effects of slavery on the people. The entirety of the book contributed to the abolishing of slavery, which of course was perhaps the most controversial topic of the time period in which Stowe lived. Overall, the book was an essential and completely necessary part of history pertaining not only to the United States, but also to the world. It was written incredibly well, with little room to negatively criticize it, which has guided it through generations of readers as a favorite and a classic, as hopefully it will remain for far longer, so that later generations can understand the struggle and overall atrocities of slaver in its entirety.
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Robbins, Hollis. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Matter of Influence. 2009. https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/literature-and-language-arts/essays/uncle-tom%E2%80%99s-cabin-and-matter-influence (accessed October 17, 2017).
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin. London: Arcturus, 2017.