Uncle Tom's Cabin
Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Published By: John P. Jewett and Company
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Everyone has heard of the novel Uncle Tomís Cabin and many are quite fond of using expressions gleaned from between the bookís covers, but I find that not many people have actually read the book. What used to be required reading in school has gone by the wayside and I find myself looking to catch up on books that are considered classics but are no longer assigned to students to read. I knew that the novel, published in 1858, was extremely influential in spreading the word about slavery and was one of the spurring factors for the Civil War. I also have heard many a person called Uncle Tom in a less than flattering manner. I wondered what that was about. Thus, I decided to pick myself up a copy of Uncle Tomís Cabin.
As the novel opens, a Kentucky slave owner finds himself in a poor financial state, so poor that he will have to sell his best, hardest-working and most trustworthy slave to raise enough money to settle his debts. The slave trader that purchases Tom also offers to purchase a young boy named Henry. As the transactions are made and the deal is sealed, two families find themselves in dire straights. Uncle Tom is a pious man and believes that the Lord will help him through the transition to a new master. Although a pious woman, Henryís mother Eliza is not willing to part with her only son, especially since she has just lost her husband to parts unknown as he ran away from his own master months before.
While Tom stays at home with his family and awaits his fate, Eliza runs away with Henry, trusting to the help of Quakers and their associates to get her and her son safely to Canada. All the while she is hunted down by men hired by the slave trader to capture her and bring her son back. Trust, faith and a fierce need to protect her son help her on her journey, but trouble waits for them at every turn. Will she ever be able to carry her son safely to Canada, a land where they can finally be free?
Meanwhile, Tom boards a ship headed towards New Orleans. It is on this ship that a wealthy man, at the urgings of his lovely daughter, purchases Tom and brings him home. Tom and Evangeline St. Claire become inseparable and the two often spend time simply reading the Bible together. But Evangeline is a child with a mind much more mature than her years. She sees the evils of slavery and is pained by the atrocities suffered by other slaves in the area. In the short time she has on Earth, Evangeline works to show the slaves on her property that they are appreciated. She showers them with love and just before her untimely death, Evangeline urges her parents to turn away from slavery.
With Tomís help, Evangelineís father recovers from the loss of his beloved child and once more finds solace in the words of the Lord. He prepares to free all of his people, Tom first of all, but an unfortunate turn of events prevents him from doing so before his death and Tom finds himself being sold again. This time, Tom is not so lucky. This time, Tom is sold to a plantation owner whose only interest is profit. Simon Legree has hardened his heart against all and believes that only with an iron fist and a sharp whip can he keep his slaves in line. Tom suffers most - not because he isnít a hard worker, but because he believes that one day his suffering will be ended by the Lord. Because Tom has so much faith, Legree has no power over him and cannot force him to do anything that might harm another soul. Will Tom succumb to his new masterís heartless attempts at breaking him in or will he find deliverance from the Lord he worships so steadfastly?
Knowing Harriet Beecher Stoweís abolitionist activities, I had expected that Uncle Tomís Cabin would more of a preaching session than actual storytelling. I was wrong. Harriet Beecher Stowe did do some preaching against slavery throughout the story, but her talented writing wove an amazing story with such interesting characters that the reader finds his/herself completely invested in each characterís outcome. The story is incredibly interesting and one canít help but become mesmerized by the tale. I was loathe to put the book down for such inconveniences as work or sleep.
Though there were little proddings throughout the novel, the majority of Harriet Beecher Stoweís antislavery preachings came at the end of the novel. In this final chapter, she sums the antislavery sentiments expressed throughout the story, revealing that slavery is not the only wrong she is preaching against. As she states, slavery is not just a fault of the South, but of the North as well. The people of the North not only allowed slavery to exist, they often times helped it along by returning runaways or by selling slaves through correspondence and contracting. She also takes fault with abolitionists who will preach against slavery, but do nothing to aide African Americans in their midst. As she states, one cannot call themselves Christian unless they can behave as Christ teaches toward these African American brethren. All of these sentiments are expressed through the characters in the novel, but she expounds on them in the final chapter.
Harriet Beacher Stowe also reminds the reader that there were some masters who were very good to their slaves. However, because the institution is so wicked, selling people as property and separating families from each other, the evil of the institution overrides all the good that is done.
After reading this novel, I can see how powerfully moving this must have been to abolitionists. I can see how it would influence antislavery sentiment toward even the hardest of hearts. I can understand how it helped bring the war between the North and the South that much closer to fruition.
What I canít understand it the derogatory way in which people use the name Uncle Tom. Yes, Uncle Tom did not fight the system with fists and it would seem that he might have went along with the flow. But in my opinion, Uncle Tom didnít just lay down and take it. In fact, I see him as one of the strongest character in this novel. Fighting back through faith in something he has never actually seen, Uncle Tom refuses to allow anyone by the Lord to own him. Sure, he was monetarily paid for and is forced to work and suffer at a mere mortalís hand, but his soul belongs to the Lord and no one but the Lord would ever own that. It takes a great deal of strength to fight in this manner. Therefore, I canít believe that anyone who calls another an Uncle Tom has ever actually read Uncle Tomís Cabin. If they had and truly understand what he was about, they could never use that characterís name in a derogatory manner.
I found Uncle Tomís Cabin to be a truly captivating and eye-opening read. I loved Harriet Beecher Stoweís writing style and found myself rooting for characters like Tom and Eliza and Cassie. Their stories, gleaned from true stories involving slaves over the years, are truly amazing and show incredible perseverance in the eyes of great adversity. Uncle Tomís Cabin should still be required reading in schools and I urge all those who never read the novel in school to read it now. Uncle Tomís Cabin is a very important part of this countryís history and only the foolish would chose to turn away from it simply because it shows a less flattering side of the United States. They say we must follow history so that we may learn from our mistakes - all the more reason to read Uncle Tomís Cabin, so that we may prevent this mistake from ever happening in our lifetime.