Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Published November 24, 2012 by myliteraryleanings

Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Overview from www.bn.com: Uncle Tom’s Cabin opens with a Kentucky farmer named Arthur Shelby facing the loss of his farm because of debts. Even though he and his wife, Emily Shelby, believe that they have a benevolent relationship with their slaves, Shelby decides to raise the needed funds by selling two of them-Uncle Tom, a middle-aged man with a wife and children, and Harry, the son of Emily Shelby’s maid Eliza-to a slave trader. Emily Shelby hates the idea of doing this because she had promised her maid that her child would never be sold; Emily’s son, George Shelby, hates to see Tom go because he sees the old man as his friend and mentor.When Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852, it became an international blockbuster, selling more than 300,000 copies in the United States alone in its first year. Progressive for her time, Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of the earliest writers to offer a shockingly realistic depiction of slavery. Her stirring indictment and portrait of human dignity in the most inhumane circumstances enlightened hundreds of thousands of people by revealing the human costs of slavery, which had until then been cloaked and justified by the racist misperceptions of the time.

My Review:

Abraham Lincoln is said to have credited Harriet Beecher Stowe with inciting the Civil War. One can only assume that he was referring to the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Although it is not certain that these were his actual words, it is likely that Ms. Stowe’s novel contributed in a large part to Northern outrage against the practice of slavery in the United States.

I remember that we read an excerpt of this novel when I was in school though which excerpt it was I can’t recall. I wondered about the rest of the novel and always intended to read it for myself. I was curious where the name “Uncle Tom” had originally come from and in what context.

I have at last discovered it and can’t say that I really like it. It has it good moments. Some of the characters are stereotypical but still I learned much from them.

The two things I noticed most were the different dialects that Stowe employs to tell her characters’ stories as well as her frequent quotations of the Bible.

The different dialects between slave and master, Southern and Northern and even the latter introduction of French showed me that the 1800’s were not as homogenous as I initially thought. This country has always been diverse apparently. It is just that most books of the time didn’t acknowledge that.

Stowe’s frequent quotations of the Scripture also surprised me. It reminded me of many Christian fiction novels that are out there today. Most of the verses she quoted went along nicely not only with her antislavery arguments but also with the chapters that they were attached to.

Uncle Tom reminded me of the suffering servant nature of Christ which I believe was what Stowe intended. Tom’s responses to his condition are not the ones that most people would find believable. If Stowe had portrayed him too defiantly then her audience would probably not have been sympathetic to his plight. I had to consider that as I was reading though I found some of the scenarios in the novel strange as a result.

Although the book is interesting reading on the whole for a student of history, I found it a little tedious. Some of the back story as well as the descriptive passages seemed to go on forever. I got bored at times.

The edition I read had some notes attached to it with commentary from Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Gates proclaims that some of these devices are to appeal to the typical Victorian reader. Yet, I can’t remember seeing anything like that in Jane Eyre or any of the works of Jane Austin. I don’t remember getting bored while reading those.

I am still recommending Uncle Tom’s Cabin for those who are interested in American history and especially the Civil War. Just don’t expect too much entertainment.

Contains:some violence

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