Uncle Tom’s Cabin

tags: classic, fiction, history, race

This is a novel from 1851 designed to reveal the horrors of slavery. And it worked – it caused outrage across the United States and pushed the country toward the Civil War.

The author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was prompted to write the novel by the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required all escaped slaves to be returned to their enslavers, even if the slaves had managed to escape to the North. It also made it illegal for any U.S. citizen to assist a slave in escaping.

The plot follows the lives of several slaves:

These slaves drift in and out of the lives of several owners and their children:

The story drifts back and forth between the lives of these people. There are two common themes:

The novel is unabashedly sentimental. Several characters are almost over-the-top in their characterization. Tom is a stoic faithful Christian who eschews all violence and steadfastly believes the Lord will deliver him. But he is surpassed by Eva, who is the picture of angelic childhood and belief.

I learned a few things:

The book was an easy read. It’s long, but flows nicely. It was originally a 40-chapter story sterilized in newspapers.

It’s over-the-top in sentimentality. The book has a one-track mind, clearly – Stowe was absolutely laser-focused on condemning slavery and promoting Christianity, so you sort of have to expect that.

It’s a surprisingly good read. The horrors of slavery are readily apparently. Beyond the physical degradation, the threat of breaking up families are ever-present and terrifying. Developing any emotional commitment to another slave was dangerous, because anyone could be sold at any time.

This is one of those books that I remember from high school. I knew it had some significant impact on the history of United States, but it was always floating out there on the periphery on my awareness. I’m glad I finally read it.


Added on June 3, 2023

Found this in Team of Rivals :

Northern sentiment had been inflamed further by the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Less than a year after its publication in March 1852, more than three hundred thousand copies of the novel had sold in the United States, a sales rate rivaled only by the Bible.

Abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass later likened it to “a flash” that lit “a million camp fires in front of the embattled hosts of slavery,” awakening such powerful compassion for the slave and indignation against slavery that many previously unconcerned Americans were transformed into advocates for the antislavery cause.

Book Info

Harriet Beecher Stowe

This book belongs to a collection I am tracking: Easton Press: The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written

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