Thursday, June 25, 2009

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)

Anybody who uses "Uncle Tom" as a disparaging remark should be immediately required to read this novel. I know he doesn't revolt and lead a Nat Turner-esque ass-kicking rampage against even the cruelest slaveholder. But look at his life, his devotion to his family and faith and what they caused. George becomes an abolitionist, Legree pretty much kills himself, and an entire nation of readers were forced to think about how awful slavery was. Uncle Tom's Cabin was the second best selling book on the 19th Century. It spawned an outrageously popular stage play and was hotly debated all over the United States.  
What Stowe gives us is a heart-wrenchingly, quick moving, dual narrative which follows George and his wife Eliza and Tom. George and Eliza flee north when it becomes apparent that their owners are going to sell their son. Tom decides to stay. 
Many of the stereotypes of African Americans grew out of the novel and plays. But what we see is enslaved people who are people. They are good, they are bad, they are immature, they are heros, they are faithful, they are atheists, they are smart, they are dumb. They are very human. Stowe also gives them agency. The enslaved and the owners are in a constant struggle for power. Tom's power resides in his extraordinary Christianity and it's affect on lazy, basically good owners, and evil owners. And that's Stowe's message: Christianity and love will end slavery. She might have been partially right. Her book galvanized the North in such a way that they had the courage to stand up to the Fugitive Slave Law and Southern bullying. 
Besides George, Eva is the other youth in whom Stowe invests higher powers of observation and a sense of justice. Her death is heart wrenching. Stowe endows George and Eva with the power to change things. I think she gave up on the current generation of slaveholders and abolitionists, the future depended on which way the youngest would break.

Rating 10/10: Great great read. Exciting, engaging, and a look into daily life during slavery. What every historian of the era tries to elucidate comes through in touching humanity here. 

1 comment:

jimfred82 said...

This was a great book. Back when I was in fifth grade, I was in a literature group, and we were allowed to choose which books we wanted to read due to us being the "high level" group. Well, we all agreed to read this one, because we knew it was a classic and none of us knew too much about it. However, the head librarian would not let us, and we had to take it to the principle and get parental overrides to give the librarian for us to be able to read it. Nothing like a little censorship to influence a young person's mind, no?