Customer Reviews: Uncle Tom's Cabin (Charles E. Merrill Program in American Literature)
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on May 1, 1999
Uncle Tom's cabin is frequently criticized by people who have never read the work, myself included. I decided I finally needed to read it and judge it for myself. And I have to say, that for all its shortcomings (and it does have them), it is really a remarkable book. The standout characteristics of this book are the narrative drive (it's a very exciting, hard to put down book), the vivid characters (I don't know what other reviewers were reading, but I found the characters extremely vivid and mostly believable - exceptions to follow), the sprawling cast, the several completely different worlds that were masterfully portrayed, and the strong female characters in the book. The portrayal of slavery and its effects on families and on individuals is gut-wrenching - when Uncle Tom has to leave his family, and when Eliza may lose little Harry, one feels utterly desolate.
As for flaws, yes, Mrs. Stowe does sermonize a fair bit, and her sentences and pronouncements can be smug. Yes, if you're not a Christian, you may find all her Christian references a bit much. (But the majority of her readers claimed to be Christian, and it was her appeal to the spirit of Christ that was her most powerful tug at the emotions of her readers). Yes, she still had some stereotypical views of African-Americans (frankly, I think most people have stereotypical views of races other than their own, they just don't state them as clearly today). But in her time, she went far beyond the efforts of most of her contemporaries to both see and portray her African-American brothers and sisters are equal to her. The best way she did this was in her multi-dimensional portrayal of her Negro characters -- they are, in fact, more believable and more diverse than her white characters. Yes, at times her portrayal of Little Eva and Uncle Tom is overdone at times -- they are a little cardboard in places -- but both, Uncle Tom especially, are overall believable, and very inspiring. The rest of the Negro characters - George Harris, Eliza, Topsy, Cassie, Emmeline, Chloe, Jane and Sara, Mammy, Alphonse, Prue, and others, span the whole spectrum of humanity -- they are vivid and real.
The comments of a previous reviewer that the book actually justifies slavery (because "it says it's no worse than capitalism") and that it shows that Christianity defends slavery are due to sloppy reading of the book. No one reading the book could possibly come to the conclusion that it does anything but condemn slavery in the strongest and most indubitable terms. This was the point of the book. The aside about capitalism was just that, an aside on the evils of capitalism. It did not and does not negate the attack on slavery. Secondly, another major point of the book is that TRUE Christianity does not and could not ever support slavery. Stowe points out the Biblical references used to claim that Christianity defended slavery merely to show how the Bible can be misused by those who wish to defend their own indefensible viewpoint. It's ridiculous to say that the book "shows that Christianity supported slavery". It shows that some misguided preachers abused certain Bible passages and ignored other ones to support their view of slavery.
There is an overlay of the tired "Victorian women's novel" to this piece - that must be granted. For literary perfection, it will never take its place beside Tolstoy, Dickens and Austen. But it is a piece entirely of its own category. Nothing before or after it has been anything like it, and it IS a great, if flawed, novel. I highly recommend it. I give it 5 stars despite its flaws because it's utterly unique, and its greatness is in some ways is related to its flaws.
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on November 11, 2009
Since this was a free Kindle download, I was prompted to finally read this classic book. It is much better than I expected it would be! Easy to read, well-written, and eye-opening. I noticed another reviewer said the download version was hard to read, but I did not find that to be a problem at all. One nice thing about the Kindle is the ability to download so many classics for free. I doubt I would go to the library and check out Uncle Tom's Cabin, but I would and did read it as a free Kindle download. I am glad that I did!
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on July 27, 2000
I too was surprised by "Uncle Tom's Cabin." I'd expected a poorly written melodrama with (at best) a tepid commitment to abolition and a strong undercurrent of racism. I was wrong. As a novel, I consider it to be better than many of its rough contemporaries (including "A Tale of Two Cities," "Vanity Fair," and "Sartor Resartus"). As an attack on slavery, it is uncompromising, well informed, logically sophisticated, and morally unassailable. It's also exciting, educational, and often funny.
The book has flaws, of course. The quality of the writing is variable, as it is in the works of many greater talents than Stowe. Herman Melville is one of my favorite writers, but I'd be hard-pressed to defend some of his sentences--or even some of his books--on purely literary grounds! There are indeed sentimental passages in "UTC." So what? There are plenty in Hawthorne, Dickens, Ruskin, and the Brontes, too...and lord knows our age has its own garish pieties. There are also a couple (only a couple!) of unfortunate remarks on the "childlike" character of slaves, but nothing so offensive as to render suspect Stowe's passionate belief that blacks are equal to whites in the eyes of God and must not be enslaved. (She also says that differences between blacks and whites do not result from a difference in innate ability, and argues that a white person raised to be a slave would show all the characteristics of one). By contrast, Plato wrote reams in defense of slavery and racialism, and yet people who point this out are considered spoilsports, if not philistines.
The reviewer who claimed to have learned from Stowe that "slavery is no worse than capitalism" has totally misunderstood Stowe, who says that slavery is AS terrible as capitalism. To be precise, Stowe equates the horrors of wage slavery under Victorian Britain's capitalist system of production with those of chattel slavery in the American South. Her definition of capitalism agrees perfectly with that of Karl Marx, who was a pro-abolitionist correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune (and was familiar enough with Stowe to have written a piece on her). Marx said that true capitalism is defined by "the annihilation of self-earned private property; in other words, the expropriation of the labourer." Marx did not consider America a capitalist state, because American workers had at least theoretical upward mobility and could acquire property. This was not at all true of the British working class when "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was written, as Stowe well knew. And there was nothing idiosyncratic about her opinion; contemporaneous books such as "The White Slaves of England" made the same connection between American chattel slavery and British wage slavery. The cruelty of both systems is what led Stowe to claim in an essay that the Civil War was not merely a war against slavery, but "a war for the rights of the working class of society as against the usurpation of privileged aristocracies."
As for the claim that Stowe says Christianity justifies slavery, this is either willful misreading or wishful thinking...she says the opposite so many times, and at such length, that to remove every expression of it would probably shorten the book by half (to the delight, apparently, of most of our nation's English students).
Not sure who to believe? If you're interested enough in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to have slogged through this meandering review, why not read it and see for yourself what Stowe does, and doesn't, say?
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on March 15, 2002
This version of Stowe's classic text includes reproductions of orginal historical documents at the back, literary criticism of the text, and some of the original illustrations. The book is well-made, stands up to the stress of reading (paper is thin but not too thin, like some anthologies).
As for the text-- this is the book that some say caused Abraham Lincoln to write the Emancipation Proclamation. An "Uncle Tom" has come to mean a black person who sells out to the white system-- but in so many ways, that is not at all what Uncle Tom does in the book. Stowe wrote the book to change what she saw as an unjust system, an evil system-- and at times, the text is very didactic (teacherly) and very preachy about religion. It's a fine "sentimental" book-- and a fine historical document. It's also a pretty good story. Yes, there are some places where we could just get a tooth ache from the syrup of the overly dramatized scenes (you'll see when you read about Little Eva). But it's a certain style of writing that accomplished Stowe's goal of getting the women who may not have owned slaves but who benefitted from the system (white, northern, wealthy ones) to realize the problems and move to CHANGE them.
Much of what people think about Uncle Tom's Cabin actually comes from the later "Tom shows" that travelled the country-- the minstrel reviews that were not very flattering either to blacks or to Stowe's original texts. Read the book that has everyone all stirred up and make your own judgements. You might not like it-- but don't let someone else make the decision for you.
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on September 27, 2009
(This is a review of the print edition, not the e-book version. I cannot comment on the electronic formatting of this edition.)

A few coworkers and I started an informal book discussion group, where we'd read a couple chapters then meet over breakfast or lunch to discuss. None of us had ever been in a discussion group before. We had a quite diverse set of viewpoints and backgrounds among us, and were looking for something that would be enjoyable to read, but also provide material for discussion and debate.

After a lot of searching and voting, we settled on Uncle Tom's Cabin as our first book. It ended up filling the bill perfectly.

Knowing that it's taught in many schools, I expected a heavy literary "masterpiece" full of symbolism and arcane references. Instead I found it to be a fast-moving, easy to read page turner, and almost all of us in the club tended to read far ahead of the "assignments" for our meetings because we couldn't put it down. Yet it also prompted some great discussion about morality, social and personal responsibility, identity, religion, etc. Mrs. Stowe does not simply convey that "slavery is bad." She explores the ways in which all Americans were complicit in the institution by "turning the other cheek;" by claiming not to approve yet investing financially in companies that relied on slavery for profit; simply by not speaking out against it or supporting those who did. Again, great topics for group discussion.

As a group we've read a half dozen other books since Uncle Tom's Cabin, but none have provided the same combination of simple enjoyment and fodder for good discussion.
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on July 3, 2005
Uncle Tom's Cabin, which is set between 1840 and 1850, is a novel that brought the cruelties of slavery into American homes. It unveils how slaves, like Uncle Tom and Eliza, were treated by slave owners, like Simon Legree. Throughout the novel there's a strong contrast between good and evil, which is personified by the different slave owners. First, Tom and Eliza serve a Christian family. Tom embraces Christianity through his compassion for others, honesty, evangelism, humbleness and his obedience without compromising his beliefs. Eliza, a beautiful Christian mulatto, shows her courage and love for her son. This love becomes strongest when she escapes with him to Canada after he's sold to pay debts. In the meantime, Tom is sold to Simon Legree. Simon displays evilness in his strength, greed and brutality. After Tom's friend escapes the plantation, Tom is blamed. The plot thickens when in Eliza's journey to Canada, she literally skates over thin ice as her son's master is close behind. Overall, the book was well written and the introduction omitted need for further research. Ms. Stowe is outstanding at exposing the severity of the slavery atmosphere without today's Hollywood gore. The historical accuracy is shown throughout the novel as The Fugitive Slave Law is mentioned and Harriet provides parallels between actual people and the story's characters. However, as the introduction states, Stowe claims both that slavery is evil for exaggerating differences between races and denying similarities. Overall Stowe is noteworthy and her book should be read because it influenced attitudes towards slavery, and embeds historical events interestingly.
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on October 10, 2009
Uncle Tom's Cabin is one of those books that I had always heard about since I was a child but had never read. I finally read it in my 60's and am glad that I did. It was not only interesting from an historical perspective but also from a Christian perspective. You can see by what the author says at the end of the book that it was written primarily to the Christian Church to inspire them to do something about the deplorable condition of slavery in the United States. I checked to see if there was a movie made from the book but found out that there was only one silent one from the 1920's. I can understand why this is the case because of the heavy emphasis on Christianity. As a born again reformed believer I would highly recommend this book but would also understand if not everyone enjoyed it because of the religious emphasis.
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on December 15, 1999
The book Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was written for a purpose; it was not meant to be merely entertaining for its readers. Stowe wrote it in order to show its readers how awful and degrading slavery is to people and mankind. Harriet Beecher Stowe hated the "peculiar institution," and she wanted others to see why she hated it. It is an entertaining and exciting book that causes readers to feel as if they are a part of the story. The way it is written allows readers almost be able to relate to the slaves and feel the torture and pain that they felt in the story. The slave owners were portrayed as heartless devilish men, and the slaves were portrayed as their victims. Readers are able to feel emotions towards many of the characters. For instance, readers end up hating Simon Legree, the cruel slave owner. They feel pity and sadness when he treats Tom, the good, unfortunate slave, cruelly. Another example is of the feeling of love and pity that readers tend to feel towards the saintlike child, Eva. Though Stowe's writing came across as preachy at times, I found the book to be very well written with a clever plot. It is educational to its readers by helping them to see the way life was for different people in the time period in which the book took place. The book was a bestseller when it was first released to the public. It caused much conflict and uproar over the subject of slavery. In many cases Stowe's reason for writing the book served its purpose. Many people became supporters of abolition because of this book. It was interesting for me to read it knowing that it was one of the causes of our country's Civil War. I could understand why it caused so much controversy between the North and the South when I read it. Uncle Tom's Cabin is definately interesting and worth reading.
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on October 21, 2007
I grabbed this book, figuring I would try some of the classics. Figuiring, what would be better than the book that assisted in breaking our country (US) in two.

This classic was simply put amazing and well worth the hype. Mrs Stowe has created great characters in this novel and even though most readers know she was an abolitionist she did a very good job at being unbiased, showing both sides as equal as possible, pro-south, pro abolitionist and those people in between. The good and bad southerners and the good and bad Northerners.

I am shocked that only one other person has reviewed this timeless book. PLease read it, review it and tell your friends. THis book is a jewel.
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on May 24, 2014
I don't know why it took me until I reached the age of 68 years to read this classic, but I finally did. It's a great classic, and no wonder that it may have contributed, as Lincoln is said to have told Ms. Stowe, to the Civil War. The one really disappointing thing, to me, has nothing to do with the book. It has to do with the fact that the name, "Uncle Tom," is, these days, synonymous with weakness, and the tendency to go along to get along. If these ignorant people would just read this book, they would see that this is simply not true, of the main character. He was, in reality, a very brave man, trying to make the best of a bad situation. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to everyone, but particularly the people who use the name, "Uncle Tom," as an insult. Perhaps they would see the error of their assumption. Probably not, though. Read the book! It's a wonderful read, and I'm just sorry that it took me so many years to think to read it! One thing's for certain; you will not be disappointed!
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