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Uncle Tom's Cabin: or, Life Among the Lowly Paperback – February 1, 2011
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About the Author
Harriet Beecher Stowe (June 14, 1811 – July 1, 1896) was an American abolitionist and author. Her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) depicted life for African-Americans under slavery; it reached millions as a novel and play, and became influential in the United States and United Kingdom. It energized anti-slavery forces in the American North, while provoking widespread anger in the South. She wrote more than 20 books, including novels, three travel memoirs, and collections of articles and letters. She was influential both for her writings and her public stands on social issues of the day.
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Harriet Beecher Stowe forced the establishment to look at the impact that slavery had on the Black family and its structure. She illustrated that slavery wreaked so many evils and degradation on the family. Husbands and wives were separated, parents and children and violence further destroyed and eroded the family. Slavery was violent, whipping and berating others were violent and separating and destroying a person's will was violent. Faith and trust in God was the anchor...
The characters, Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe, Mr. Shelley, Eliza, Augustine St. Clare, Simon Legree and others all had their roles. Uncle Tom saving Mr. St. Clare's daughter from drowning endeared him to the family (so he purchased him).The daughter was just as awesome as Tom. She spoke favorably to the slave and upon transitioning she gave them all a lock of her hair. Her death, slaves running toward Canada, religion and faith being important and strong female characters round out this classic. AWESOME and worth reading by all who have read this before and it should also be mandatory reading for all High schoolers.
Generally, I agree with many of the other commenters. The book isn't great as literature, but as a propaganda piece, it's pretty effective. As literature, much of the book is overly dramatic and sentimental. The characters are two-dimensional, and the story wraps up pretty neatly. The writing is decent. There's never a moment, though, in which you forget that the story is the carrier for the message, rather than the other way around.
On the propagandist front, Stowe makes a very good effort at showing several sides of the key issues: religion and slavery. There's no question which side she is on, but there are nuances even among the slave owners, and she castigates Northerners just as thoroughly. All in all, it's a very effective piece of anti-slavery propaganda, often through fairly direct argument to the reader. If anything, she's light on the horrible effects of the slave trade, focusing most often on emotional disruption.
Unfortunately, while consciously fighting the evil of slavery, Stowe often relies heavily on stereotype (blacks are naturally generous, credulous, and good cooks; women are emotional and not naturally suited to business). That's largely a sign of the time, of course, and she was much more progressive than most, so it doesn't grate as much as it might otherwise.
Equally troubling is the inescapable religious message. Stowe is clearly a Christian, and the solution to just about everything in the world is just for people to accept Christ into their lives. Do that, and you can die happy, even as a beaten, tortured man who's been ripped from his own family and several others. Conversely, in the final chapter - a direct appeal to readers - she suggests that only Christian Americans have a responsibility to do anything about slavery; atheists apparently get a free pass. To her credit, Stowe offers a reasonably balanced portrait of an agnostic in the book, but her underlying message about Christianity is hammered in, page after page. She never considers that 'Africans' might have their own beliefs, but that's pretty much true for everyone else she describes as well.
All in all, worth reading for its historical value as an argument against slavery at a crucial time in the United States, if not as a work of dramatic literature.
* It seems unfair that the book is associated with the term 'Uncle Tom'. While in some ways the usage is accurate, the Uncle Tom in the book acts the way he does in part because he's a pious Christian, and he's only one of a range of slave characters shown. More to the point, despite Tom's obedience, he doesn't come out of things very well.