The Classics: Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
While this is definitely an older story and one most every day people are no longer reviewing, I like to read classics even with so many new options available today. When I was in college the story was mentioned in a women’s lit class I was taking. I cannot remember why now, but this book has always been on my bucket list to read. I took many African American lit classes and was always surprised that this was never on the syllabus. Having never had the opportunity to read it in school, but always having it in the back of my mind as something I wanted to read, I finally got around to doing it, albeit 10+ years later.
Classics can be difficult to read, they are slow and language dense. However, I was surprised at how well this story flowed. While it is a dense novel, it isn’t oppressive. At times, Stowe writes almost as if this were a play and we the reader are sitting in an audience while she describes the hardships of being a slave. Granted some of the language can be difficult to decipher at times, but the more you read the easier it gets.
I found that indeed there are many stereotypes in the novel and I understand why reviewers feel this could be viewed with a racist eye. However, if you look at it from the perspective of the author, she obviously was a fierce abolitionist who was fighting for the equality of the African slaves. One slave’s story she talks about is George and his desire for equal opportunity and his high intellect. His mechanical creations being above what many thought the slaves were capable of. Indeed, his abilities surpass his white owners and white company.
While she plays with the stereotypes of the dancing, happy, uneducated slave, she uses them more to demonstrate the idiocy of the white south and what their expectations and perceptions were of them. She uses Tom and several others like Cassy (a sassy, resourceful and intelligent women who outwits her owner, resulting in her freedom) to demonstrate that they are equal in every way.
Her methods may shock, but in today’s day and age what she reveals in the novel is tame compared to modern day literature. She eludes to rape but never really talks about it, which is understandable based on the time period this was written in. It would have been a shocking description and would probably have been a banned book if she had. She wrote convincingly, giving brutal details but did not give so many that people would stop reading.
Viewed from the perspective of the time, it definitely would have raised some voices to join the abolitionist movement. In fact, it was said to have helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War. Even I was shocked at a few things, one being how little babies were taken from their mothers. I knew families were separated and children were taken, but babies was surprising to me. This was a brutal and awful time period in our history but one I believe we should always remember.
I encourage anyone who enjoys historical fiction or African American literature in general to read this. It is available on Amazon in a variety of editions. The one I read was a Bantam Classic for $5.65 in paperback.
Synopsis: Uncle Tom, Topsy, Sambo, Simon Legree, little Eva: their names are American bywords, and all of them are characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s remarkable novel of the pre-Civil War South. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was revolutionary in 1852 for its passionate indictment of slavery and for its presentation of Tom, “a man of humanity,” as the first black hero in American fiction. Labeled racist and condescending by some contemporary critics, it remains a shocking, controversial, and powerful work — exposing the attitudes of white nineteenth-century society toward “the peculiar institution” and documenting, in heartrending detail, the tragic breakup of black Kentucky families “sold down the river.” An immediate international sensation, Uncle Tom’s Cabin sold 300,000 copies in the first year, was translated into thirty-seven languages, and has never gone out of print: its political impact was immense, its emotional influence immeasurable.