on September 28, 2005
I read a lot of books and very few of them are ones that I will NEVER forget. Uncle Tom's Cabin is among the few that will be with me for a lifetime. This book is of course about slavery - the evil of it and the necessity of freeing slaves but there is so much more to it. It is also a social commentary. It is a story about hope. 'Uncle Tom' is perhaps the most incredible hero I have ever read about. He is a character of such simple Christian faith that he has encouraged my own walk with Christ. If you are searching for a book that will make you smile at the warmth of the human soul and cry over the evil of people this is the book to read. You will never forget Uncle Tom's Cabin and it very well may change how you live your life. Books that can do that are precious, grab a hold of it!
on February 27, 2005
Uncle Tom's Cabin is a very melodramatic book. I have read it several times over the past twenty years and must say that it has something new for every decade or even for every generation. When considered for our time, Uncle Tom's stands out as a classic prose that hits directly at those turbulent times before the Civil War, and reflects issues of war and principles today. Harriet Beecher Stowe had a great cause to write about and wrote a work that still is as relevant today as it was during his time.
The author's masterful story summarizes the conflicting attitudes of a nation on the brink of civil war. Melodramatic though it is, it was written in the style of the times and for a situation that required it. This is a highly recommended book.
Also recommended: DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE, WAR AND PEACE, THE USURPER AND OTHERS
I thought I knew everything I needed to know about Uncle Tom's Cabin. I've read the history books. I know it first appeared as a serial story in an abolitionist magazine in 1851. I know it appeared as a novel in 1852. I know it is credited by many with having pushed the nation into the Civil War. I know that it is the best selling American Novel of the 19th century. I know it is the 2nd best selling book in America in the 19th century, second only to the Bible. I know it is recognized as one of the most influential works of literature in America and set the stage for many political works that followed for quite some time. I know many of its images and terms have since served to themselves become stereotypes over the years seen very differently today, than they were in the days before and even shortly following the Civil War.
So, when I saw that the novel was available on the Kindle as a free download, I wasn't sure I needed to read it. But I went ahead and I'm glad I did.
There's always a temptation in reviewing a book critically, that the more popular a book is, the more tempting it is to adopt an elitist attitude that serves to further, not the value of the book, but rather the size of the ego of the reviewer. I was tempted while reading this to adopt some of this attitude.
The book plays out as a Victorian morality play and it sermonizes in true Puritan and Calvinist form to seek to bring shame on both the North and the South for their direct and indirect support of the institution of slavery in America. Many of the characters are, from the perspective of a 21st century reader, contrived representations which seem very unrealistic and are designed to tug at the emotions of the reader.
However, the measure of a book is not how it is read by those removed from its time, but rather those of its time. In spite of myself, as I progressed through the book, I found myself grudgingly in places, entering into the story and spirit of the book. In some ways, the effectiveness of the book, even with the elements mentioned comes from Stowe not painting things as negatively as might have been her temptation. With the notable exception of Simon Legree the main characters of the book, in the South of the slaveholder class, are presented in a somewhat sympathetic light. "Good" masters are shown for their benevolence and care for their slaves and in come cases it could be argued that these servants are better off than they might otherwise have been as free. But this works its way clearly to the conclusion that even with good masters the system itself is evil and there is no guarantee that benevolent circumstances will continue. Good masters can fall on hard times and be pressed to sell their property.
I found myself, despite resisting and recognizing the in places heavy handed methods used in the book to appeal to emotions, entering often into and sensing the humanity and emotions of the characters. There is in places almost a Dickensian appeal to social justice that works quite well and makes it evident why the book had the impact that it did.
In short, I enjoyed the book and feel now that I know, not only about the book but have entered into the book and seen America as it was before the Civil War. The final afterword of the author that appeals for action of all Christians (the primary target of the book) is quite effective and the arguments presented against some of the common defenses of slavery of that age are laid out and shown for the rationalizations they were.
5 stars. It not only shows history, it is history.
I found this book to be intriguing if, for no other reason, than it is one of the most frequently used reference books of this era but, on the other hand, one of the books that remain the most highly unread. Yes, Miss Stowe did portray the inhumane cruelty of the early 1800s and, yes, she provided a quality storyline to bring these concepts to life. But, that being said, I strongly feel that her depiction of the slave holders tilted to both polar extremes. One the humanistic side she showed two sets of slave owners who, for the most part, treated their charges as nearly being part of the `family'. In some instances the attention and care that they received even outstripped family members. This, I am sure, is the manner in which the author would have treated slaves if, indeed, they were in her charge. On the other extreme Miss Stowe depicts Simon Legree as the incarnate projection of pure evil. A cotton farmer, who by all accounts is monetarily quite successful, treating his slaves as a few steps below that of mere disposable waste. If such were the case, Mr. Legree would be forced to take most (if not all) of his profits and use them for the continual repurchase of replacement slaves for the ones he presently is mistreating. For they will soon be dead either through his own direct hand or by his continual abuse. Yes, I understand that the author did have a statement to make that literally screamed against the recent passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. She, likewise, felt it her mission to embolden the Northern States to take action against the dehumanizing actions of the Southern plantation owners. By using these extremes and ignoring the norm, her mission was successful. Reality, on the other hand, was slightly different. Yes, the African race were treated as mere chattel and, yes, they were subjected to a fully dehumanizing set of circumstances. But, no they would not normally be treated such that their adult life span was reduced to a few years. Regardless of the location and output of the plantation, they would not be treated to the demonized actions shown by Mr. Legree. They were simply too expensive to replace if the owner placed any value on his profits! And by being so they had little chance of being killed on the arrogant whims that are shown in this novel.
The other interesting concept that is shown in this 1852 publication is the overwhelming influence that the Christian religion had on Miss Stowe's life. While I am certain that the slave population did cling to this religion as a source of comfort due of their circumstances, I doubt if it had the strong influence on other non-blacks that it had on the author. The black slaves were purposely taught by the slave holders, through various means, the full scope of Christian redemption. But they did so not for the slaves salvation but, rather, for their own selfish purposes. It provided for them a more placid, yet hopeful, group of indentured workers that would neither rebel nor disobey their owners. Without concept of an existence of a continued life after death from this horrendous existence, where all things would be completely rectified, slave owners could not have controlled such large mass of people. Rebellion and revolution would have been the rule and not the exception. Miss Stowe, on the other hand, made no mention of this form of manipulation on the owners part and, instead, saw Christianity as being a universal religion that all persons should embrace as she did.
Please, for your own sake, pick up this important work and actually read it instead of merely remembering the slight reference made to it while sitting through 5th grade American history class........
on May 2, 2003
It will be found shocking to many African Americans (and educational for many Caucasians) to discover that Uncle Tom was the HERO of this classic novel, and not a "weakling" by any stretch of the imagination. "Uncle Tom", or its shorter form "Tom", has become a slanderous term within the African American community and implies a weak and Caucasian-controlled person, when in actuality Uncle Tom was a powerfully moral man who was willing to die for his convictions rather than succumb to the will of his worst oppressors. In fact, this book was credited by Abraham Lincoln himself as the catalyst that won his election on the abolition of slavery platform, and the resulting Civil War that followed. "Uncle Tom" became a negative slander one hundred years later only after Malcolm-X and the Black Muslims used it to slander Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who exemplified similar characteristics of strength and courage--from a similarly peaceful perspective--in his approach to the Civil Rights issue. As with the fictitious character Tom, Dr. King also died for his convictions without raising a hand against his oppressors. I highly recommend this book to people of all colors and races because of the lessons of self-sacrifice and courage it contains. Caucasian readers will hopefully learn of the pain and suffering of the slaves and gain a deeper compassion for its lingering legacy today. However, I especially recommend Uncle Tom's Cabin to African Americans, for contained in its pages are stories of love, compassion and courage--by both black & white--that will offset the painful legacy of that period caused by the suffering of so many. May the ignorance of the "Uncle Tom" slander be eradicated from their minds as they read of the courage of this fictitious character--who reminded others of Dr. King himself--and the other characters whose struggles and triumphs are contained in its pages also. I also recommend the books: No Apology Necessary, by Earl Carter, Let's Get to Know Each Other, by Tony Evans, and my own book, which is-- White Man in a Black Man's World (tm), by Richard Vermillion.
on April 17, 2002
Being a suburban, male, upper-middle class WASP, educated in Kansas City's public school system I had never completely understood the conditions that surrounded legalized slavery in the middle 1800's. I had watched Gone with the Wind as a kid and that was my image of plantation life and slavery. Uncle Tom's Cabin gives the reader the whole story and Stowe does an excellent job of presenting arguments from all sides of the issue (brutal slave drivers, gentleman farmers, abolitionists, slaves accepting their lot in life, slaves longing to be free). I was so moved. Only Grapes of Wrath and To Kill a Mockingbird have had that same impact on me in the past. I would give this book 6 stars if that were an option. The U.S. History books always made reference to Uncle Tom's Cabin for its historical importance. It did open the eyes of so many who didn't realize what was happening in their country. Public education should go further though by making this required reading. It is so much more than a mere footnote. It is a slow-starter, it took me about 10 days to get through the first 100 pages adjusting to Stowe's mastery with dialects, but the last 350 pages moved 3 times as fast. Wow! The power of reading. It's amazing.
on March 28, 2002
Uncle Tom's Cabin is written through the eyes of a religious
fanatic abolitionist whose father is a minister and president of
a college of theology where her husband is a professor. Ms. Stowe tries to tell about slavery in the South from tails she has heard. The book was written nine years before the War Between the States and sold 300,000 copies the first year. The book hurt the South and caused people from the North and Mid-west to believe every word she wrote eventhough Ms. Stowe had never been to the South. Even President Lincoln when meeting her said," So you're the little lady who started this war".
All of Uncle Tom's Masters treated him better than most of the slaves were treated with the exception of one Master. The book takes you from one Master to another with you wondering what will happen next. The book is chocked full of colorful and interesting characters. It's a book that will make you laugh and also make you cry.
I think this is a book everyone should read and it will make you ask yourself what's wrong with being called an "Uncle Tom."
on October 26, 1999
Harry Shelby, a young mulatto slave boy, dances for a slave boy and his master, and the trader is laughing with glee. He decides he could fetch a good price for this boy. Eliza, Harry's mother; and George, his proud father; feel forced into action, fleeing from kind masters to Canada. Meanwhile, Uncle Tom, as everyone calls the pious old slave, is sold into the terrible hands of Simon of Legree. Tom is unfased, however, because if he dies he will be with Jesus, his Saviour. This book is for people who like historical fiction with an adventourous twist.
on July 7, 2004
This book is beyond the term "classic." I tend to think of classic books as those you're made to read in school. We didn't have to read this one--I came upon it by myself. The book is a tale of adversity in the struggle for freedom, a look into human cruelty as well as human compassion, and one man's loyalty to those he is indentured to. The novel is set in a period just before the Civil War; during the time when the black people of America were not citizens, and had no rights. In the south during this time, the blacks were forced to work hard labor on plantations and were required to live in small dorms outside of their owner's homes. However, the novel is more than just a narrative of slaves, but of human emotion rising up in the face of adversity. It is a story of the fight for freedom, and an account of the history of America. The author brings out the humanity in the slaves, and describes the great injustices that took place during the time. The characters of this book are strong, resourceful, and respectable. If you're interested in race and racial relations also try "Raising Fences" and "The Bark of the Dogwood."
on July 6, 2004
I usually don't expect 150-year-old novels of ideas (and this is the quintessential novel of ideas) to be page turners, but Stowe is to be commended for writing what is first of all a great story. Never mind all the political sermonizing she does here -- and there's plenty of it -- this is above all a gripping story. Every time I expected a chapter to head into tedious territory, I was pleasantly surprised. Even though everyone knows what will happen to Uncle Tom -- this being a slave narrative written before the Civil War, after all, -- I couldn't help but continue wanting to read on. This was the second best selling book of the 19th century not only because it was highly controversial, but also because it's a well-told story, and I say "told" because Stowe herself often claimed that God dictated it to her. And it seems to be more spoken than written, especially with her frequent direct addresses to the reader.
While there may be something to Stowe's claim of divine inspiration given its impact, the book is certainly not without its faults. The character of Eva, for instance, is unlike that of any normal living child. She's a saintly caricature. And her neverending conclusion drips with maudlin sentiment exaggerated to Biblical proportions. Similarly, Uncle Tom doesn't bear resemblance to anyone I've ever met. But most troublesome is Stowe's romanticism of the black characters. She lumps them together and stereotypes them in one way or another. Clearly she means no harm; just the opposite is her desired effect. But it sometimes comes at the price of preachy condescension. They may be positive sterotypes, but they are stereotypes nonetheless, and they weaken her case against slavery.
Having read and enjoyed the highly-acclaimed and abundantly-awarded "The Known World" by Edward P. Jones, it dawned on me that Stowe really had a more thorough understanding of even the most subtle effects that the institution of slavery had on blacks and whites both northern and southern alike even with ideal slave masters. She even appears to foresee the differences of opinion that would later crystallize in Martin Luther King's brand of civil disobediance and the more militant versions advocated by the Nation of Islam and Black Panthers, juxtaposed in the diverging paths of the quiet, pious and tolerant Tom with that of the more directly oppositional George. She criticizes neither, though she seems to favor Tom's path, knowing full well that Uncle Tom is unique, and his abundance of Christian tolerance isn't likely to be found in the general population -- nor is it a path she desires for most slaves. She would rather that slaves simply escaped. She also seems to advocate their creation of a country of their own, taking Liberia as a model.
Still, further, Stowe is an early feminist, and as a result, the characters that are most interesting here are the women. Ophelia comes nearest of all the characters in the book to walking off the page. And Cassie, a finely complex creation, though introduced only in the last 120 pages or so, nearly steals the climax.
And what of the villains? They, too, are caricatures to be sure. To me at least, Simon Legree left something to be desired. He occasionally comes off as more of a buffoon rather than the Satan you know him to be deep down. But Marie St. Claire -- again, the woman -- is as clear a picture of selfcenteredness as Scrooge is of miserliness.
Hemingway said that all modern American literature dates back to Huckleberry Finn, but I think he needed to look about 30 years earlier than Twain to Stowe. Uncle Tom's Cabin is a masterpiece of American fiction; if it is not the Great American Novel, it is, at least in terms of sales, impact and literary merit, the Great American Novel of Ideas.