on May 27, 2015
Harriet Beecher Stowe was more intelligent, compassionate, and insightful than almost all her critics.
Most critics don't understand the book at all nor do they understand the author, Stowe. They wrongly assume that because Stowe used every skill she could muster as an artist to write a compelling, dramatic story about slavery in the Southern States, that she must have been somehow cool with the institution. The critics fail to see that Stowe used the emotional power of the melodramatic narrative to advance her thesis. Stowe condemns slavery on every single page of the novel; she does not defend it, she shows its corrosive effect with startling clarity through the melodramatic narrative. And she presents the situation with great complexity!
Don't believe me? Then guess which author regarded Stowe as his artistic mentor? None other than Dostoevsky! And most literary critics agree that the Russian novelist was one of the greatest novelists of the 19th century. Tolstoy often ribbed Dostoevsky for his admiration of Stowe. But when you read The Karamozov Brothers it's striking how much it sounds like Uncle Tom's Cabin. Dostoevsky couldn't have given her higher praise than that. The next time you read Karamazov Brothers listen for the echoes of Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Why would one of the greatest novelists who ever wrote regard Stowe as his mentor unless he recognized that she was herself an author worthy of attention and emulation?
Stowe did not condone slavery, she abhorred it. She hated it because it ruined everyone - slaves, slave owners, and slave traders. It destroyed everything it touched. And she showed the soul-murdering effect it had on everyone through the medium of storytelling.
By the way, it's a real hoot to read some postmodern thinkers poo-poo the 'simplistic' artistry of Stowe, as though they were somehow superior. I'd love to see these poser hacks try to craft a novel with a quarter the emotional power of Stowe's book. I lost count of the number of times that my heart felt like bursting as I read of the hellish experience the slaves endured at the hands of 'Christian' owners. On the other hand, Postmodern novels almost always lack the ability to genuinely move the reader's emotions. I read one truly irritating, deeply pretentious writer explain how we must recoil at Stowe's simplistic, emotionally manipulative storytelling. It smacked of envy. He only says that because he secretly wished he could write at the level she did; she moved people, she provoked outrage simply by creating a tale about characters who suffer injustice at the hands of other human beings. How is her ability to touch a reader's heart through a story simplistic? To me it seems anything BUT simplistic. She was enormously talented and wrote a very, very sophisticated melodrama that rises above the genre.
Frankly, I think a lot of critics are knee-jerk reacting against Stowe's clear, bold, unapologetic treatment of evangelical Christian faith. Of course, had she been promoting Islam, then many of these same critics would no doubt embrace the novel.
on August 13, 2012
I had meant to read this book many years ago.However, just recently got a copy and I bought it through Amazon. The writing style of course is archaic, but considering the era it was written in it is to be expected. Gives wonderful insight on slavery and some of the horrors these people had to face. Wonderful book.
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 June 13, 2011
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 August 24, 2014
It is said that some stories are meant to be told in their day. Stories that transcend the commonplace customs of the day and shake things up. Stories that change the indifferent stupor of people who turn a blind eye into a genuine concern for others. Uncle Tom's Cabin is exactly that book. A tale of the oppressors and the oppressed. A tale of good people who treated their slaves well, a tale of cruel people who beat their slaves, and a tale of everybody who was indifferent to their plight and who rationalized, 'Everyone buys and sells slaves'. A tale that sparked off a revolution.
Mrs Stowe evokes a deep pathos in the reader for the protagonist Tom and his fellow slaves. Tom's master sells him to pay off his debts. He gets another kind master and finally a brutal one. The horrors of the day are dramatically included in the story. A mother pleading to a new owner to buy her daughter so that they could be together. People ignoring the wails of their separation mentioning that 'Niggers dont feel much as we do.' Daughters that are traded off to despotic owners so that they can fulfill their private passions. A mother killing her newborn son so that he doesn't have to live a life suffering tyranny & brutality.
And through all this our good natured, simple and pious Tom clutches the Bible and repeats the word of the Lord to one and all. He undergoes through all the trials and tribulations with never a bad word to anyone. Whether its good times or bad, the words of the Lord are always on his lips. No suffering is too much for him for he always believes that his deliverance is on hand.
History repeats itself and its no coincidence that oppressions and injustice happen time and again. This book has a striking resemblance to the horrors of the Holocaust as described in 'Man's Search for Meaning' by Viktor Frankl. More significant is the fact that Tom once says,'You can take my body, but not my soul' which is one of the cornerstone learnings of the latter book. You can take away a man's possessions, his family, his freedom and subject him to the most inhuman cruelties, but you cannot take away what he thinks and how he responds in any situation. The mind is always free. It cannot be shackled down.
Final thoughts: Harriet Beecher Stowe should be commended for writing such a bold book in her times. Hats off to this brave lady who must have faced numerous obstacles while trying to research, write and complete this book and made it available for everyone to read, and more importantly dwell upon.
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
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."