Tag Archives: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Book: New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin

New Essays on Uncle Tom's Cabin

Too much Uncle Tom.
195 pages, ★★★★

This collection of very detailed essays were written by different authors, so there’s naturally a lot of overlap in content.

Rather than review this book, I’m going to share some of the reflections I made while reading it.

  1. Some critics [of Uncle Tom’s Cabin] said the book isn’t a part of high culture because it appeals to the masses. Others said it appeals to sadness, too fundamental a human emotion, and thus yields no artistic merit. I think Uncle Tom’s Cabin isn’t sad at all because even though characters in the book suffer, the author doesn’t choose to dwell on their suffering. She merely describes it, leaving any reflection up to the reader.
  2. Radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison suggested angrily that there were two Jesus Christs: one passive, long-suffering Christ for blacks, and one rebellious, warrior Christ for whites. According to Christian values in 19th century America, whites and blacks were expected to respond to suffering in different ways!
  3. Stowe held back on describing sexual abuse because the novel’s intended audience included children. In reality, sexual abuse of young, female slaves was widespread (Legree in Uncle Tom’s Cabin would have abused his slaves sexually, for example).
  4. Women played a role in ending slavery by persuading their white husbands that slavery was wrong, and by requesting that blacks stay subservient rather than self-determined. (A violent slave population would not have elicited sympathy from the whites.) By not fanning the flames of oppression or of revolution, women allowed slavery to ‘burn out’ faster than it otherwise would have.
  5. Gothic portrayal of women in nursery rhymes as “houses” is something to think about.

Between these interesting points was a great amount of detail that would lend itself well to a book club or a literary seminar. This book contained more than enough analysis of Uncle Tom for the average, interested reader. ★★★★

Book: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States

Uncle Tom's Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States

Succinct, analytical, readable, perfect.
175 pages, ★★★★★

The original text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was very dense, laced with nineteenth-century English and was a nuisance to read—especially the speech from Tom’s wife, Chloe. Here’s an excerpt of the original:

“An’ de Gineral, he knows what cookin’ is. Bery nice man, de Gineral! He comes of one of de bery fustest families in Old Virginny!”

While it’s intelligible, it’s tiring to read.

However, I learned much more from this book, called Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States. It uses the concise, logical English language that as a science student (and as a blogger), I’m much more used to. It not only tells you the story, the author’s background, her reasons for writing, and the book’s influence on the American public, but also includes discussions of the devastating slave trade, the ‘ownership’ of women and the extermination of native Americans that occurred in the same historical period. This book concludes with a chapter on Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘s legacy. I learned much more from this book than from Uncle Tom’s Cabin itself.

Reading derivative works isn’t cheating at all. Nobody was expected to read the original text of On the Origin of Species while I was doing undergraduate science. We were, however, expected to know the gist of what it said by reading books that relate heavily to it (The Third Chimpanzee and Genome come to mind).

Instead of reading the dozens of classics on my reading list, I’m going to hunt for derivative works of all of them. I think I’ve finally found a way to make classic fiction both enjoyable and accessible at the same time… ★★★★★

Book: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Incredibly influential, sadly inaccessible.
411 pages, ★★

How dare I give just two stars to a classic?

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a novel about slaves in 19th century America. I’ve summarised the story into a character map below.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Character Map

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written for white people. I say this because it doesn’t dwell on the struggles, the emotional turmoil, the fear and loathing of whites that slaves faced; nor does it stir up revolution. Rather, it tells a realistic, emotionally-restrained story of two Christian slaves who stay unwaveringly loyal despite extreme social injustice.

While the book itself has no political ideology, it was one of the most politically influential books in American history; and possibly of all time. It spread rapidly—one in six adult Americans owned a copy—and was the best-selling novel in American history at the time. Uncle Tom’s Cabin stimulated the growing impetus to abolish slavery to such an extent that 50 years later, author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s bust was placed alongside that of Washington, Franklin and Lincoln in New York’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans. Even President Abraham Lincoln made references to “that lady” who “started the great Civil War”. Many writers argue that this novel played a significant role in the abolition of slavery in America.

Most interesting is that according to a poll conducted in 1946, the majority of Negroes surveyed by Negro Digest considered Uncle Tom’s Cabin “anti-Negro” since it “presented the black in a submissive, docile, cringing role, portraying him as less than a man”. While their description is definitely true, it seems ironic that the American black population would grow to resent the book that had quite possibly set them free.

In conclusion, this is a fascinating book, and is one that everyone interested in history should know about. So why only two stars? It’s told in such dated English that I struggled to enjoy it. Read literary criticisms instead. ★★