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Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Written presentation of the most significant literature ally fighting against the degradation of human rights of the black and the elimination of the institution of slavery in the USA of the 19th century

By Michael Chaintoutis, 2nd high school of Kozani, Greece Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe First published in 1852

About the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin has undoubtedly been the most accurate and touching embodiment of the harsh social conditions and prejudices against the black, stated lawfully by the law, which “contaminated” the American society, until 1865, when the American President Lincoln completely eliminated slavery from the American Constitution. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was almost immediately sold out right after its original edition and it has been translated into all widely spoken languages worldwide. It has also been the second most popular book of the 19th century, following the Bible. Names such as Tomas, Simon Legree, St. Clare and little Eva depict great impact on the intellectual even nowadays, when, despite the absence of slavery, modern stereotypes and repressions make this novel deeply associated with our everyday life. Plot The book’s theme bases on the awareness of the public of the author’s times on the devastating slavery conditions that divided people and amplified racism and injustice. Besides this general matter, Stowe wanted to promote the conflicting relationship between Christianity and slavery, moral values of the black, various beliefs on the matter of people treating others as their fortune, family love, the American way of life, Christianity’s ethical superiority etc. As the book goes on, we are following the main character of the book, Thomas, who travels and works in different places and ends up in a plantation of the South. We are simultaneously getting to know people around Tomas, their temperaments, activities, ideologies and relationships with him, as well as the life of Tomas’ family back in Kentucky and the adventure of a family of slaves until they eventually escape to Canada and find their invaluable freedom. The entire plot covers a nearly large period of time, approximately 10 years. It can be divided into three parts:

1. The sale of Uncle Tom to a slave-trader because of a financial deadlock of the Shelby family and the escape of Eliza, a young slave trying to save her 5 year old son from being sold to the same cruel man. Tomas has been a most liable, helpful and wonderful servant, so everyone hates to see him go away, He is transferred down the river in a riverboat, where he meets and saves from drowning a cute white girl, Eva, who convinces her dad to buy Tomas afterwards. Eliza overhears Mr. and Mrs. Shelby, her bosses, discussing plans to sell Tom and Harry, her son, and leaves desperately on foot in the dead of night, trying to save her only surviving child (she had already miscarried two children). She leaves a note of apology but, when the trader discovers her escape, he hunts her with a couple of old friends, until Eliza is obligated to dive into a frozen river so as to pass across with her son in her arms. There, she finds refuge in a house of Quakers and meets her husband, George, who is also a slave that escaped recently.

Full-page illustration by Hammatt Billings for Uncle Tom's Cabin depicts Eliza telling Uncle Tom that he has been sold and is running away to save her child.

2. Tomas’ life with St. Clare and Eliza’s family hunted. Tomas lives a decent life near a high-society in New Orleans, playing with smart and sophisticated Eva. St. Clare discusses with his cousin Ophelia about slavery and, in order to make her see her prejudices for the black despite her opposition to slavery, he asks her to educate a young black girl, Topsy, a really naughty and impertinent orphan, having never felt any affection at all. Tom and Eva share their common religious devotion and become inseparable friends. Although everything seems to be quiet and joyful for two years, Eva falls ill and, before she dies, she motivates all her slaves to turn to Christianity in order to find happiness, she stimulates Topsy’s inner feelings and touches everyone upon her time of death, when she experiences a vision of Heaven for an instant. During these years, Eliza and George’s family finds help to go abroad. They manage to avoid the trap of the slave-trader and his men after an adventurous hide and seek in the mountains, when one of the slave-hunters named Tom Loker gets seriously hit but survives with the help of the Quakers, decided to show mercy to this malevolent person.

Illustration of Tom and Eva by Hammatt Billings for the 1853 deluxe edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin

3. Tom belonging to Simon Legree. Although little Eva had made her father promise to free Tomas, St. Clare dies unexpectedly in a tavern and his wife sells his slaves at auction. Tom is sold to Simon Legree, who takes him down to Louisiana with some other slaves. There, they live under the worst working conditions, working hard under the sun for long hours, eating poor and being mistreated. Tom refuses to whip one of his fellow slaves and Legree beats him cruelly, in order to decimate his faith in God. Tom does not stop hoping and meets Cassy, another slave of Legree, who helps him recover from the bruises. He manages to deter her from killing Legree and helps her escape with Emmeline, a young slave that was separated from her mother. Simon suspects the conspiracy and, since Tom stick into his guns by refusing to reveal anything, he orders his overseers to kill Tom. In the end, his soul passes away after terrible pain. Tom forgives them and, as they understand what kind of man they killed, they both become Christians. I had better not reveal the end of the book, as I would destroy every trace of your interest. I encourage you to read it so as to find more of this amazing story. You will surely be fascinated by the future of the other heroes and the recognition of Tomas’ sacrifice.

Simon Legree assaults Uncle Tom

Full page illustration by Hammatt Billings for Uncle Tom's Cabin .Cassy, another of Legree's slaves, is shown ministering to Uncle Tom after his whipping.

Little Eva and Topsy by John R. Neill,

Characters Every single character of the book is described in detail in order for the reader to be perfectly informed of his/her idiosyncrasy. Apart from Tomas, Eliza, George, Harry, Tom Loker, Simon Legree, Eva, St. Clare, Ophelia, Cassy and Emmeline, in the book we will also find Mr. and Mrs. Shelby, George Shelby (their son, close friend of Thomas who will search him after his death), Chloe (Tomas’ wife) and many more people mingled into the plot. What is more interesting is that each character has something different to emphasize, we are therefore finding ourselves inside the pages as an active hero of the story. The heroes of the story can be divided into slaves and free (therefore black and white) and according to their beliefs, as for or against the institution of slavery in U.S.A. As we read, we are incessantly watching the constant debate of these two sides, each using its own arguments to support its point of view. The most interesting characters for me are Uncle Tom and little Eva.

Uncle Tom is a decent and religious person that leads a quiet life, until his indulgent boss, Mr.Shelby, sells him and Harry to a slave-trader. Although Eliza runs away with Harry, her 5 year old son, Tom refuses to follow them and seems determined to make do with what God wants for him. The value of tolerance, associated with religious and ethical beliefs are starkly inspiring the main character, Tomas, to keep on helping others despite their cruelty and according to the Bible, which remains his favourite book, even after his hard tortures by Legree. He is a strong example of human decency and morality, since his sacrifices reminds us of Jesus’ death.

Little Eva is another religious character of the book, a 10 year-old girl who rejects her parents’ indifference to religion and becomes an example of gaiety, optimism and Christian ideology. The symptoms of tuberculosis become obvious quite early, the doctor doubts her survival and therefore she hangs desperately in life awaiting her meeting with God, as she claims. She is also highly concerned on the matter of slavery and makes her father promise to free Tomas after her death, but St. Clare’s death after a while and her mother’s ignorance don’t dispatch Tomas’ freedom certification. Eva experiences wonderful times with Tomas sharing their devotion to God and should be a real role model for every person, adult or young, who doesn’t relax in his/her life comforts but gives a hand and ethical support to anyone in need and fights for his/her values, defending them even as a little child.

Conclusion The book is now one of my favourites and I could definitely state that I was deeply affected by its ideas. I feel not only more aware of the shameful institution of slave, but I have drawn various conclusions about life, too. All themes are completely supported by decisive arguments and, as a result, the reader appreciates “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as a kind of lesson about life, starting from the single theme of slavery and expanding to further ideas, but as a strongly historical book, likewise. The reading has been interesting and stimulating, don’t letting me get bored at any time. My favourite part of the book is when Tomas suffers a lot but the vision of Jesus gives him strength, so as the part when Topsy, the uncivilized young slave, cries for the death of little Eva, the only person in the world who showed her practically what affection stands for. I wouldn’t change a thing of it, actually, even though I felt strong frustration and sadness for Tomas’ hard death. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is a book that influenced the entire mankind and not reading it is a pity. I wish you all a pleasant reading from the bottom of my heart.

by Michael Chaintoutis

Uncle Tom's cabin  
Uncle Tom's cabin  

A review of the book