Toms Cabin was one of the most widely read books in the world in the
nineteenth century. The masses in the northern U.S. and in many foreign
countries embraced its melodrama, as well as its timely message, and used
the book to galvanize the anti-slavery movement in the 1850's. The book
thus became one of the causes of the American Civil War. The story moves
swiftly, keeping the reader's interest, but the writing writing abounds
in sentimentality, clichés, and preachments.
of Work and Style . .......Uncle
Tom's Cabin is a novel of social protest. Author Harriet Beecher Stowe
uses third-person point of view, but she sometimes interrupts the narration
to speak directly to the reader in second-person point of view. Purely
as a literary work, Uncle Tom's Cabin is average at best, relying
primarily on sentimentality and melodrama to appeal to the readers. However,
the themes in the novel are powerful, and they had an enormous impact on
the slavery issue in Stowe's day. They continue to hold meaning for the
modern reader in age when racial bigotry remains a major problem.
of Publication .
Tom's Cabin was published in a series of installments in 1851 and 1852
by the National Review, an abolitionist newspaper. It was published
in book form in 1852.
action takes place in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century in
Kentucky, Ohio, and Louisiana; on river steamboats; and in Canada and Africa.
The story unfolds during a time when tension was growing between the North
and the South over slavery.
Characters . Uncle Tom:Long-suffering,
hard-working, deeply religious slave who remains loyal to his Christian
ideals, even refusing to curse those who treat him cruelly. He endures
many hardships on behalf of whites as well as blacks and inspires others
with his Job-like patience and his Christ-like willingness to forgive.
wife, from whom he is separated.
Arthur Shelby: Slave
owner who treats Tom and other slaves kindly but refuses to renounce slavery.
To avoid financial ruin, he sells Tom and a slave boy, Harry Harris.
Emily Shelby: Arthur's
wife. She is appalled by her husband's decision to sell Tom and Harry Harris.
George Shelby: Son
of Arthur and Emily. After he grows up, he searches for Tom, finds him
just before he dies, and buries him. When he returns to his home, he frees
trader who buys Tom and Harry Harris, a child, from Arthur Shelby.
Eliza Harris: Maid
of Emily Shelby and mother of Harry Harris. Rather than endure separation
from her son, she runs away with him in an attempt to reach Canada.
George Harris: Eliza's
husband and a slave at a neighboring plantation. He also runs away.
Harry Harris: Son
of George and Eliza Harris. Haley buys him.
Andy: Slave in the
service of the Shelbys
Little Jake, Mandy:
Slaves in the service of the Shelbys.
Black Sam: Slave
of the Shelbys. After Eliza escapes, he places a beech nut under the saddle
of Haley's horse to cause it to throw him and thereby delay the pursuit
of Eliza and her son, Harry, whom Haley has purchased.
Tom Loker: Slave
Marks: Slave hunter,
friend of Loker.
man who helps Eliza during her escape.
Senator Bird: U.S.
Senate member who sponsors legislation making it a crime to aid fugitive
slaves. He changes his mind on the issue after meeting Eliza and hearing
her heart-rending story.
Bird's kindly wife.
John Van Trompe:
Former slaveholder who lodges Eliza and little Harry.
Simeon, Rachel Halliday:
Quaker husband and wife who help Eliza and little Harry.
Little Eva (Evangeline
St. Clare): Saintly white child who loves Uncle Tom.
Augustine St. Clare:
Father of Eva. He buys Tom at her urging and takes him to his home in New
Marie St. Clare:
Augustine's niggling wife.
Miss Ophelia: Cousin
of St. Clare. She takes care of the St. Clare household.
child bought by St. Clare.
Simon Legree: Extremely
cruel slave overseer who buys Tom after Augustine St. Clare dies.
Quimbo, Sambo: Slaves
of Simon Legree.
Slaves in Legree's house who conspire against him. Cassy is Eliza's mother.
Emily de Thoux: Sister
of George Harris.
Slaves, Slave Trackers
Climax . .......The
climax occurs when Tom suffers a brutal beating and dies shortly thereafter
in the presence of George Shelby. There are climactic moments earlier in
the novel, such as the moment when Eliza and little Harry cross the Ohio
River and the moment when little Eva dies.
the death of Tom, Simon Legree becomes seriously ill, perhaps symbolizing
the sickness that afflicts the entire South before the Civil War. Cassy
and Emmeline take advantage of his weakened mental and physical condition
by escaping. Meanwhile, George Shelby buries Tom. When George returns to
Kentucky he frees his slaves..
. Themes . .......The
main themes of the novel include the following:
is an evil institution.
in God sustains and ennobles the oppressed
courage does not require violence
human soul is neither black nor white
human being has the right to deprive another human being of freedom.
children are blind to adult prejudice.
of the most memorable episodes in the novel is Eliza's escape from slave
hunters. With her pursuers closing in, she jumps from one block of ice
to another across the Ohio River with little Harry in her arms. Her act
demonstrates her resolve as a mother and a black woman to place her child
beyond the reach of the inhumanity of slavery. It also foreshadows the
historical liberation of the slaves during the Civil War, when President
Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Novel as a Reflection of Reality
the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, supporters of slavery accused
Harriet Beecher Stowe of fabricating or exaggerating her descriptions of
the misery suffered by slaves. In response to these accusations, Stowe
wrote The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book that documents her indictment
of slavery. The Boston firm of John P. Jewett and Company published it
in 1854. In Chapter 1 of the book, she writes,
At different times,
doubt has been expressed whether the scenes and characters pourtrayed in
Uncle Tom's Cabin convey a fair representation of slavery as it at present
exists. This work, more, perhaps, than any other work of fiction that ever
was written, has been a collection and arrangement of real incidents, of
actions really performed, of words and expressions really uttered, grouped
together with reference to a general result, in the same manner that the
mosaic artist groups his fragments of various stones into one general picture.
His is a mosaic of gemsthis is a mosaic of facts.
1854 edition of The Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin includes this explanatory
subtitle: Presenting the Original Facts and Documents Upon Which the
Story Is Founded, Together with Corroborative Statements Verifying the
Truth of the Work. Click
here to access the complete text of The Key.
Information . .......Harriet
Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on June 14, 1811. She
was one of 13 children of Lyman Beecher, a well-known Presbyterian minister.
All seven of his sons became clergymen. Harriet's husband, Calvin Ellis
Stowe, was also a minister and, like Harriet, an abolitionist. After the
publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1851 and 1852, Mrs. Stowe published
Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, which provided evidence to support her stand
against slavery. In 1856, she wrote another anti-slavery book, Dred:
A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. She also contributed articles to
the Atlantic Monthly magazine and to several newspapers, including
Independent and the Christian Union. Her brother, Henry Ward
Beecher, had worked as an editor at both newspapers. Mrs. Stowe died on
July 1, 1896, in Hartford, Conn.
Questions and Essay Topics
Who is the most courageous character
in the novel? Explain your answer.
Was Tom right when he decided
not to escape with Eliza?
Although the novel is entitled
Uncle Tom's Cabin, much of the story takes place after Tom leaves the cabin.
Does Tom, in a manner of speaking, take the cabin with him? Explain your
Before President Abraham Lincoln
promulgated the Emancipation Proclamation (a document proclaiming freedom
for slaves) on Jan. 1, 1863, he issued an ultimatum to the southern states,
ordering them to give up their fight and return to the Union. If they had
agreed to end their rebellion, would Lincoln have allowed them to keep
Write an informative essay explaining
what everyday life was like for slaves on a southern plantation.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote
the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he included in it the words "all
men are created equal." Write an informative essay explaining Jefferson's
personal views on slavery.