I have read [Uncle Tom’s Cabin] with the deepest interest and sympathy, and admire, more than I can express to you, both the generous feeling which inspired it, and the admirable power with which it is executed (Dickens, 523), where shall we find creations more complete, types more vivid, situations more touching, more original, than in Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ (Sand, 524), It is plain that no immediate literary success, tried by the ordinary standards, was ever greater than this (The Nation, 525). These are just some of the few opinions of people who have read this amazing novel. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a fiction novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, an American abolitionist and author, which is centered on the antebellum era and the system of slavery in the 19th century. The novel talks about various slaves and the treatment they get by their masters during this period of time in the South.
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One of the main characters is a slave named Uncle Tom; Uncle Tom is the biggest slave that the novel revolves around. Tom is a middle aged man who at the beginning of the story is a slave to his masters, Arthur and Emily Shelby, Uncle Tom’s masters treat him well but they later sell him to a slave trader, making Uncle Tom switch and switch masters until his death. Uncle Tom’s determination to not give up on his beliefs as a Christian man and his willingness to help others even when the circumstances he is in make it a danger for him, are a few of the reasons why he is such an important role in this novel. Another main character in this novel is Eliza; Eliza is a young slave woman who runs away with her son, Harry, after hearing her masters, Arthur and Emily Shelby, talk about how they are selling Harry to a salve trader. Throughout the book the reader follows both of Uncle Tom’s and Eliza’s journeys. What they go through and what they have to suffer in each of their masters hands during the system of slavery in the 19th century.
The reader can first see the unfairness of the system of slavery in the first chapter of the book. In the first chapter of the book Arthur and Emily Shelby, Uncle Tom’s masters, are discussing about how they are going to give Uncle Tom to a slave trader along with Eliza’s son, Harry. The unfairness shown in this particular chapter is that slaves like Uncle Tom, Eliza, and Harry had no say in what their masters did with them. After Eliza talks to Mrs. Shelby asking her not to sell Harry, Mrs. Shelby promises not to, because she complains about how she does not like the idea of slavery at all. Kind-hearted Mr. and Mrs. Shelby have no other option, but to sell Uncle Tom in order to keep their property, while Eliza decides to run away with Harry because she does not want Harry separated from her. Mr. and Mrs. Shelby don’t do anything about Eliza’s escape because they think she did the right thing by fleeing instead of seeing her child be taken away from her.
The unfairness of slavery in this novel is also portrayed in chapter seven. In chapter seven the reader sees how Eliza and Harry are doing on their escape. The book states Eliza’s thoughts by stating this, the danger of her child, all blended in her mind, with a confused and stunning sense of the risk she was running, in leaving the only home she had ever known, and cutting loose from the protection of a friend whom she loved and revered (Stowe, 57). Eliza is near the Ohio River, alone in the middle of nowhere and holding on to Harry so dearly that she is afraid to let go. While Uncle Tom is during his last meal, prepared by his wife Chloe, because the slave trader will come for him, Chloe is destroyed because she does not know if she will see her husband again. The unfairness is seen that not just Eliza and Uncle Tom as fictional characters had to suffer great trials, like for example Eliza who fled alone with her young son but also how Uncle Tom suffers by leaving his family and not really knowing whether he will be able to see anyone from his family again. Uncle Tom and Eliza as characters show symbolism that not just them but many other slaves during the antebellum era had to go through the same things. Slaves had to flee what they knew as home and had to endure wherever there masters told them to go, because they were not able to control whether or not they would be sold to another master one day, in other words no slave ever knew their future, and they lived day by day and sometimes each day making different decisions at a time.
While Eliza and Harry are trying to live staying free, the story in the novel turns back to Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom and the slave trader, named Haley, are on their way South to sell Tom, but they must make a stop in order to get some rest and continue the next morning. Uncle Tom and Haley spend the night because Haley would buy more slaves the next day, in order to sell them to plantation farms along with Tom. Harriet Beecher Stowe shows once again the unfairness of slavery to the reader and demonstrates how slavery is portrayed in chapter twelve, Uncle Tom is chained by his feet in order for him to no be able to escape, like if he was an animal, in this scenario Haley leaves Uncle Tom’s hands free, but that was not the case in other circumstances of slaves and masters. The book states, However, the day wore on, and the evening saw Haley and Tom comfortably accommodated in Washington, the one in a tavern, and the other in jail (Stowe, 136). The injustice shown in this chapter is that Tom is an honest Christian and an obedient hardworking man who follows instructions no matter what he is put to do, and even though he is all these great characteristics he is still chained as if he was a criminal and he is put in jail, putting to shame Uncle Tom’s dignity and self-respect. Haley is generous enough to not tie Tom’s hands and Tom’s character is even demonstrated greater because he does not complain about anything and following instructions about everything Haley says, he still thanks Haley for his generosity and compassion even though he is forced to spend the night sleeping in jail because the next morning both, Uncle Tom and Haley, would continue their journey to the South.
Aside from Eliza’s and Uncle Tom’s sorrowful stories, the novel introduces a new slave called Prue. Prue is a woman who wears out her sorrows with alcohol, making her an alcoholic. Uncle Tom talks to her about Jesus Christ but as she listens she starts telling Uncle Tom her life story and why she has become an alcoholic. Prue states, Up in Kentuck. A man kept me to breed chill’en for market, and sold ’em as fast as they got big enough; last he sold me to a speculatorI had one child after I come here; and I thought then I’d have one to raise (Stowe, 250). Prue gets pregnant once she is sold again, but Prue’s master, who is ill, only wants Prue to take care of her and not the baby, the baby dies later of starvation. The author once again shows the reader how unfair it was for slaves in the time period, unfair that a master had to be the slave’s priority, some not wanting their slaves to have children. After Prue looses another baby she becomes and alcoholic and leaves Tom unhappy, but yet Uncle Tom still tries to save her and talk to her about Jesus Christ.
Finally the ultimate act of unfairness during this period of time, is when the author shows, in the novel, the death of Uncle Tom. In chapters forty and forty one, Uncle Tom has got a new master called Legree. Legree unlike all other of Uncle Tom’s master, is cold-hearted and rude. One night some of Legree’s other slaves escape out of his plantation, the next morning Legree confronts Uncle Tom about what he knows in regards to the slaves escape. Uncle Tom refuses to speak, and is the beat up by his master. Legree later orders the plantation’s overseers to continue the beating of Tom until he says something. Uncle Tom is beat up all night, until he is finally put in a shed to rest. The novel states, Tom had been lying two days since the fatal night; not suffering, for every nerve of suffering was blunted and destroyed (Stowe, 479). Tom dies later in the book due to the horrible beating his master had given him. This is one of the final acts in the book that show the unfairness of slavery. Uncle Tom once again symbolizes many other slaves that were brutally beat by their master’s and how none of them could not do anything to defend themselves, they all had to endure whatever beating was given to them.
In conclusion during the antebellum era, the system of slavery was a horrendous time for most of the African American people who lived in it. Harriet Beecher Stowe was an amazing novelist who in this book gave the reader a look at what many people had to suffer during this period of time, thanks to the amazing novel that is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Thanks to this novel, written during the 1800s, many people had compassion and wanted to make a change, this is why Uncle Tom’s Cabin is said to have helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War.
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