During the 1800s, slaves were a big deal. Everybody had them. Slaves would get bought, sold, beaten, killed, every bad thing you can imagine happened to them. Though one woman, believed that what was happening to them was wrong. So, she decided to do something about it. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a book, starring a slave. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is the name, and I’m here to tell you about it.
Uncle Tom was a slave during the 1800s, in which the book takes place. Stowe wrote the character to be the embodiment of struggle, virtue and dignity and to stand out from the others. His personality was shown as brave, strong, and good. He was a Christian man who opposed the idea of violence. Throughout the book, Tom does not change. His character has no arc, nor does it develop. Of course, he experiences sadness, pain, happiness and joy, but his character doesn’t get wiser and his personality stays the same.
Early on in the book, he is described as a very physically powerful man and very dark skinned with African features. Even though some of Stowe’s African-American characters have racially mixed ancestry, Tom is the only one who is “truly African”. Stowe made him this way because she believed that people of the African race were more gentle, loving, and devoted to family. These traits obviously shine through in Tom’s character throughout the book. The book itself follows the lives of Uncle Tom, a woman slave named Eliza, and her son Harry. The Shelbys, which are the current owners of the three, are forced to sell Tom and Harry, despite the urge not to.
The story follows Tom through his journey in the south, where he is sold and resold, and Eliza, whom after figuring out she will be sold into sexual slavery, escapes to Canada with her family. Eliza is also an important character in the book, but there is little to say about her. She is the very first example of a mother who has had her child taken from her and sold, but she is also the first example of a mother getting her child back. Besides this, Eliza is still just another pretty face in the book, despite Stowe’s assurances. This may have had to do something with white readers identifying with a young woman who looked and behaved in fashionable ways.
This may seem like the only reason, but its not. Because she was conventionally “good”, Eliza was a timid and obedient child. After being traumatized by being sold away from her mother, her feelings transferred to Mrs. Shelby after being given to the family, which is why she did what she could to please the very kind and passionless woman. After this book was written, Stowe was invited to meet president Abraham Lincoln, who greeted her as the “little lady who started a war”. It’s very possible that Lincoln never actually said that to her, but it has often been quoted to show the importance of the novel as a potential cause of the civil war.
Obviously, the novel was not the only cause of the war and it may not have even been a direct cause, but the book did change some people’s attitudes towards slavery, by humanizing the slaves. In the early 1850s, those changes in attitudes helped bring the idea of abolishing slavery into the mainstream of American life. In the north, attitudes against slavery began to grow and were reinforced by the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and may have helped Lincoln win the war. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s goal in writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was to show the evils of slavery in a way that would help the American people relate to the issue.
By writing a fictional story that contained suspense and drama, villains and heroes, Stowe was able to keep readers interested and also was able to deliver a very powerful message. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published in installments in a magazine. When it was published as a book in 1852, it sold 300,000 copies in its first year and it continued to sell throughout the 1850s and became famous in other countries such as Britain and Europe. Back in America, specifically in the South, it was actually illegal in some states to own a copy of the book, and in some southern newspapers she was portrayed as a liar and a villain.
Some novelists in the South began writing their own novels that were basically “answers” to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, portraying the slave owners as caring people who’s slave couldn’t take care of themselves in society. Uncle Tom’s Cabin became the most talked about fictional novel in the U.S. The issue of slavery began to transform into something very personal and emotional once the readers began to relate very deeply to the characters.
The novel helped to widen the anti-slavery feelings in the north from a small circle of people to a more general audience. The novel was inspired by a former slave named Josiah Henson. He was a slave in 1787 and lived in Maryland, but he escaped to Ontario. He started a school for former slaves and became the minister of a church. He published his first autobiography in 1849, which was one of the first slave narratives. Henson died in Dresden, Ontario in 1883 at the age of 93, his funeral being one of the largest in Dresden’s history.
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