Uncle Tom’s Cabin: A Groundbreaking American Social Protest Novel

July 9, 2019 by Essay Writer

Even today, with literature constantly crossing more lines and becoming more shocking, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin remains one of the most scandalous, controversial, and powerful literary works ever spilled onto a set of blank pages. Not only does this novel examine the attitudes of white nineteenth-century society toward slavery, but it introduces us to the hearts, minds and souls of several remarkable and unprecedented characters.In a time when it was quite common for a black woman to see almost all of her children die, Harriet Beecher Stowe created Eliza; a strong and powerful woman fleeing slavery and risking everything to protect her son. In Chapter Seven, we see through Eliza’s eyes, just how painful and heart wrenching her personal sacrifices are to her.”It is impossible to conceive of a human creature more wholly desolate and forlorn than Eliza, when she turned her footsteps from Uncle Tom’s cabin. Her husband’s suffering and dangers, and 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. “Statements like this were not simply crafted to enhance character development; they were created in an attempt to make whites see slaves as mothers, fathers, Christians, and most of all…people. The character of Tom is described as “a man of humanity” ­ certainly not a description commonly linked to black people at that time. Tom was truly the first black hero in American fiction. However, Stowe based many of her assessments on her own reality. And while it is obvious that she very much advocated the abolition of slavery, she did not completely rise above her own racism. After all, this work was written during a time in which racial equality was incomprehensible to most whites. Therefore Stowe’s ingrained prejudices were bound to seep out occasionally, despite her positive convictions.There is a section in Chapter 30 which reads as follows:”Ah, ha! that’s right. Go it, boys, — go it!” said Mr. Skeggs, the keeper. “My people are always so merry! Sambo, I see!” he said, speaking approvingly to a burly negro who was performing tricks of low buffoonery, which occasioned the shouts which Tom had heard.”This is not only how Stowe perceived blacks to be, but how she believed they perceived themselves to be. In writing the book, Stowe drew up on her personal experiences: she was familiar with slavery, the antislavery movement, and the underground railroad because Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnatti, Ohio, where Stowe had lived, was a slave state. Her settings were often described with great accuracy and detail. She reflected an awareness of the complexity of the culture she lived in, and an ability to communicate that culture to others. However, in her commitment to realism, and her use of local dialect, Stowe intimates a sense of prejudice simply by being honest and true to her surroundings.Stowe lived during a time when many whites claimed slavery had “good effects” on blacks. Uncle Tom’s Cabin depicts three plantations, each worse than the next, where even the most strong and honorable souls can be left completely broken. There is direct evidence of this degradation in Chapter 35:”I was a fool, it’s a fact, to let any such brangle come up,” said Legree; “but, when the boy set up his will, he had to be broke in.” “I reckon you won’t break him in!””Won’t I?” said Legree, rising, passionately. “I’d like to know if I won’t? He’ll be the first nigger that ever came it round me! I’ll break every bone in his body, but he shall give up!”Uncle Tom ultimately endures a martyr’s death under the whips of Simon Legree’s overseers. This dramatic tragedy is just one of the factors that makes Uncle Tom’s Cabin one of the most influential American social protest novels ever written. Tom was a very religious man who always told people to believe in the Lord if they had problems. He was an honest and upstanding man who deserved a fate much more kind than the one bestowed upon him. By setting up scenes that depicted Tom’s true character, Stowe made his demise seem even more tragic than any death intrinsically is. For example, when Mr. Shelby, the plantation owner, instructs Tom to go across the state to deliver a large sum of money, the reader is aware that Tom could easily take the money and cross the border to Canada where he would be free. Instead, Tom delivers the money as instructed and returns to the plantation. This part of the story is far more influential in the believability of Tom’s piousness than simply stating it is a characteristic. Another excellent example of this is Simon Legree constant insistance that Tom whip another slave. Tom’s refusal resulted in his own physical suffering yet he refused to give in to Legree’s demands. When the book was written, most slave holders and owners thought that all slaves would lie and steal unless they were beaten and kept under strict supervision. Stowe attempts to disclaim this assertion throughout the novel. By twentieth-century standards, her propaganda practically verges on melodrama. However, in a time when most people sat back and accepted slavery as a way of life, Harriet Beecher Stowe portrayed it as a long, slow death. Because she dared to be different, her fame will eternally endure. She was a strong , determined and outspoken woman causing controversy in a time when women were supposed to be “seen and not heard”. She was scorned and ridiculed in the South because of her protestations of slavery, yet she held her head high and remained true to her beliefs. She was an author who expressed her hatred for slavery in powerfully descriptive words and themes. Yet she was also a woman, a wife and a mother who was forced to try to balance her home life with her careerŠa problem not at all uncommon in today’s society. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was revolutionary in 1852 for its passionate documentation the tragic breakup of black Kentucky families “sold down the river.” Its political impact was immense, and its emotional influence immeasurable. Yet, it has been labeled racist and condescending by some contemporary critics. Perhaps the question, “Is man ever a creature to be trusted with wholly irresponsible power?” applies to literary critics as well.

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