Uncle Tom's Cabin Paperback
Part of the Wordsworth Classics series
Editedand with an Introduction and Notes by Dr Keith Carabine.
University of Kent at Canterbury. Uncle Tom's Cabin is the most popular, influential and controversial book written by an American.
Stowe's rich, panoramic novel passionately dramatises why the whole of America is implicated in and responsible for the sin of slavery, and resoundingly concludes that only `repentance, justice and mercy' will prevent the onset of `the wrath of Almighty God!'. The novel gave such a terrific impetus to the crusade for the abolition of slavery that President Lincoln half-jokingly greeted Stowe as`the little lady' who started the great Civil War.
As Keith Carabine argues in his lively and provocative Introduction, the novel immediately provoked a storm of competing and contradictory responses among Northern and Southern readers, moderate and radical abolitionist groups, blacks and women, with regard to issues of form, genre, politics, religion, race and gender, that are still of great interest because they anticipate the concerns that vex and divide modern readers and critical constituencies.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 480 pages
- Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd
- Publication Date: 07/05/1999
- Category: Literary essays
- ISBN: 9781840224023
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Showing 1 - 5 of 10 reviews.
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Review by pzmiller
I have to admit that I only just read it for the first time. All I can say is that this book is amazing -- and that Harriet Beecher Stowe must have been a genius because of the way she manipulated the story to "preach" for her without preaching.
Review by CBJames
Uncle Tom's Cabin or, Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe is the book that started the American Civil War, according to Abraham Lincoln who was only being partially facetious when he first made that comment to the author. Starting a war was not Ms. Stowe's goal when she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, but ending slavery in America certainly was. Telling a story, creating a work of art, while important, played a secondary role in her ambitions. The story serves an express purpose, exposing the horrors of slavery in order to bring about its end. So, 150 years after it's initial publication, what does Uncle Tom's Cabin have to offer a 21st century reader?As a historical document, Uncle Tom's Cabin, it must be acknowledge, carries a lot of weight. It was after all, the best selling novel of the 19th century, the second best selling book in the world, second only to the bible. Written as an angry response to the passage of the fugitive slave law, it certainly tapped into the cultural zeitgeist of it's day. Stowe's novel and the wide ranging dramatizations it inspired, some of which were staged before the novel serialization was finished, have entered into the American collective consciousness. (Even Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim referenced the novel; his song "Not Getting Married" includes the line "like Eliza on the ice.") The characters Uncle Tom, Topsy, Eliza, Simon Legree, Little Eva have all taken on a life of their own, often unfortunately so. Stowe's depiction of slavery, while far from comprehensive and probably far from accurate, opened the eyes of contemporary readers, and can still at least raise a few eyebrows today. People tend to forget how horrible things were with the passage of time which makes books like Uncle Tom's Cabin useful reading. But, in the end, is it a good read? The story begins with high melodrama that does not let up until the very end. In the opening chapters, Uncle Tom, though devoted to his master, Mr Shelby, and his master's family, is sold along with young Harry, Eliza's son. Eliza has already lost her husband to a plantation owner who refuses to let her see him, so she takes her young son and runs away before he can be sold soth. Eliza carries her son across a the broken ice that floats down the Ohio River in order to be free. Uncle Tom is sent to the slave markets in New Orleans on a river boat. While on-board he rescues a young girl, Eva, who insists that her father, Mr. St. Clare, buy him so she can have his company. On the St. Clare plantation Uncle Tom and Little Eva win the hearts of just about everyone but Mrs. St. Clare who sells Tom instead of granting him freedom after the deaths of both Eva and her father. Tom then ends up in the hands of Simon Legree who runs a plantation straight out of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Tom's wife, Aunt Cloe, meanwhile, works and saves her money so she can buy Tom's freedom. In the end, Mr. Shelby, Jr. goes to Legree's plantation to buy Tom back only to find he is dying from the severe beating Legree has given him. Back in Canada Eliza, George and their children decide to emigrate to Liberia to start a new life and to bring Christianity to Africa.You can see why so many modern reader's have problems with the novel. It's not that the black characters are realized as less than fully human, it's that they are realized as children. Tom and Little Eva are equals, both portrayed as children in a sentimental Victorian melodrama. Both are devoted to each other and to Christianity as only little childre can be. Both believe that God will save them and that everyone should turn to God and all their problems will be solved. The message of the novel is not just that slavery is wrong, but that turning away from God is wrong. We must end slavery as a means of returning to the path of righteousness that God has set out for us to follow. This path, leads the black characters back to Africa, not as a return to the lives their ancestors left, but as missionaries spreading Christianity. Why should they have to go back in the first place? Don't they have as much right to be in America as anyone? Stowe was against slavery, but she is not really arguing for racial equality.The major problem a modern reader will have with Uncle Tom's Cabin may not be the book's racism, arguing that the 19th century American novel is racist seems moot to me anyway, but that the book is very preachy. Much of the dialogue serves to provide a platform to advance the case against slavery rather than to develop the plot or the characters. Whether two characters are sitting in a parlor or facing each other over the point of a gun, the speeches against slavery continue. Many of them are very good. Case in point, George's reply to the bounty hunters who have cornered his family on a hillside in Ohio:"I know very well that you've got the law on your side, and the power," said George, bitterly, "You mean to take my wife to sell in New Orleans, and put my boy like a calf in a trader's pen, and send Jim's only mother to the brute that whipped and abused her before, because he couldn't abuse her son. You want to send Jim and me back to be whipped and tortured, and ground down under the heels of them that you call masters; and your laws will bear you out on it,---more shame for you and them! But you haven't got us. We don't own your laws; we don't own your country; we stand here as free, under God's sky, as you are; and, by the great God that made us, we'll fight for our liberty till we die."George stood out in fair sight, on the top of the rock, as he made his declaration of independence; the glow of dawn gave as flush to his swarthy cheek, and bitter indignation and despair gave fire to his dark eye; and, as if appealing from man to the justice of God, he raised his hand to heaven as he spoke.If this works for you as a reader, you'll find much to enjoy in Uncle Tom's Cabin. I found it to be tough going for much of the novel. Towards the end of the book, once Tom arrives at Simon Legree's plantation, I found the speeches became less frequent and the narrative pace picked up quite a bit. The book almost became hard to put down for the last 200 pages. In the end, while interesting and important as a historical document, Uncle Tom's Cabin or, Life Among the Lowly, by Harriet Beecher Stowe has little to offer the modern reader. I'm giving the book three out of five stars.
Review by julied
I never knew that it was such a page turner! About halfway through the pace picked up so that I was avidly reading whenever I had a chance to see if George and Eliza would shake off their trackers, Uncle Tom would make it back to his family, what it would take to make Topsy reform and much more. How about that crazy Cassy, hmm? And poor Emmaline ... would someone save her before Simon Legree got his filthy hands on her? Wow!I never knew that Uncle Tom actually was a Christ-figure, a living saint. No wonder he is misunderstood by so many. They are not getting the whole picture.I never knew that so many sorts of people were represented throughout the book. The language can be rather stilted due to the style of the times but Stowe did a good job showing many different attitudes toward slavery and how people excused themselves under the flimsiest of excuses. One expects the broadly painted very good and very evil owners but not the more shaded in-between characters.It was fascinating toward the end of the book to see where many of the slaves wound up. One could discern what Stowe's ideas of a solution for the slavery problem were and, indeed, it was even more interesting to read her afterward where she discusses it specifically.I thought that Stowe included herself in the book as the maiden aunt from New England who thought she understood the problem until she came up against Topsy who demanded that she put her whole heart and soul into realizing that the slaves were real people. My daughter saw her as Mrs. Shelby, the kindly wife of Uncle Tom's original owner, who as soon as she got a chance absolutely did the right thing.
Review by benuathanasia
Such a beautiful story. I adored the realism of the characters. Stowe did a wonderful job balancing out personalities. No race was glorified or demonized, nor were genders shown in disproportionate light; the first few chapters, all the women were nigh-on saints, but Mrs. St. Clare more than makes up for it (I wanted to strangle that b!tch. Even if it weren't for her views on slavery). I was a bit dismayed at the deus ex machina nature of the happily ever after (the reunions at the end), but I thoroughly enjoyed the "epilogues" and the end note.
Review by LisaMaria_C
I knew a few things about <i>Uncle Tom's Cabin</i> before cracking open the book. From <i>The King and I</i> I knew some characters and scenes like Eliza escaping over the ice floe. I knew that upon meeting author Harriet Beecher Stowe, President Lincoln said she was the "little woman who made this great war"--the American Civil War. And I thought I knew that Stowe had never visited the South. That last turned out to be wrong. According to the introduction, she had once visited slave-holding Kentucky, which is where she initially sets the book. Of course, her limited contact with slavery doesn't mean she didn't know what she was writing about. As the introduction and her note after the novel relates, as part of an abolitionist family, she had known and interviewed ex-slaves and read various first-hand slave narratives, including that of Frederick Douglas. I feared what I'd read would be a minstrel show knowing the reputation of "Uncle Tom," and I'd heard it had a reputation as overly sentimental and anti-slavery propaganda. Given all that I found the book a surprisingly good read. Sure, it's an old fashioned book. Published in 1852, like many Victorian authors I've read such as Dickens, Alcott and Gaskell, it <i>can</i> strike a reader as sentimental and steeped in religiosity. Were it published today it would be considered "Christian Fiction." Stowe hits very hard on Christian themes and how slavery makes living a Christian life difficult for slave and slaveholder alike. Sometimes it can get unbearably preachy--I found the character of "Little Eva" particularly hard to take seriously. There is also <i>some</i> racial stereotyping, but according to the introduction Stowe was progressive for the period and her purpose was to show the "full humanity" of blacks, and she constantly pressed the reader to put themselves in the shoes of slaves and insisted they felt everything any reader would feel upon being separated from family and home, or used unfairly and cruelly. And Uncle Tom is no Uncle Tom. He does refuse to run away, because he fears it would result in all the slaves in the estate being sold, and he is honest and conscientious in his dealings with his masters--but he's not a sycophant, and openly disobeys orders that would make him act against his conscience. And there are other characters--such as George Harris--willing to defend the liberty of himself and his escaping family by any means necessary--including at gunpoint.At the same time, Stowe doesn't demonize slaveholders, and Stowe paints a deft portrait of their rationalizations--one could imagine that what came out of her characters' mouths is what Stowe herself must have heard from those sympathetic to slavery. There are scenes among the St Clare family particularly that provided very sharp social commentary--even satire--as Marie St Clare complains of the selfishness of her slaves or Augustine St Clare points out to Miss Ophelia, his abolitionist Northern cousin, her racism and hypocrisy.I've read modern depictions of slavery by authors such as Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler, but <i>Uncle Tom's Cabin</i> reminds me most of a 19th century slave narrative by Harriet Jacobs I read for college. Both books emphasize the moral dimension of slavery--not simply how slavery is cruel or wrong, but how being owned by others means a slave is denied moral agency. And reading <i>Uncle Tom's Cabin</i> I can imagine why this was moral dynamite laid at the very foundations of slavery that would help lead to it being exploded little more than a decade after it was published. This is undeniably one of the most important books ever published in terms of its historical effects and on that basis alone, despite its flaws, deserves to be more widely read today.
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