on 2 January 2011
I had read this years ago as a teenager and remembered enjoying it. Seeing it available on Kindle for free I thought it time to read it again and am very glad I did. Very clearly written as anti slavery propoganda during the mid 19th century, at the time before the American Civil War when slavery was allowed in southern American states but not in the North, it movingly follows the lives of several slaves and their owners, refuting the arguments of the pro slavery lobby at the time that slaves could be more comfortable and secure with a paternal owner than braving the labour market on their own. The book explores in heart breaking detail the devastating possible effects of the death or ruin of a slave owner which could force the sale by auction of his property, including his slaves. This often lead to permanent separation of families. The book is often very sentimental but is also very charmingly written with gentle humour and some very moving chapters.
on 29 June 2009
Uncle Tom's Cabin: categorised first as anti-slavery propaganda, then (bizarrely) as a children's book, everyone has heard of it, few bother to read it, which is a pity. Harriet Beecher Stowe was a highly intelligent writer who had learned well from her master Dickens. The best passages of her book are well up to his standard of dry, understated polemic. Some of her characterization, like the dissection of St Clare's disastrous marriage, or Cousin Ophelia in her Puritan New England background, is as brilliant and individual as anything in the nineteenth-century novel. Her evangelicalism strikes us as mushy-gushy now, but underlying it is a moral toughness that has not been given sufficient credit. Like a marksman shooting down one target after another, she dispassionately showed all the many ways in which slavery inevitably corrupted both slaves and their owners. Humane owners could not escape responsibility:
`Well,' said the other, `there are also many considerate and humane men among planters.'
`Granted,' said the young man; `but, in my opinion, it is you considerate, humane men that are responsible for all the brutality and outrage wrought by these wretches; because, if it were not for your sanction and influence, the whole system could not keep foothold for an hour. If there were no planters except such as that one,' said he, pointing with his finger to Legree, who stood with his back to them, `the whole thing would go down like a millstone. It is your respectability and humanity that licenses and protects his brutality.'
She was pretty bold, especially as an unmarried woman writer, in her exposure of sexual exploitation, at a time when George Eliot could cause shock simply by hinting at a character having an illegitimate child (of course this was America, not England). Her depiction of Simon Legree's plantation was astonishingly unsparing. This is in essence a concentration-camp novel, showing that twentieth-century labour camps and Gulags were part of a time-(dis)honoured tradition. The near-impossibility of resisting such dehumanisation throws into sharp relief the heroism of the few that did - and do.
I would not agree that Uncle Tom himself is an unbelievable plaster saint, nor yet the example of servility and acquiescence that later caricatures might lead you to believe. Notice that when Tom gets word that he is to be sold and declines to take the chance to run away, his decision is not because of any misplaced deference towards his owners but for the benefit of his fellow slaves: he realises that unless he is sold to pay off his master's debts they all may have to be sold. If you can bear with Miss Beecher-Stowe's religious effusions, Tom's moral arc is an entirely believable one. In his apparently hopeless position as Legree's slave, he (if not the author) gets beyond the evangelical morality of divine reward and punishment to the existential realisation that one has to choose good ... just because evil is worse. `If I get to be as hard-hearted as that ar Sambo ... it won't make much odds to me how I come so: it's the bein' so - that ar's what I'm a-dreadin'. I find that quite moving.
Of course the author spoils things rather with her poor plotting. When Cassie hatches an escape plan, it goes against the most elementary rules of clandestine association that she should unnecessarily let Tom know the details, just so that he can be a hero and refuse to tell Legree. The resolution of the whole story contains a few coincidences too many. And some of the folksy scenes are undeniably dull. Still, you will not be wasting your time if you read this book. It is a real novel, not just a historical document.
on 24 February 2003
Anecdotal history claims that Abraham Lincoln described Harriet Beecher Stowe (to her face) as 'the little lady' who started the Civil War. The phrase 'Uncle Tom' has now passed into the popular lexicon, and many more people know this book by reputation than have actually read it. It began as a serialized drama printed in US periodicals, and went on to become a best selling novel. It is the work of an ardent abolitionist, and Christian, and this shows. The novel is unashamedly didactic, and works principally by an appeal to the reader's emotions. And it works very well. Harriett Beecher Stowe lost one of her own children before writing this novel, and one cannot help but feel that this was what allowed her to write so emotively on the subject. The novel is long, but it flies by: HBS has a gift for narrative, character, and suspense.
on 19 June 2011
I was hooked within a couple of pages, though I found the colloquial language difficult as it disrupts the flow. The characters were all stereotypes of the era nevertheless they were well drawn and consistent. Whilst I think religion has done a lot of harm in the world, I like they way the author constructed the arguement against slavery from a Christian perspective. I can also see how the promise of eternal life in paradise helped the slaves survive their abhorrent situation.
on 3 November 2010
Did read it at school and hated it. While abroad a few years ago,I had no book to read I was given a dog-eared copy of this book and really loved it. Imagine my delight when I found I could download it to my kindle ready to read again at my leisure. Best of all it was free. I would urge you to re-read this dreaded school book as it's wonderful. I now know I was too young to really appreciate it.
Uncle Tom's Cabin
on 17 September 2009
My husband bought this from Amazon earlier this year. He was gripped by it and recommended I read it after him.
I'm glad I did as it is one of the best books I've read in years. Like much of the best American literature there's an epic sense of scale - Scores of wonderfully rounded characters set in well described locations across a varied landscape. The storylines are wonderfully written and you'll find it difficult not to think about the book's themes when you have to put it down.
Although there are some god-fearing parts in the middle, these aren't too intrusive and merely add flavour to the period in which it was written. It should be noted that not all of the 'good' characters are christian.
Although the book is far from a one-sided rant against slavery (some of the most likeable characters are slave owners) it's easy to see how it was credited with starting the civil war. Anger wasn't an emotion I'd expected from this book, but I felt it in spades.
on 26 June 2012
Uncle Tom's Cabin is a fascinating story about slavery in the southern United States in the nineteenth century. The author, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was a fervent abolitionist and her book is a reflection of this passion. Uncle Tom is a well treated slave living in Kentucky where slavery had not yet been abolished. During the course of the book he is sold "down the river" and eventually becomes the slave of a cruel and vicious master. Christian love and sacrifice are prominent features of the story and there are some moments of pure sentimentality which, despite my best efforts not to so, made me cry! In our modern multi-cultural age some of the content is definitely not PC and therefore this book will never be top of anyone's list. It is interesting, however, from a historical point of view giving an in-depth slant on what slavery meant to those whose lives were not their own. It seems that Beecher Stowe used true stories which she incorporated in her book and for that reason alone, I would recommend it.
on 2 May 1999
Uncle Tom's cabin is frequently criticized by people who have never read the work, myself included. I decided I finally needed to read it and judge it for myself. And I have to say, that for all its shortcomings (and it does have them), it is really a remarkable book. The standout characteristics of this book are the narrative drive (it's a very exciting, hard to put down book), the vivid characters (I don't know what other reviewers were reading, but I found the characters extremely vivid and mostly believable - exceptions to follow), the sprawling cast, the several completely different worlds that were masterfully portrayed, and the strong female characters in the book. The portrayal of slavery and its effects on families and on individuals is gut-wrenching - when Uncle Tom has to leave his family, and when Eliza may lose little Harry, one feels utterly desolate.
As for flaws, yes, Mrs. Stowe does sermonize a fair bit, and her sentences and pronouncements can be smug. Yes, if you're not a Christian, you may find all her Christian references a bit much. (But the majority of her readers claimed to be Christian, and it was her appeal to the spirit of Christ that was her most powerful tug at the emotions of her readers). Yes, she still had some stereotypical views of African-Americans (frankly, I think most people have stereotypical views of races other than their own, they just don't state them as clearly today). But in her time, she went far beyond the efforts of most of her contemporaries to both see and portray her African-American brothers and sisters are equal to her. The best way she did this was in her multi-dimensional portrayal of her Negro characters -- they are, in fact, more believable and more diverse than her white characters. Yes, at times her portrayal of Little Eva and Uncle Tom is overdone at times -- they are a little cardboard in places -- but both, Uncle Tom especially, are overall believable, and very inspiring. The rest of the Negro characters - George Harris, Eliza, Topsy, Cassie, Emmeline, Chloe, Jane and Sara, Mammy, Alphonse, Prue, and others, span the whole spectrum of humanity -- they are vivid and real.
The comments of a previous reviewer that the book actually justifies slavery (because "it says it's no worse than capitalism") and that it shows that Christianity defends slavery are due to sloppy reading of the book. No one reading the book could possibly come to the conclusion that it does anything but condemn slavery in the strongest and most indubitable terms. This was the point of the book. The aside about capitalism was just that, an aside on the evils of capitalism. It did not and does not negate the attack on slavery. Secondly, another major point of the book is that TRUE Christianity does not and could not ever support slavery. Stowe points out the Biblical references used to claim that Christianity defended slavery merely to show how the Bible can be misused by those who wish to defend their own indefensible viewpoint. It's ridiculous to say that the book "shows that Christianity supported slavery". It shows that some misguided preachers abused certain Bible passages and ignored other ones to support their view of slavery.
There is an overlay of the tired "Victorian women's novel" to this piece - that must be granted. For literary perfection, it will never take its place beside Tolstoy, Dickens and Austen. But it is a piece entirely of its own category. Nothing before or after it has been anything like it, and it IS a great, if flawed, novel. I highly recommend it. I give it 5 stars despite its flaws because it's utterly unique, and its greatness is in some ways is related to its flaws.
on 18 September 2006
Uncle Tom's Cabin, is a fictional novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. A novel that eventually caused the outbreak of the great American civil war, and the novel that accomplished the Abolitionist in their mission of emancipation of captives, the slaves. A novel that made Stowe the most famous woman in literature, albeit the most controversial. Though it is a fictional novel, but Stowe insists that many parts of the novel are the excerpts from true accounts of slaves and fugitives. And that many similar parables were to be found in the slave states of America, at that time. Stowe, intially anticipated much less of the novel that it would just buy her a new dress, but, as the time unfolded, it escalated her to the heights of fame and controversy. At that time, it sold millions of the copies and made Stowe the most famous and wealthy writer of her era.
The novel is full of emotions and makes you get in their (slaves) shoes. I felt ecstatic when they were contented. I felt doleful when they are traumatised. A person so rigid like me, got his throat dry at some incidents. At the same time, makes you sympathetic towards them. The most distinguished hallmark of Stowe's work is her mesmerising depiction of characters, places and situations. Very artistic, indeed! The novel is so full of emotions, that if you stab the book, it will bleed. Bleed with the pathetic accounts of fugitives, slaves and utter and gross discrimination of the blacks at that time. Moreover, the novel also points out the religious inclination of Stowe, after going through characters of little Eva and the Christ like, Uncle Tom at his death bed. Though the religious exaggeration at few places reaches the frontier of fakery.
Let it as it may be, I will, without a doubt, recommend this to any one who really wants to read an emotional and touching novel. According to my presumption, the children under the age of 15 may not feel the granduer of novel, as adults.
on 22 March 2014
This book was ground-breaking at the time it was written, and as such is a fascinating window into the thinking and behaviour of those involved in any way with slaves. It is, of course, desperately sad with heart-breaking stories of separations, and the cruelty that is today difficult to imagine amongst a civilized population. Mrs Beecher Stowe's novel certainly hastened the end of slavery as a norm, and she must have every credit for that, but the relentless return to the Christian message makes it a bit tedious, and I found myself skip-reading those passages.