Thursday, February 24, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Sometimes, the smallest of God's creation bring the greatest changes to the world and history. Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1851, was written in small installments to Abolition Magazine, in an effort by the author to cast the harsh realities of slavery into the public eye. Stowe used her writing skills to display the potential in the African American, as well as the horrors of slavery.

Tom and his family live faithful and contended lives as slaves on a plantation in Kentucky. Tom is an older slave who has worked for his master's family since he was a small boy. His master, Mr. Shelby, trusts him completely, even sending him on errands into Cincinnati, with full confidence that the faithful servant will return with a full account of his mission. Mr. Shelby falls into debt, however, and is forced to sell Tom, and another slave, the little boy Harry. Harry is the son of a slave woman, called Eliza, in the Shelby household, who decides to run away when she discovers the fate her son is about to face. She flees, hoping to reach the other side of the Ohio River, and maybe find her runaway husband, another slave from a neighboring plantation. The rest of the book follows the next five years in the lives of the Shelby's, Tom, his family, Eliza and her family, and how they all come to freedom.

Stowe began writing Uncle Tom's Cabin in reaction to the Fugitive Slave Law, which decreed that all runaway slaves were the rightful property of their former masters, even when in the free states. All runaway slaves must be returned to their owners. For even if a black man had lived in a community for decades, if a white man claimed that he was a runaway, and had one signature to support his claim, the black man could not come to trial, could not resist, and could not seek for assistance. Uncle Tom's Cabin was written to show the logical fallacies of such a law, as well as to open the eyes of the North to the terrors of southern slavery.

Stowe does not simply approach a political question in this book, however. She explores the different theological arguments for and against slavery, as well as the hypocritical notions of Northerners, who call for freedom for the slaves, but will not lend a helping hand to them as a neighbor and friend. She describes how faith and scripture can give hope and patience to even the worst of circumstances, through Tom's torturous experience under Legree. She describes the amazing power of love and forgiveness through Evangeline, Topsy, Tom, Eliza, and Cassy, St. Clare, and Miss Ophelia. Every form of thinking and lifestyle and opinion are approached and described in this book, whether it be godlessness, patience, despair, triumph, hope, bondage, and freedom.

In this book, Stowe displays a masterful use of language in her retelling of “Life Among the Lowly”. She calls every opinion about slavery, faith, religion, hard work, patience, kindness, godliness, and humility to account through her different characters. Even readers who do not enjoy her flourishing style are sure to find at least one character with whom they can connect and admire. I personally admire Eva. Her full name means “good news”, and she is a quiet and young reminder of the delicacy of life, and the strength of faith in a good heart. While I cannot claim to understand the political and social arguments for and against slavery, I certainly can understand Eva's call to Topsy “to be good”, regardless of the circumstances. This is Stowe's challenge for us, through her little book: to do good, against all odds, for the good of our brothers and sisters.

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