Since I was never forced to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in high school, I decided to make the effort. As a story, it moves forward consistently and is engaging. Most of the characters enjoy happy endings. As a historical document, however, it is sad and disturbing.
Suspect rumor has it that when Abraham Lincoln first met Harriet Beecher Stowe, the book’s author, he said something like: “So this is the little lady who started this great war.” Indeed, Stowe’s story was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book after The Bible. It shows slavery in all its naked horror and no doubt galvanized many a timid abolitionist.
Uncle Tom’s constant religiosity didn’t bother me. But Stowe’s racism, her clear-cut, assured racism, ruined the book for me, especially because it was coming from a supposedly enlightened abolitionist. The passage above is not the story’s status quo.
I guess the novel’s place in high school reading lists is valid in that it teaches kids about being tragically wrong as a society. It’s just sad and disturbing that there’s no better book with which to do it.
Read Bogotá, June 2013.
- JUNE 14 – Harriet Beecher Stowe is Born (krusty1960historysstory.wordpress.com)
- Women and the Power of Persuasion in the Nineteenth Century (khronikos.com)
- ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ Production Swaps Race of Characters (atlantablackstar.com)
- How did abolitionism become the dominant American reform movement? (historynet.com)
- Between Abraham Lincoln and Obafemi Awolowo. Amazing similarities by Augustine Togonu-Bickersteth (lakunlescrews.wordpress.com)