A book by Harriet Beecher Stowe, first serialized in 1850-1851. It had enormous effect in shaming complacent northerners to take arms against the practice of slavery. Many have called it the most influential book of the 19th century. Tolstoy likened it to Les Miserables and A Tale of Two Cities as a novel of morals.

These days, it's easy to forget what a success Uncle Tom's Cabin was in antebellum America. It went through 120 printings its first year, selling over 500,000 copies by 1857 - a record at the time. The book went on to be pubished in hundreds of editions, in all languages around the world and is still in print today. As a play, Uncle Tom's Cabin was in continuous production for 81 years from 1853 to 1934, making it the longest running play in American history (although Mrs. Stowe earned no royalties from the play or most foreign editions).

The popularity of the book contributed greatly to the success of antebellum anti-slavery fund raising. During a tour of Europe, Mrs Stowe was actually presented with caskets of gold from English, Scotch, Irish and French admirers of the book for her to take back and use in the anti-slavery cause.

Uncle Tom's Cabin is a collection of power struggles in a time of slavery. Although the book primarily portrays the struggle of enslaved Africans against the antebellum power structure, it also concerns itself, both directly and indirectly, with women and their place within this system. Women in America have always been at a disadvantage within government, both on a state and personal level, and the women that Stowe portrays are no different. Each character vies for authority. The men compete for it directly, confronting a given situation, whereas women, by the nature of their station, need to approach it cunningly, with tact and grace, or risk being dismissed by men who hold the true power.

Often, throughout the book, wives will attempt to reason with husbands, only to have the husbands smile at them and their simple world views, or threaten them with physical violence. The common denominator for each of the women, who desire a position of authority, is stepping outside of a masculine arena: Mrs. Shelby shows her disapproval for the selling of Eliza's son by repeatedly leaving the room, Eliza leaves with her son in the night because she knows that is her only option, and Marie exercises her power over her household by feigning sickness. The only woman to make an attempt to directly change her situation is Cassie, who is able to deceive Legree because of her intellectual prowess.

The triumph of the intellect is another theme throughout the novel. Stowe points to individuals who demonstrate their clever natures and overcome obstacles: George eventually gains his freedom, Augustine comes to understand his spiritual nature and George Shelby finally realizes the ravages of slavery upon the owners as well as the owned. Stowe also uses the intellect as a feminine symbol. All the women in the book possess it to some degree. Intelligent men in the book are characterized by feminine traits. George and his son have curly hair and long eyelashes. She describes Augustine St. Clare as "...remarkable for an extreme and marked sensitiveness of character, more akin to the softness of a woman than the ordinary hardness of his own sex."

Often however, the work mingles intelligence and with a blind trust in religion and Christian morality. Some passages in the book read like a political or religious tract. Mrs. Shelby's speech to her husband is an excellent example: "This is God's curse on slavery...it is a sin to hold a slave under laws like ours...I always thought so...still more after I joined the church." This may at first seem incongruous with Tom's ineffectual nature brought about by his sense of honor and Christian duty. Tom had many opportunities to escape his fate on Legree's plantation, but none of those options offered him the security and serenity of his religion. Tom seems to be Stowe's ideal man, putting his faith in the Lord rather than in his master or in his own desire for freedom. In this way Uncle Tom's Cabin follows Kierkegaard's conceptualization of the stages of man.

The first stage is represented by the action in Kentucky and New Orleans when the primary focus of Stowe's writing is on education and physical comfort versus the punishment of her characters. This corresponds with the first stage, Aesthetic Man, where Kierkegaard states that an individual explores the world of wit and sensuality. The next portion of the novel is dominated with arguments against slavery and symbolized by the rational nature of Augustine's treatment of his household, mirroring the second stage, Ethical Man, when an individual explores the world of moral responsibilities. The next logical step after a careful consideration of morality and ethics is a Leap of Faith which is described as the essence of subjectivity and a rational suicide, where Man throws his lot in with eternity and puts a blind faith in God's will. This is exactly what Tom chooses as his fate when he refuses to run away with Eliza, or insist on his immediate freedom from St. Clare, or become one of Legree's overseers. His steadfast holiness cost him his life.

With this in mind it would seem that Stowe's message is that salvation and freedom can be found in intelligence tempered with simplicity, with the unsaved Augustine St. Clare and religious Tom at opposite sides of the human spectrum.

This view also brings the novel's theme of women's freedom full circle. The importance Stowe places on faith and Christianity is shown in the values of the women who make an attempt to help the slaves to freedom. Mrs. Shelby, Ophelia, the women at the Quaker settlement all place a high value on the religious education of the oppressed, for the relief of their suffering and the ultimate salvation of their souls. There is a nearly constant repetition by the author and her characters of the absolute horrors of slavery and how it is demeaning to both the enslaved and the elite. Stowe was foreshadowing the true understanding these women possessed of their religion, of the atrocities forced upon their families in the name of slavery, and perhaps too, these women were stating, in their tactful, graceful way, at Stowe's behest, of the silent suffering of their own class.

During the antebellum era, antislavery forces found their most persuasive appeal in The Fugitive Slave Act but in fictional drama of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Canin (1852), a combination of unlikely saints and sinners, stereotypes, and melodramatic escapades-- and a smashing commercial success. The long-suffering Uncle Tom, the villainous Simon Legree, the angelic Eva, the desperate Eliza taking her child to freedom across the icy Ohio River-- all become stock characters of the American imagination. Slavery, seen through Stowe's eyes, subjected its victims either to callous brutality or, at the hands of spendthrift masters, to the indignity of bankruptcy. It took time for the novel to work its effect on public opinion, however.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is one of the most influential books written by an American. In addition to arousing the North to the horrors of slavery, the book influenced Russian landowners’ decision to emancipate their serfs. In addition, Uncle Tom’s Cabin proves to be is historically accurate, which will be the primary point of discussion within this report.

The first primary storyline involves the flight of Eliza and George Harrison to Canada. There fear of capture has ground: Two years prior to the book, the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 was passed. The law declared that escaped slaves could be captured and returned in any state, which effectively forced the Runaways from the country if they valued their freedom. In addition, any policeman who refused to capture them would be heavily fined. This particular point contrasts with the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793, which had no such “incentive”. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is historically correct when it describes their escape.

At one point in their journey, the Harrison family stops at a Quaker family, one of which owned slaves at one point. While the later point may seem to contradict historical beliefs, on closer examination it seems that while the Quaker law looked down on slavery, few enforced this viewpoint.

Tom’s story, too, is historically accurate. The first point of note is the slave auction, which Stowe accurately portrayed. In the one form discussed in the book, slaves would be orderly arranged onto a platform, during which slave-owners could inspect the slaves and choose which ones they desired. After some time, the men would bid on slaves, one after another. As described quite vividly in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, parents would often be separated from their children, and siblings from each other.

Another interesting point of note in his part of the book is how Marie reacts to slavery. Her opinion on it, that slaves were less than human and could not possibly feel the torment a white person would in the same situation, likely reflects on the how many slave-owners rationalized their behavior. This concept is backed up by the large number of Pro-Slavery books that sprung up at the time: most notably books such as The Planter’s Northern Bride. In many pro-slavery books, black people are portrayed as having a lower intellect, almost akin to children that the master needs to take care of.

In addition, Sam Legree’s “rationalization” for slavery (I.E. none at all), provides additional insight into the mind of a slave-owner. Legree chooses to believe that his slaves are nothing but a mindless, yet complaining, workforce whose only purpose is to increase his cotton output (Or, in the case of Cassy and Emmeline, for his pleasure.) He is perfectly willing to work the slaves to death, simply because he does not want to waste time or energy letting them rest. As Sam states in chapter 34, he can always buy new slaves as his old ones are used up.

In addition to the primary points listed above, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has many historical consistencies in its minor details. The first one notable is the reason Mr. Shelby had to sell Uncle Tom and Harry- Gambling Debts. Some slave traders used to tactic of getting a potential seller addicted to a vice so that the seller would have to sell slaves to break even. Others would trade alcohol in attempts to make a potential seller inebriated enough to lose common sense, in effect snaring the trader a good deal. The concept of gambling manipulation is more direct in Cassy’s story, although it is insinuated to have effect on Shelby’s deal.

Next, Ophelia’s disdain for Augustus St. Clair has a historical inerrancy in multiple ways. One of the first things she scorned him for was the lack of education among the slaves. This concept of keeping slaves in ignorance was upheld in many parts of the South. A common saying among masters at that time was “The bigger fool the better the nigger”. Intelligent slaves would have an easier time escaping.

In addition, St. Clair’s counterclaim holds just as much validity. While many people from the North opposed slavery, few actually liked the African American race. This became clearly evident after the Civil War, when segregation and terror groups were rampart. Even today, the racism that once drove slavery persists in most of our hearts.

Finally, many can see that Tom’s religious views play a major part in the novel. Tom attempted to convert every person he met into Christianity, in hopes of saving his or her immortal soul. Similarly, many slaves saw religion as a spiritual escape from their torment. Many slave owners tolerated this, because they believed it would aid the slave’s health and will. In fact, slave churches were set up, although many were directed by a foreman to prevent the slaves from getting out of hand.

In conclusion, it is quite obvious that, in addition to painting an excellent picture of the torment and horrors of slavery, Stowe was historically accurate in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This is fairly interesting, given that Stowe never actually visited a slave plantation in her life. Rather, the story is actually a piecemeal effort based on the collective stories she heard, in addition to first-hand accounts she heard from runaway slaves. It is quite clear, based on both the emotional and intellectual knowledge this books imparts, why this book influenced the thoughts of millions.

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