Thursday, May 1, 2014

Movie Night and Potluck Dinner
Wednesday,  May 7, arrive at 4:15 to set up
Movie starts at 4:30  "A Passage to India"
Ventress Library Program Room
Bring an appetizer to share!

Next Book Group Meeting
Tuesday,  May 20, 4:30-6
Book: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe


Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Or, Life Among the Lowly

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
First Published
1851-1852 (serial), 1852 (book)
Kentucky and the swamps of Louisiana
Time of Plot
Type of Plot
Social criticism
Type of Work

Principal characters:
TOM, a loyal, virtuous Christian slave
ELIZA HARRIS, a beautiful slave woman
GEORGE HARRIS, Eliza’s husband and Harry’s father
MR. AUGUSTINE ST. CLARE, the second kind owner of Tom
EVANGELINE, or LITTLE EVA, the angelic daughter of the St. Clare family
TOPSY, the wayward St. Clare family slave girl
MISS OPHELIA, the old-fashioned Calvinist aunt of the St. Clare family
SIMON LEGREE, Tom’s jealous and vicious owner
Form and Content
Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Or, Life Among the Lowly is the most powerful and enduring work of art ever written about American slavery. It was the greatest fiction success of the nineteenth century. Uncle Tom, Simon Legree, and Little Eva became symbols known to most people. Although the book was out of print in the middle of the twentieth century, in the 1960’s, with the renewed struggle over civil rights in the South, the book became available again and there was a new interest in the book.
The purpose of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is to provide powerful propaganda against slavery. The theme of the novel is the idea that slavery and Christianity cannot exist together. Stowe believed that the owning, buying, and selling of slaves was inhumane and un-Christian. The widest opposition to slavery, Stowe believed and demonstrated, stemmed from an individual’s—usually a woman’s—outraged feeling. She gave constant examples, presented emotionally, from the world she knew, the world of home and family, of incidents she had seen herself or of stories she had heard that dealt with atrocities to individuals or to family units. She felt that to describe the process of so harshly tearing child from mother, husband from wife, was to expose the heartlessness and cruelty of slavery. The audience to which she appealed consisted largely of women such as herself who could comprehend the horror of families being separated, churchgoing women whom she made to see the inhumane and un-Christian aspects of slavery. She showed her readers how slavery violated the home and went against the religion of her readers. She wrote the book out of religious inspiration.
The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which not only gave slave owners the right to pursue their escaped slaves even into free states but also forced the people of these free states to assist the slave owners in retrieving their “property” led to Stowe’s decision to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She wrote the book in serial format, to be published in the National Era, an abolitionist paper in Washington, D.C. The first chapter was published on June 5, 1851, the last on April 1, 1852.
One learns much about how Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written through anecdotes in the biographies of Harriet Beecher Stowe written by Annie Fields, a fellow author and close friend, and compiled by the son of Harriet, the Reverend Charles Edward Stowe.
According to an account of the creation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, certain scenes flashed before the eyes of Stowe and she included them in the book. One account said that the dramatic scene of the death of Uncle Tom came to her in church. She finally suggested that she had not written Uncle Tom’s Cabin herself but had taken it in dictation from God.
During her life, Harriet Beecher Stowe had been personally disturbed by slavery but socially and publicly uncommitted to action until the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. The passage of this cruel, inhumane, un-Christian act caused her to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe brought a moral passion to her indictment of slavery which was impossible for Americans to forget. Harriet Beecher Stowe had great dramatic instincts as a novelist. She saw everything in terms of polarities: slavery as sin versus Christian love; men active in the cruel social process of buying and selling slaves versus women as redeemers, by virtue of their feelings for family values. She depicts the glory of family life in Uncle Tom’s cabin—glory that is contrasted with Tom’s separation from his family and his unhappy end at the Legree plantation.
Undoubtedly, many events in the novel were taken from Stowe’s life. While her husband Calvin Stowe, a biblical scholar, was a teacher at Lane Theological Seminary, she had lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, where slavery was a prominent issue because Cincinnati was a location where many slaves tried to escape North. She understood slavery as an economic system and had also heard many details and anecdotes about slavery from family members. Her brother Charles had worked in Louisiana, and her brother Edward had lived through riots over slavery in Illinois. Harriet Beecher Stowe knew Josiah Henson, an escaped slave, who was the model for Uncle Tom. Eliza Harris was drawn from life. She may have been a fugitive who was helped by Calvin Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher. The original of Eva was the dead daughter of Stowe herself. The original of Topsy was a slave named Celeste, who was known to the Stowe family in Cincinnati. The character Simon Legree, although sketched by Charles Stowe, owes much to writers of melodrama and gothic novelists as well as the imagination of Harriet Beecher Stowe herself.
The novel is divided into three sections. The first section takes place on the Shelby estate. It is an accurate description of the scene, since Stowe had been as far South as Kentucky. The second section, which introduces Topsy, Evangeline, and St. Clare, enriches the novel with wit and humor. This section, containing descriptions of the efforts of Miss Ophelia to discipline Topsy, points to the true moral of the tale—that love is above the law. After the efforts of Miss Ophelia are unsuccessful, it is the superhuman love of Little Eva that starts Topsy on the path toward decency and honesty. The third section, containing Simon Legree, introduces terror into the novel. In the wild flight of Eliza at the beginning of the novel, one sees a similar terror, which is a dramatic foreboding of the powerful conclusion of the novel. The secluded wilderness plantation of Legree, with its grotesque and cruel inhabitants, its pitiable victims, and the intervention of supernatural powers, could be material for a gothic novelist such as Ann Radcliffe.
The last few chapters of the novel, which are reflections on slavery, are anticlimactic. The true end of the story comes with the end of Tom in chapter 40, when “Legree, foaming with rage, smote his victim to the ground.” Tom nobly suffered martyrdom, lingering long enough to bid farewell to his young master from Kentucky, who had reached him too late to buy his freedom. George Harris was a new man once he regarded himself as “free,” but Uncle Tom had an outlook that was different from that of George Harris and his creator, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Tom was a true Christian among the heathen, and for him, slavery was only one added indignity. His reading of the New Testament, an “unfashionable old book,” separated him more completely from his fellows than did either his race or his status as a slave. Tom wanted his freedom as ardently as Stowe wanted it for him, but he preferred slavery and martyrdom to dishonorable flight. He was a black Christ who was shaming a Yankee Satan. The conviction of Stowe against slavery was so strong that she had “religious” visions, such as that of the killing of Uncle Tom—visions that she included as scenes in the novel.
Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the White House in 1863 to urge President Abraham Lincoln to do something positive about the thousands of slaves who had fled to Washington, D.C. The often-quoted statement by Abraham Lincoln on that occasion, that Mrs. Stowe was “the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war,” points to the role of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the history of women’s literature, not only because of its impact on the history of women’s literature but also because of its impact on American literature and American history in general. Because of her religious background, Stowe strongly opposed slavery because it was un-Christian. The buying and selling of slaves violated Christian regard for human rights, for the rights of other human beings.
The strongest objection to slavery expressed by Stowe as a woman was that slavery broke up slave families. In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the strongest, most emotional feelings expressed by the slave Jim were that he missed his family. Stowe stressed the dangers of capitalism to family values. She saw the slave trade as a masculine, unfeeling occupation and appealed to her female readers to end slavery because it destroyed the family. She never viewed women as abolitionists; that was a masculine pursuit. She believed that by writing her novels and appealing to her female reading audience, she could effect a change and abolish slavery. She reflected on the suffering that she herself felt when she lost a child and compared it to what a slave mother must feel when her child is sold away from her.
The enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act led Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. From the beginning, Stowe had unequivocally advocated absolute legal freedom for all slaves. She shows in the novel the difference that being free makes on the former slaves. George Harris, once he regarded himself as “free,” held his head up higher and spoke and moved like a different man, even though he was unsure of his safety. Slavery, in its criminal disregard for human souls, in its treatment of human beings as property, was different from and worse than any other atrocity in life.
Adams, John R. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Rev. ed. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989. This work expands Adam’s earlier study, the first and only comprehensive analysis of the life and works of Stowe. Adams discusses recently disclosed biographical information about the Beecher family and numerous critical examinations of Stowe written in the twenty-five years since the early study was published. The author connects Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the religious ideas and personal experiences of Stowe. The volume includes an up-to-date bibliography and chronology.
Beach, Seth Curtis. Daughters of the Puritans: A Group of Brief Biographies. 1905. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1967. This book contains a forty-page introductory biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a background against which to study Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The object of the study is to show the influences that molded Stowe, to present the salient features of her career and her characteristic qualities. The selection is interesting and informative and provides background material for all readers. It can be read by high school students as well as college undergraduates.
Fields, Annie. Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898. The second definitive biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe after the book by her son Charles, this sympathetic portrait was written by her personal friend and professional associate who was also a celebrity in her own right. This readable biography contains many now-famous anecdotes about Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Gossett, Thomas F. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985. This excellent, detailed book shows why Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the most widely read American novel of its time. The first section, about eighty pages long, describes the conditions that led to the creation of the book. The second section, another eighty pages, is an analysis of the book as fiction and social criticism. The remaining two hundred and fifty pages recount the reception of the book in the North, the South, and Europe; the replies; the dramatic versions; and adverse criticism. Contains extensive notes and a comprehensive bibliography.
Stowe, Charles Edward. The Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1889. This excellent biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe was compiled by her son, the Reverend Charles Edward Stowe, from her letters and journals. The authorized family biography, it contains the first printing of indispensable letters and other documents and is the foundation of all later biographies. It tells the story of the life of Harriet Beecher Stowe as she had wished and had hoped to tell it herself in her autobiography. Two later books by members of the Stowe family add additional material: Charles Edward Stowe and Lyman Beecher Stowe’s Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Story of Her Life (1941) and Lyman Beecher Stowe’s  Saints, Sinners, and Beechers (1934).
Wangenknecht, Edward. Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Known and the Unknown. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. A combination of biography and literary criticism, this book contains an accurate description of the literary and personal character of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The details are arranged topically, with chapters on Stowe as writer, reader, and reformer as well as daughter, wife, and mother.
Linda Silverstein Gordon
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Or, Life Among the Lowly

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
Type of Work
Type of Plot
Social realism
Time of Plot
Mid-nineteenth century
Kentucky and Mississippi
First Published

Principal characters:
UNCLE TOM, a slave
EVA ST. CLARE, the daughter of a wealthy Southerner
SIMON LEGREE, a planter
ELIZA, a runaway slave
TOPSY, a young slave
The Story:
Because his Kentucky plantation was encumbered by debt, Mr. Shelby made plans to sell one of his slaves to his chief creditor, a New Orleans slave dealer named Haley. The dealer shrewdly selected Uncle Tom as part payment on Mr. Shelby’s debt. While they were discussing the transaction, Eliza’s child, Harry, came into the room. Haley wanted to buy Harry too, but at first Shelby was unwilling to part with the child. Eliza listened to enough of the conversation to be frightened. She confided her fears to George Harris, her husband, a slave on an adjoining plantation. George, who was already bitter because his master had put him to work in the fields when he was capable of doing better work, promised that some day he would have his revenge upon his hard masters. Eliza had been brought up more indulgently by the Shelbys, and she begged him not to try anything rash.
After supper in the cabin of Uncle Tom and his wife, Aunt Chloe, the Shelby slaves gathered for a meeting. They sang songs, and young George Shelby, who had eaten his supper there, read from the Bible. In the big house, Mr. Shelby signed the papers making Uncle Tom and little Harry the property of Haley. Eliza, learning her child’s fate from some remarks of Mr. Shelby to his wife, fled with her child, hoping to reach Canada and safety. Uncle Tom, hearing of the sale, resigned himself to the wisdom of Providence.
The next day, after Haley had discovered his loss, he set out to capture Eliza; however, she had a good start. Moreover, Mrs. Shelby purposely delayed the pursuit by serving a late breakfast. When her pursuers came in sight, Eliza escaped across the Ohio River by jumping from one floating ice cake to another, young Harry in her arms. Haley hired two slave-catchers, Marks and Loker, to track Eliza through Ohio. For their trouble, she was to be given to them. They set off that night.
Eliza found shelter in the home of Senator and Mrs. Bird. The senator took her to the house of a man known to aid fugitive slaves. Uncle Tom, however, was not so lucky. Haley made sure Tom would not escape by shackling his ankles before taking him to the boat bound for New Orleans. When young George Shelby heard that Tom had been sold, he followed Haley on his horse. George gave Tom a dollar as a token of his sympathy and told him that he would buy him back one day.
At the same time, George Harris began his escape. White enough to pass as a Spaniard, he appeared at a tavern as a gentleman and took a room there, hoping to find a station on the underground railway before too long. Eliza was resting at the home of Rachel and Simeon Halliday when George Harris arrived in the same Quaker settlement.
On board the boat bound for New Orleans, Uncle Tom saved the life of young Eva St. Clare, and in gratitude, Eva’s father purchased the slave. Eva told Tom he would now have a happy life, for her father was kind to everyone. Augustine St. Clare was married to a woman who imagined herself sick and therefore took no interest in her daughter Eva. He had gone north to bring back his cousin, Miss Ophelia, to provide care for the neglected and delicate Eva. When they arrived at the St. Clare plantation, Tom was made head coachman.
Meanwhile, Loker and Marks were on the trail of Eliza and George. They caught up with the fugitives, and there was a fight in which George wounded Loker. Marks fled, and so the Quakers who were protecting the runaways took Loker along with them and gave him medical treatment.
Unused to lavish Southern customs, Miss Ophelia tried to understand the South. Shocked at the extravagance of St. Clare’s household, she attempted to bring order out of the chaos, but she received no encouragement. Indulgent in all things, St. Clare was indifferent to the affairs of his family and his property. Uncle Tom lived an easy life in the loft over the stable. He and little Eva became close friends, with St. Clare’s approval. Sometimes St. Clare had doubts regarding the morality of the institution of slavery, and, in one of these moods, he bought an odd pixielike child, named Topsy, for his prim and proper New England cousin to educate.
Eva grew more frail. Knowing that she was about to die, she asked her father to free his slaves, as he had so often promised. After Eva’s death, St. Clare began to read his Bible and to make plans to free all his slaves. He gave Topsy to Miss Ophelia legally, so that the spinster might rear the child as she wished. Then, one evening, he tried to separate two quarreling men. He received a knife wound in the side and died shortly afterward. Mrs. St. Clare, however, had no intention of freeing the slaves, and she ordered that Tom be sent to the slave market.
At a public auction, he was sold to a brutal plantation owner named Simon Legree. Legree drank heavily, and his plantation house had fallen to ruin. He kept dogs for the purpose of tracking runaway slaves. At the slave quarters, Tom was given his sack of corn for the week, told to grind it himself and bake the meal into cakes for his supper. At the mill, he aided two women. In return, they baked his cakes for him. He read selections from the Bible to them.
For a few weeks, Tom quietly tried to please his harsh master. One day, he helped a sick woman by putting cotton into her basket. For this act, Legree ordered him to flog the woman. When Tom refused, his master had him flogged until he fainted. A slave named Cassy came to Tom’s aid. She told Tom the story of her life with Legree and of a young daughter who had been sold years before. Then she went to Legree’s apartment and tormented him. She hated her master, and she had power over him. Legree was superstitious. When she talked, letting her eyes flash over him, he felt as though she were casting an evil spell. Haunted by the secrets of his guilty past, he drank until he fell asleep. He had forgotten his fears by the next morning, however, and he knocked Tom to the ground with his fist. Meanwhile, far to the north, George and Eliza and young Harry were making their way slowly through the stations on the underground railway toward Canada.
Cassy and Emmeline, another slave, were determined to make their escape. Knowing the consequences if they should be caught, they tricked Legree into thinking they were hiding in the swamp. When Legree sent dogs and men after them, they sneaked back into the house and hid in the garret. Legree suspected that Tom knew where the women had gone and decided to beat the truth out of his slave. He had Tom beaten until the old man could neither speak nor stand. Two days later, George Shelby arrived to buy Tom back, but he came too late. Tom was dying. When George threatened to have Legree tried for murder, Legree mocked him. George struck Legree in the face and knocked him down.
Still hiding in the attic, Cassy and Emmeline pretended they were ghosts. Frightened, Legree drank harder than ever. George Shelby helped them to escape. Later, on a riverboat headed north, the two women discovered a lady named Madame de Thoux, who said she was George Harris’ sister. With this disclosure, Cassy learned also that Eliza, her daughter who had been sold years before, was the Eliza who had married George and, with him and her child, had escaped safely to Canada. These relatives were reunited in Canada after many years. In Kentucky, George Shelby freed all his slaves when his father died. He said he freed them in the name of Uncle Tom.
Critical Evaluation:
In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s view, slavery was an evil against which anyone professing Christianity must protest. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was precisely such a protest. Stowe believed that the debate over slavery often missed or minimized the essential point that the slave family was torn apart by the institution. Her own strong family orientation informs the novel throughout, even as her unconventional pursuit of a career as a professional writer gave her the means of conveying her thoughts to the wider world.
Writing this novel gave Stowe a professional outlet. Like many educated nineteenth century American women, she experienced frustration because there were few positions for women in the professions. Thus there was little opportunity for educated women to use professional voices to influence the course of American life. Like her father, husband, and brothers, Stowe felt called to preach. Denied a pulpit, she used Uncle Tom’s Cabin as her sermon, her means of educating the world about a system that she was convinced was evil and must be stopped.
As a professional writer of the nineteenth century, Stowe knew that there was a large female reading public. Consequently, much of the novel appeals to those readers as it paints slavery as a male-devised system that women are called upon to correct. She creates several strong female characters whose common sense and strong human sympathy recoil from slavery’s inhumanity. Throughout the novel, human feeling is raised above the economics of self-interest and the expediency of laws. Moreover, Stowe “feminized” the slave narrative, stressing Eliza’s heroic escape from bondage with her son as well as the ingenious plan used by Cassy to free herself from Simon Legree. Prior to her novel, most accounts of slavery, such as Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), were told from the male perspective and celebrated male courage and resourcefulness.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin provides a panorama of nineteenth century American culture, which suggests that its author was a precursor of the realistic writers who dominated the literary scene after the Civil War. The novel contains innumerable characters of all types and backgrounds: slaves and slave catchers, slaveowners and Quakers, a self-pitying Southern belle and an unsympathetic New Englander, mothers and children, unprincipled politicians and slovenly cooks, the careless and the deeply caring, the sexually exploited and the sadistic, the angelic and the impish. It includes scenes along the shores of Lake Erie and in the currents of the Mississippi River, in Ohio and in Kentucky, in Arkansas and in Canada. Using a broad canvas as she did, Stowe hoped to show that slavery, far from an isolated and temporary problem, was institutionalized and nationalized and affected not only slaves and slaveowners but the entire country. Moreover, she showed that persons of all types, from the good to the evil, were caught in the power of the institution.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been criticized on several grounds. It is said to lack form and control; its social purpose is sometimes seen as incompatible with fine aesthetic qualities. However, the moralism and didacticism were, in a sense, part of Stowe’s aesthetic. That is, she did not believe that art was above morality but that it was activated by it. She did not believe in art for art’s sake, but rather in the power of art to do good.
The novel’s titular hero has been criticized for his willingness to submit to white men’s arbitrary power and physical abuse. It is well, however, to remember Tom in the light of Stowe’s Christianity. To her, his submission was not to tyranny but to Christian principle, and in that submission lay his power to change the world for the better. Stowe created Tom in the image of Jesus Christ.
Adams, John R. Harriet Beecher Stowe. Updated ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A basic study of Stowe’s writings that includes biographical information. The chapter on Uncle Tom’s Cabin places its dual plot in the Victorian tradition and postulates that Uncle Tom’s passive suffering and Eliza’s rebellion are two sides of Stowe’s psyche.
Crozier, Alice C. The Novels of Harriet Beecher Stowe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. Notes that Stowe was less interested in the novel as art than in the novel as history. Traces the influence of the British writers Sir Walter Scott and George Gordon, Lord Byron. Comments on the cultural context in which the novels were written, which accounts not only for the Victorian sentimentality of Uncle Tom’s Cabin but also for a distinctively American realism that anticipates Mark Twain.
Foster, Charles H. The Rungless Ladder: Harriet Beecher Stowe and New England Puritanism. New York: Cooper Square, 1970. This study of Stowe’s inner struggle with New England Puritanism identifies what she read and how that affected her life and writings. It shows that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a product of her religious thinking and personal anguish. Stowe projects herself and her own struggles, particularly her attempt to reconcile herself with the death of one of her children, onto the novel’s characters.
Hedrick, Joan D. Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. A good source of information about Stowe’s career as a writer. Traces her writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin from her initial resolve, through her decision to address the sexual exploitation of female slaves, to her effort to substantiate the novel with facts collected in A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Also mentions her work on behalf of emancipation of slaves in both America and England after publication of the novel.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Harriet Beecher Stowe: The Known and the Unknown. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. A character study of Stowe, treating her as daughter, wife, and mother, as well as writer.
“Critical Evaluation” by William L. Howard
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Or, Life Among the Lowly

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
Moral tale
First Published
1851-1852, serial; 1852, book
The southern states of the United States; Ohio; and Canada
Race and ethnicity, and social issues
Time of Plot
The mid-nineteenth century
Recommended Ages

This novel was to become the first very widely read fictional work on the moral injustice of slavery in the United States before the Civil War. It treats the sufferings of slave families who, because of their owners’ legal rights over them, were separated by forced sale of wives and husbands, children and parents.
Principal characters:
UNCLE TOM, a loyal slave who endures great injustice at the hands of his masters
GEORGE SHELBY, the son of Tom’s original master, who gives him the nickname Uncle Tom and tries to make it possible for Tom to return to his family
AUGUSTINE ST. CLARE, Tom’s second master, who begins to understand the value of human compassion for oppressed slaves but dies before being able to help Tom
MARIE ST. CLARE, Augustine’s wife, who cares little about the value of Tom’s loyalty and sells him to raise money after her husband’s death
ELIZA, a runaway slave, the wife of slave George Harris
EVA ST CLARE, the daughter of wealthy Southerner Augustine St. Clare; Uncle Tom saves Eva’s life during his transport to New Orleans, where he is to be sold
SIMON LEGREE, Tom’s third and last owner, who treats his slaves cruelly; when he suspects Tom of aiding other slaves to escape, Legree has him fatally beaten
The Story
At the outset of this novel, the reader meets Mr. Shelby, a Kentucky plantation owner. Because of his debts, Shelby is forced to sell Tom, his most trusted hand, and Harry, the son of Eliza, to a slave trader. Tom has always enjoyed a favored position with the Shelbys. He has spent many hours with Shelby’s son George, who refers to the slave as “Uncle Tom.”
Tom’s wife wants him to flee, but he refuses, saying he cannot betray Shelby’s trust. At first Eliza, too, resists her husband George’s insistence that the only way to escape slavery is to go to Canada. When she learns that her son Harry is to be sold, however, she flees with him across the Ohio River. After several difficult experiences, Eliza is finally able to rejoin George in Indiana.
Uncle Tom, meanwhile, is carried off in chains by a slave trader who travels down the Ohio River, purchasing other slaves along the way. Among the boat’s regular white passengers is Eva St. Clare, a child whom Tom saves from drowning. Recognizing that he owes him a debt, Eva’s father, Augustine, decides to purchase Tom, who becomes the family’s carriage driver. As confidence in him rises, Tom not only handles market shopping and cares for the fatally ill Eva; he chides his master for his excessive drinking and failure to observe Christian ways. Augustine St. Clare is clearly overcome with feelings of guilt toward Tom specifically and toward slavery in general. By the time he begins planning for Tom’s emancipation, however, he is killed senselessly while trying to end a drunken brawl.
Meanwhile, Tom’s former owners, the Shelbys, encourage his wife and children to believe that means will eventually be found to repurchase Tom and bring him back to his family. Tom’s new mistress, Marie St. Clare, shares none of these humanitarian hopes. To raise money, she sells Tom to the infamous Simon Legree. Legree assures the loyalty of slaves by terrorizing them. He has trained two black overseers, Sambo and Quimbo, to use brutal means to ensure order on the plantation.
When Tom tries secretly to help his fellow slaves, he is caught and beaten. Cassy, Legree’s preferred mulatto mistress up to this point, tries to convince Legree that his brutal methods against his slaves will not work. When her efforts fail, Cassy approaches Tom with a plan to kill Legree. Tom’s intense Christian faith makes him recoil at the idea of murder; resignation to the Lord’s will, even if it means his own death, remains first in his mind.
Cassy and a fifteen-year-old slave, Emmeline, decide to flee, with the eventual hope of freedom. Insane with anger at their flight, Legree has Tom flogged for complicity, but, once again, Tom’s Christian admonitions prevail: Both Sambo and Quimbo repent and at long last prove they have a conscience by offering the miserable slave comfort as he lies dying.
George Shelby, son of Tom’s earlier master, now arrives prepared to buy Tom back. Tom is close to death but refuses to let Shelby denounce Legree’s barbarity; instead, he insists that Legree has worked the way of the Lord by opening the gates of heaven for his final escape from misery.
After Tom’s death, Shelby returns home by riverboat and discovers that Cassy and Emmeline, in disguise, are on board. News is exchanged concerning the other slave couple who had fled from the Shelby estate. Cassy discovers that George’s wife Eliza is none other than her own daughter, taken from her by her master years before and sold.
The novel ends after the family of slave fugitives is rejoined in Canada. Their lives are totally transformed when George and Eliza, Cassy, and Emmeline all move to France, where George succeeds in obtaining a university education and makes plans to take his family to Liberia, a haven for former slaves that had recently been established in Africa.
Themes and Meanings
The main themes of Stowe’s work involve the brutal injustices of slavery and the moral forces within individuals that can combat them. A considerable amount of attention is given by the author to the personal psychological makeup of the protagonists. Such psychological traits help explain the actions that weave the story’s plot. The most obvious example of this is Uncle Tom himself, but other figures, especially Legree, reveal dimensions of human psychology that can be tied to base urges of exploitation.
Diverse human reactions to injustice make up a set of complementary themes. Some of these are easily grasped in terms of simple human decency. The reader thus encounters a series of benevolent white people in the story—even slaveowners who see that the exercise of humanitarian concern can ease the burden of responsibility for the forces of fate that have made some masters and others slaves.
Probably the most controversial theme in this novel, however, is to be found in Beecher’s depiction of Uncle Tom himself. Tom’s steadfast belief that individual resignation to suffering will be rewarded after death (“final liberation”) has attracted critics’ attention ever since the book’s appearance. The religious psychology of the need to confront injustice (for “higher moral victory” in the hereafter) presented a profound and perplexing issue during Stowe’s time—one that has remained unsolved long after the disappearance of slavery.
The assumption that the author of Uncle Tom was consciously devoted to the cause of the antislavery movement continued to be the object of controversy into the twentieth century. A well-known example of twentieth century criticism marking the beginning of a new militant attitude toward Black civil rights was James Baldwin’s essay, “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” published in the  Partisan Review, in 1949.
If one places the career of Mrs. Stowe in its original historical context, however, the book’s underlying characteristics are easier to understand. The author was the daughter, sister, and wife of New England Congregational ministers. The ethical attitudes of such descendants of the original Pilgrims involved an evangelical commitment to social reform.
Harriet Beecher Stowe presents an image of slavery as part of a “providential” force. Her purpose may not have been to take a political position on slavery, but rather to moralize on the theory of salvation. In this moral literary context, Tom’s identity is to be seen less in political terms than in a role as a black Christ or a black representative of Protestant virtue.
One should contrast possible original motivating forces behind Stowe’s unprecedented novel with what may be called the radical political press of the era. A clear antislavery abolitionist cause had already taken root in America by the 1850’s, represented most notably by activists such as publisher William Lloyd Garrison with his  The Liberator and John Brown, a radical leader of the Underground Railroad. Although Stowe’s original intention may not have been to aid the abolitionist cause, public reception of the story did more to help it than anything the members themselves had done.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s emergence as a controversial literary figure helped earn for her favorable reviews in such prestigious publications as The Times of London; on the European continent, she was heralded in 1854 as a spokesperson of the moral and political outrage that was widely held there against the evil institution of slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin represents a historic milestone in America’s perception of itself. The essence of its themes formed the core of causes of the great Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The influence of this book upon the course of a nation cannot be overestimated; the book belongs to the ages.
Byron D. Cannon
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Or, Life Among the Lowly

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
First Published
Kentucky and Mississippi
Time of Plot
Mid-nineteenth century
Type of Plot
Social realism

Uncle Tom, a slave. Although he is good and unrebellious, he is sold by his owner. After serving a second kind but improvident master, he comes under the ownership of brutal Simon Legree and dies as a result of his beatings.
Eliza, a slave. Learning that her child is about to be sold away along with Tom, she takes the child and runs away, crossing the Ohio River by leaping from floating ice cake to floating ice cake.
George Harris, her husband, a slave on a neighboring plantation. He also escapes, passing as a Spaniard, and reaches Ohio, where he joins his wife and child. Together, they go to freedom in Canada.
Harry, the child of Eliza and George.
Mr. Shelby, the original owner of Eliza, Harry, and Uncle Tom. Encumbered by debt, he plans to sell a slave to his chief creditor.
Haley, the buyer, a New Orleans slave dealer. He shrewdly selects Uncle Tom and persuades Mr. Shelby to part with Harry in spite of his better feelings.
George Shelby, Mr. Shelby’s son. He promises to buy Tom back one day but arrives at Legree’s plantation as Tom is dying. When his father dies, he frees all his slaves in Uncle Tom’s name.
Mrs. Shelby, Mr. Shelby’s wife. She delays the pursuit of Eliza by serving a late breakfast.
Marks and
Loker, slave-catchers hired by Haley to track Eliza through Ohio. Loker, wounded by George Harris in a fight, is given medical treatment by the Quakers who are protecting the runaways.
Augustine St. Clare, the purchaser of Tom after Tom saves his daughter’s life. He dies before making arrangements necessary to free his slaves.
Eva St. Clare, his saintly and frail daughter. Before her death, she asks her father to free his slaves.
Mrs. St. Clare, a hypochondriac invalid. After her husband’s death, she sends Tom to the slave market.
Miss Ophelia, St. Clare’s cousin from the North. She comes to look after Eva and is unused to lavish Southern customs.
Topsy, a pixie-like black child bought by St. Clare for Miss Ophelia to educate; later, he makes the gift legal.
Simon Legree, the alcoholic and superstitious brute who purchases Tom and kills him. He is a Northerner by birth.
Cassy, Legree’s slave. She uses his superstitions to advantage in her escape. Her young daughter, who was sold years ago, proves to be Eliza, and mother and daughter are reunited in Canada.
Emmeline, another of Legree’s slaves. She escapes with Cassy.
Madame de Thoux, whom Cassy and Emmeline meet on a northbound riverboat. She proves to be George Harris’ sister.
Aunt Chloe, Uncle Tom’s wife, left behind in Uncle Tom’s cabin on the Shelby plantation.
Senator Bird, in whose house Eliza first finds shelter in Ohio.
Mrs. Bird, his wife.
Simeon Halliday and
Rachel Halliday, who give shelter to the fugitive slaves.

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