Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Publisher: Reader’s Digest
Star Rating: 4/5
Date Read: November 6th to 24th, 2013
*Warning, this review contains spoilers!*
‘We ought to be free to meet and mingle – to rise by out individual worth, without any consideration of caste or color; and they who deny us this right are false to their own professed principles of human equality. We ought, in particular, to be allowed here.’
When a book has already been so widely discussed, and for so long, it can be hard to write a review that’s fresh and original. Because what more can be said about Uncle Tom’s Cabin that hasn’t already been said?
I love that books can change people. I love how their influence can shake up society. Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been credited as the book that ‘made this great war’, spoken by Abraham Lincoln about the Civil War. But as stated in the Afterword of this particular edition, by Alfred Kasin, the Civil War would have happened regardless of this book – maybe a little slower, but it would have still happened. This book brought the plight of the slaves into the homes of the average American and made them question what they thought they knew.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a masterpiece, not only for what it achieved but also for the lyrical prose, the larger-than-life characters and that horrible sense of foreboding the author is able to instil. From the beginning, as much as the reader hoped otherwise, it was clear that things were not going to turn out well for Tom. Despite this feeling, I continued to read and get attached to him, even as things got worse. While Tom is himself a fictional character, there were so many like him. As much as it is painful to read of how badly most of the slaves were treated, this book is so important in documenting an embarrassing period for the Americans, which could also be representative of any other body or nation of people who used other humans this way. Nobody wants to believe that their fellow humans could be so cruel. Unfortunately, it did happen.
Reading of people such as Mr. Shelby, the kind master of the plantation where Tom comes from, and St. Clare, who buys him from the slave trader to please his daughter, it seems to me that men such as them represented quite a few slave-owners. They were not inhumane men, they treated their slaves well. The Shelby family educated theirs, while St. Clare was lazy and let his slaves get away with things others wouldn’t.. St. Clare knew that he had made them the way they were, by not educating them or demanding they behave in a certain way. He allowed for it because he knew he was at fault. He also knew the system was at fault, as Mr. Shelby did when he disappeared from the farm the day Tom was taken away. Yet neither did anything about it. While they protected the slaves when they were with them, in the event of debt or death they had not made provisions for their slaves as you would for a family. It makes you start to wonder, what’s worse?
At the end of the novel, young George Shelby, now the plantation owner, learnt from first watching Tom be sold and then watching him die, and was kind to his slaves and also smart about it, too. By granting them freedom but providing somewhere for them to work and live may have been all he could do, but was something more than just setting all the slaves free in a world that they may have been lost in. George Harris risked everything for his freedom and was then able to support his family once free – but not all slaves would have been like George. As seen in Gone With The Wind it was easy for the freed slaves to drink and plunder – they did not accept freedom the same way and it became very hard for the white Americans to live side by side with the freed slaves, and I don’t believe the outcome originally achieved was what was desired. As seen in the character of Miss Ophelia, the Americans from up North wanted the slaves free – but wanted nothing to do with them afterward. Her initial reaction to Topsy shows this. St Clare oft makes a point of this and her coming to live with them was quite a shock to her system, but it gave her a chance to see things for herself. If you truly wish to help the slaves, you must be willing to accept them as equal. Ophelia adopting Topsy as one of her own showed the true character development possible when you learn to see them as people – something Mrs. St Clare never did. I hope that people like her read this novel.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a wonderfully written novel, though shocking in parts. It is a true classic of American literature and I hope this is something they never try to hide. It is important that those times are recognised for what they are, and that we continue to move forward out of a racist history, where people were judged on the colour of their skin and their ancestry.
‘Think of your freedom, everytime you see Uncle Tom’s Cabin and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful and Christian as he was.’