Title: UNCLE TOM’S CABIN
Alternative Titles: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly”
Author: HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
Publication Date: 1852
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in full Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in serialized form in the United States in 1851–52 and in book form in 1852.
An abolitionist novel, it achieved wide popularity, particularly among white readers in the North, by vividly dramatizing the experience of slavery.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin tells the story of Uncle Tom, depicted as a saintly, dignified slave. While being transported by boat to auction in New Orleans, Tom saves the life of Little Eva, whose grateful father then purchases Tom. Eva and Tom soon become great friends. Always frail, Eva’s health begins to decline rapidly, and on her deathbed she asks her father to free all his slaves. He makes plans to do so but is then killed, and the brutal Simon Legree, Tom’s new owner, has Tom whipped to death after he refuses to divulge the whereabouts of certain runaway slaves. Tom maintains a steadfastly Christian attitude toward his own suffering, and Stowe imbues Tom’s death with echoes of Christ’s.
Some 300,000 copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were sold in the United States during the year after its publication, and it also sold well in England. It was adapted for theatre multiple times beginning in 1852; because the novel made use of the themes and techniques of theatrical melodrama popular at the time, its transition to the stage was easy. These adaptations played to capacity audiences in the United States and contributed to the already significant popularity of Stowe’s novel in the North and the animosity toward it in the South. They became a staple of touring companies through the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th.
Stowe’s depiction of slavery in her novel was informed by her Christianity and by her immersion in abolitionist writings. She also drew on her personal experience during the 1830s and ’40s while living in Cincinnati, Ohio, which was a destination for those escaping slavery in Kentucky and other Southern states. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin she made her case against slavery by cataloging the suffering experienced by enslaved people and by showing that their owners were morally broken. Stowe also published a collection of documents and testimony, A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), that she used to prove the truth of her novel’s representation of slavery.
The role of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a cause of the American Civil War is rooted in a statement—typically rendered as “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”—that is spuriously attributed to President Abraham Lincoln. According to scholar Daniel R. Vollaro , this comment, supposedly made by Lincoln to Stowe in December 1862, originated in Stowe family tradition and did not appear in print until 1896 (albeit as “Is this the little woman who made the great war?” ). That Lincoln almost certainly did not say these words, however, has not prevented them from being cited repeatedly as Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s legacy.
The novel’s reputation became problematic during the 20th century. In a 1952 introduction to the novel, Langston Hughes referred to Uncle Tom’s Cabin as “a moral battle cry,” but his introduction’s effort to redeem the novel came after Richard Wright and James Baldwin, among other black writers, had attacked it during the 1930s and ’40s. The term Uncle Tom also became an insult used to describe a black person who shows subservience to whites or is otherwise considered complicit with oppression by whites. This sense can be traced to at least the early 20th century, and early public use of it (c. 1920) has been attributed variously to Marcus Garvey and George Alexander McGuire. Today Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s depiction of its black characters is seen as racist and patronizing.
In 1852 when Uncle Tom’s Cabin was originally published, it was highly controversial. In fact, it was banned in many places in the Southern United States due to it’s abolitionist rhetoric.
Although society has come a long way since Harriet Beecher Stowe first put pen to paper and wrote about the horrific reality of slavery, however, discrimination still occurs. It is for that reason that I believe every civilized adult in North America and beyond should be required to read this book, regardless of the color of their skin.
There is a saying that states:
“Those who fail to remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
I truly and very firmly believe that knowledge is power. Yes, slavery was abolished with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. However, what our society is seeing now is a hidden sex slave trade which is unfortunately alive and well all over the world. Reading books such as UNCLE TOM’S CABIN is important. It reminds us of how terrible human beings can act and (hopefully) stirs outrage in the reader’s heart.
I am aware that some people think of this book as racist, but I am trying to overlook the way the slaves are depicted as a consequence of the time in which the book was written.
I have no proof, but putting forward the idea to those of color that this book is racist, is/was a great way to stop people from reading it – similar to reverse psychology, but, that is just a theory.
Despite the way the characters are portrayed, I still believe this book was the catalyst that brought many white people (especially women) to join the abolitionist movement and to assist the Underground Railroad in any way they could. I believe this book opened the eyes of many of its readers.
I rate this book as 5 OUT OF 5 STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I encourage everyone to read this book. If you haven’t read it yet, now is the time. If you’ve read it, but it was a long time ago, I encourage you to read it again and to allow it’s message to penetrate your hearts and minds.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
MLA – Michals, Debra. “Harriet Beecher Stowe.” National Women’s History Museum, 2017. Date accessed.
“Wherever I went among the friends of the Era, I found Uncle Tom’s Cabin a theme for admiring remark,” journalist and social critic Grace Greenwood wrote in a travelogue published in the Era. “[E]verywhere I went, I saw it read with pleasant smiles and irrepressible tears.’” The story was discussed in other abolitionist publications, such as Frederick Douglass’s Paper, and helped sell $2 annual subscriptions to the Era.
The popularity of Uncle Tom’s Cabin exploded once it was made available in a more accessible format.
Some publishers claim the book edition is the second best-selling title of the 19th century, after the Bible.
1. HARRIET BEECHER STOWE’S FATHER AND ALL SEVEN OF HER BROTHERS WERE MINISTERS.
Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. Her mother, Roxana Beecher, died five years later. Over the course of two marriages, her father, Calvinist preacher Lyman Beecher, fathered 13 children, 11 of whom survived into adulthood. He preached loudly against slavery. All seven of his sons followed him into the ministry. Henry Ward Beecher carried on his father’s abolitionist mission and according to legend sent rifles to anti-slavery settlers in Kansas and Nebraska in crates marked “Bibles.”
The women of the Beecher family were also encouraged to rise to positions of influence and rally against injustice. Eldest child Catharine Beecher co-founded the Hartford Female Seminary and Isabella Beecher Hooker was a prominent suffragist.
2. THE FUGITIVE SLAVE ACT—AND A SURPRISE $100 GIFT—INSPIRED UNCLE TOM’S CABIN.
In 1832, Harriet Beecher moved to Cincinnati with her father, who assumed the presidency of Lane Theological Seminary. According to Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life by Joan D. Hedrick, the Ohio city introduced her to former slaves and African-American freemen and there she first practiced writing, in a literary group called the Semi-Colon Club.
She married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a professor at Lane, and eventually relocated to Brunswick, Maine, when he went to work at Bowdoin College. By then, Stowe had published two books, Primary Geography for Children and the short story collection New England Sketches. She was also a contributor to newspapers supporting temperance and abolitionism, writing “sketches,” brief descriptive stories meant to illustrate a political point.
Following a positive response to her The Freeman’s Dream: A Parable, Gamaliel Bailey, editor of the anti-slavery paper The National Era, sent her $100 to encourage her to continue supplying the paper with material. The 1850 passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, obligating authorities in free states to re-enslave refugees, took the slavery fight northward. It also encouraged Stowe to step up her game.
“I am at present occupied upon a story which will be a much longer one than any I have ever written,” Beecher Stowe wrote in a letter to Bailey, “embracing a series of sketches which give the lights and shadows of the ‘patriarchal institution’ [of slavery], written either from observation, incidents which have occurred in the sphere of my personal knowledge, or in the knowledge of my friends.” For material, she scoured the written accounts belayed by escaped slaves.
3. UNCLE TOM’S CABIN MADE HER RICH AND FAMOUS.
According to Henry Louis Gate Jr.’s introduction to the annotated edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The National Era paid Stowe $300 for 43 chapters. Before the serial’s completion, Stowe signed a contract with John P. Jewett and Co. to publish a two-volume bound book edition, and that’s when it really took off. Released on March 20, 1852, the book sold 10,000 copies in the U.S. in its first week and 300,000 in the first year. In the U.K., 1.5 million copies flew off the shelves in the first year. Stowe was paid 10 cents for each one sold.
According to a London Times article published six months after the book’s release, she had already amassed $10,000 in royalties. “We believe [that this is] the largest sum of money ever received by any author, either American or European, from the sales of a single work in so short a period of time,” the Times stated.
4. SHE WENT TO COURT TO STOP AN UNAUTHORIZED TRANSLATION OF UNCLE TOM’S CABIN … AND LOST.
Immediately after Uncle Tom’s Cabin became a literary sensation, a Philadelphia-based German-language paper, Die Freie Presse, began publishing an unauthorized translation. Stowe took the publisher, F.W. Thomas,to court. American copyright laws were notoriously weak at the time, irking British writers whose work was widely pirated. As someone who overnight became America’s favorite author, Stowe had much at stake testing them.
The case put her in the Philadelphia courtroom of Justice Robert Grier, a notorious enforcer of the Fugitive Slave Act. “By the publication of Mrs. Stowe’s book, the creations of the genius and imagination of the author have become as much public property as those of Homer or Cervantes,” Grier ruled. The precedent set by Stowe vs. Thomas meant that authors had the right to prevent others from printing their exact words, but almost nothing else. “All her conceptions and inventions may be used and abused by imitators, play-rights and poet-asters,” ruled Grier.
5. BEECHER STOWE VISITED ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
Though Stowe had criticized what she saw as his slowness in emancipation and willingness to seek compromise to prevent succession, Stowe visited President Abraham Lincoln at the White House in 1862, during the early days of the Civil War. Reportedly, Lincoln greeted her with, “So this is the little woman who brought on this big Civil War,” but scholars have dismissed the quote as Stowe family legend spread after her death.
Details of their conversation are limited to vague entries in their respective diaries. Lincoln may have bantered with her over his love of open fires (“I always had one to home,” he reportedly said), while Stowe got down to business and quizzed him: “Mr. Lincoln, I want to ask you about your views on emancipation.”
6. BEECHER STOWE WROTE A LOT OF THINGS THAT WEREN’T UNCLE TOM’S CABIN.
Stowe wrote more than 30 books, both fiction and nonfiction, plus essays, poems, articles, and hymns.
7. THE STOWES WINTERED IN THE FORMER SLAVE STATE OF FLORIDA.
The influx of wealth from Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the end of the Civil War allowed the Stowes to purchase a winter home in Mandarin, Florida, in 1867. It may have seemed strange—and perilous—for a famous anti-slavery crusader to buy 30 acres in a former slave state so soon after the war, yet six years after the purchase, she wrote to a local newspaper, “In all this time I have not received even an incivility from any native Floridian.”
8. BEECHER STOWE AND MARK TWAIN WERE NEIGHBORS.
The Stowes’ primary residence, beginning in 1864, was a villa in the Nook Farm section of Hartford, Connecticut, a neighborhood populated by prominent citizens, including Mark Twain. The homes of Nook Farm had few fences, and doors stayed open in sunny weather, creating an air of gentility. That did not prevent Twain from writing a somewhat unflattering portrait of Stowe, as she gave way to what was probably Alzheimer’s disease, in his autobiography:
“Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe who was a near neighbor of ours in Hartford, with no fence between. In those days she made as much use of our grounds as of her own in pleasant weather. Her mind had decayed, and she was a pathetic figure. She wandered about all the day long in the care of a muscular Irishwoman, assigned to her as a guardian.”
9. BEECHER STOWE OUTLIVED FOUR OF HER SEVEN CHILDREN.
While continuing a lucrative and prolific writing career, Stowe birthed and cared forseven children. When she passed away in 85 in 1896, she had outlived four of them, as bad fortune seemed to follow their offspring.
Their third, Henry, drowned in a swimming accident in 1857. The fourth, Frederick, mysteriously disappeared en route to California in 1870. The fifth, Georgiana, died from septicemia, probably related to morphine in 1890. (She was an addict.) The sixth, Samuel, died from cholera in infancy in 1849. These losses informed several of Stowe’s works.
10. THERE ARE SEVERAL HARRIET BEECHER STOWE HOUSES YOU CAN VISIT.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe House of Cincinnati is where she lived after following her father to Lane. The Harriet Beecher Stowe House on the campus of Bowdoin in Brunswick, Maine, is where she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It became a restaurant from 1946 to 1998 and is now a faculty office building, but one room is open to the public and dedicated to Stowe. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center preserves her home in Hartford. Her home in Florida is gone but is marked by a plaque.