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Uncle Tom's Cabin is a seminal novel in American history. Written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, it's aim was to convince the masses of the necessity of abolishing slavery. It was published in 1852, only two years after the Fugitive Slave Act. This new law meant that sympathisers with the African American slaves were unable to administer any aid to runaways; furthermore it required that slaves were returned to their owners. This act, so appalled Beecher Stowe, that it was a large part of her motivation for beginning her controversial novel.
Harriet was born in Connecticut, North America, and like the rest of her family was always against the slavery of men. Having once lived in state which permitted slavery she was familiar with the horrors of the trade. The first publication of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' was in serial form for the anti slavery paper 'National Era'. Its aim was primarily to educate the northern states on the brutality that southern slave owners inflicted upon their slaves.
The novel was a massive success. It sold an astounding number of copies, both in America and around the rest of the world. The success of the book saw the amount of anti-slavery, pro-abolitionists, in the north of America increase dramatically. Some people even credit the book with being a driving force towards the American Civil War. It is, without doubt, one of the most important and influential novels in history.
Arthur Shelby, a Kentucky farmer and slave owner, finds himself in an unfortunate financial situation which requires him to sell two of his slaves. He treats his slaves well and there is a good natured relationship between his family and his slaves. However the two slaves that are chosen to be sold are, Uncle Tom and the son of the young maid Eliza who is called Harry.
Eliza, upon overhearing the news that she is to be separated from her son, decides to run away with her son and husband. Part of the novel follows Eliza as she makes her journey to Canada with her family.
Before making her escape, Eliza warns Uncle Tom and his wife of Mr Shelby's plans. The other aspect of the novel follows Uncle Tom as he is transported to different owners. The majority of the horrors in the novel are experienced by Tom and a slave girl named Emmeline at a plantation owned by the horrible Simon Legree. Emmeline is purchased as a sex slave, a replacement to his previous slave Cassy. Tom on the other hand rouses a deep hatred in Legree when he refuses to whip another slave. As a result of this, Legree becomes devoted in his attempts to crush the deep Christian faith that Tom has.
Uncle Tom's Cabin is a deeply sad and moving story. The separate tales of Tom, Emmeline, Cassy, Eliza and George show varied systems of inducing suffering. It is little wonder that the novel had such a profound affect on the people who read it. With American slavery long abolished, the stories still to this day penetrate the readers' sense of morality. I have never read anything that so powerfully affected my conscience or made me acknowledge the tragedy that befell so many.
Whilst the main focus of the novel is to shock and repulse the reader there is also a very strong Christian influence in the text. No matter how hard Legree tries, the faith of Tom is never broken, his ultimate fate is likened to that of Christ. There are other instances throughout the book which convey this also. Ultimately Beecher Stowe's point was that Christianity and slavery are not compatible, not only is slavery wrong but it is immoral.
I first heard of this book, odd as it may seem, while watching The King and I as a child. I loved the film so much that I was motivated to see what this book was that Anna Leonowens was recommending. I read it in my childhood and have not picked it up since, yet all these years later I can still vividly remember it. The power that it once had, for me at least, is still there.
I'd without question recommend this book to people. As a key piece of American history or simply as a tale of slavery, it is worth the effort.