“The way of the wicked is as darkness; he knoweth not at what he stumbleth.”
Written in 1852, this book continues today as a classic novel about slavery, racism, hope and the Christian faith. It was written to educate as well as to remind future generations. It was a best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week; 300,000 in the first year. It also sold then, and still sells today, in the international market. It has been on banned book lists since its publication. Today, many school districts and/or states ban it due to language, racism, and/or Christianity.
Mrs. Stowe was from the Northeast United States. The United States Congress passed the Compromise of 1850. It was intended to address the concerns of slave holding and free states, yet it helped galvanize the abolition movement. Mrs. Stowe formed her stance on slavery because of this law. Among the provisions of the Compromise of 1850 were the end of the slave trade, but not slavery, and the creation of a stricter Fugitive Slave Law. Helping runaways had been illegal since 1793, but the 1850 law required that everyone help catch fugitives. This law erased any protection that a fugitive had had. Anyone on the street could be picked up and accused of being a fugitive from slavery. Thus free Blacks were often picked up and sent into slavery.
She was angry, believing her country was now requiring her to comply with a system that she believed was unjust and immoral. While she and her husband, Calvin Stowe, were living in Maine, she disobeyed the law by hiding runaways. Mrs. Stowe lived in Connecticut, Ohio, and Maine, yet she knew slavery through several avenues. While in Ohio, she and her husband were a part of the Underground Railroad. Her brother met a plantation owner who was cruel and evil as the book’s Simon Legree. She traveled to Kentucky where she visited plantations with slaves. She felt the message of slavery needed to be espoused clearly and loudly. She shared her frustrations and feelings of powerlessness with her family. It was then that her sister-in-law suggested she do more: “…if I could use a pen as you can, Hatty, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.” This letter touched Mrs. Stowe to the heart. She was determined to write “if [she] lived.”
The story follows two lines. One is Tom who chooses to stay with his family rather than run away once he finds that he is to be sold to pay debts of the plantation owner. He hoped that his family would be able to stay together if he did not run. The second is Eliza who finds that her young son, Harry, is also to be sold for these debts. Eliza chooses to run away with Harry.
We follow Eliza and Harry as they wind their way on escape routes, running just ahead of slave hunters, being protected by Quakers missionaries along the way to arrive safely in Canada. We also follow Tom from plantation owners who treat their slaves gently and kindly to being sold to a harsh slave trader who then sells Tom to other plantation owners. The final one is the cruel and violent Simon Legree.
Slavery and the slave trade separated families, husbands from wives, mothers from children. Punishments, fierce and gruesome, showed that slaves were treated as less than human. Freedom came for some; others received promises of freedom, but when the master died suddenly or he racked up a lot of debt, those slaves were sold “down the river.”
There are moments in the story filled with hope and love, people desiring to help others. There are times filled with cruelty and fear, people filled with hatred. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is fiction yet is based on a conglomerate portrait of slaves, owners, families, and abolitionists. It has the genuine mixture of story/subject, characters, settings, and emotions to make it a classic and a bestseller. It is an excellent story, although so hard and harsh at times, yet carried along with hope and love.
Harriet Beecher was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, CT to the Rev. Lyman Beecher (1775-1863) and Roxanna Foote Beecher (1775- 1816); the sixth of 11 children. The Beechers expected their children to make a difference in the world, and they truly did:
- All seven sons became ministers (the most effective way to influence society in that period)
- Oldest daughter, Catharine pioneered education for women
- Youngest daughter, Isabella was a founder of the National Women’s Suffrage Association
- Harriet believed her purpose in life was to write. Her most famous work exposed the truth about the greatest social injustice of her day – human slavery
Stowe began her formal education at Sarah Pierce’s academy, one of the earliest to encourage girls to study academic subjects and not simply ornamental arts. In 1824, she became a student and then a teacher at Hartford Female Seminary, which was founded by her sister Catharine.
In 1851, The National Era’s publisher contracted with Stowe for a story that would “paint a word picture of slavery” and that would run in installments. Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly turned out to be more than 40 installments before it was published into a book.
In all, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s writing career spanned 51 years, during which time she published 30 books and countless short stories, poems, articles, and hymns.
This has been a book I have wanted to read for years and years. I finally decided it would fit into my library of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon, two excellent non-fiction books.
- ISBN-13: 9781593081218
- Publisher: Barnes & Noble
- Publication date: 02/01/2005
- Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
- Pages: 496
- Product dimensions: 7.96(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.32(d)