Uncle Tom’s Cabin
By Harriet Beecher Stowe
Originally published in 1852 Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the first book by an American to become an international bestseller, and rightly so. Set in antebellum America the story follows the life of pious and humble slave Uncle Tom through his trials and tribulations as a slave.
The story is written with a full assortment of slaves that make interesting characters, from the smart mulatto George Harris and his wife Eliza, to the reflective slave owner Augustine and the treacherous slave trader Dan. Written during the mist of the slave era the story is a significant view of slavery, albeit from a somewhat condescending source. While it is without doubt that Stowe would have been seen as something of a revolutionary in her time, with her insight into the noble, Christian, sucker that is Uncle Tom, it is obvious that she seems him as more of a brute than a true equal.
This book is more important as a backdrop for the times, and as the tool that it served when it was first published, then it is today. While it is important for us to realize the importance of its publication, it that it paved the way for other more noteworthy anti-slavery publications, and as being a catalyst for the Civil War, I would refrain from recommending this to young readers because of its underlying condescending tone.
Stowe meant well, and set out what she meant to accomplish, albeit with keeping her nose in the air all the while. While she tried to tackle one sort of racism in the world, she set out to nurture an altogether different sort, patronizing in form.
What is amazing to note is the affection that many seem to have for Uncle Tom as they read this book for the first time. Many in fact have a difficult time linking the inflammatory uncle tom comments of today with the book, however more than a cursory glance at the story will yield the desired link. More so than Tom’s often shockingly humble and loyal behavior to his masters, is the underlying tone of Stowe’s work. This is what has created the Uncle Tom insults of today – that of the weak African American seeking to mimic and please white America, as Uncle Tom did with his masters.