Uncle Tom’s Cabin

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Uncle Tom's Cabin, also known as Life Among the Lowly, is an anti-slavery fictional novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe and published in 1860. The American theoretical literature was responsible for setting the groundwork for the civil war sparked by Abraham Lincoln in 1861. Stowe was a humble Connecticut native who later served as a tutor at the Hartford Female Seminary. She was a fervent and committed abolitionist, and her religious upbringing influenced all of her literary works, including this one. The book features Uncle Tom, a long-suffering African American slave who is the center of the struggle for racial equality and from whom the story takes a departure point. The novel is quite a sentimental and subtle in the way it reflects reality as was then and applies the Reformation themes and imageries. This story went to become the best-selling novel of the 19th century was acclaimed as the second best-selling book, following the Bible (Os5).

This paper will demonstrate by analysis the literary forms, imagery, genre, characters and themes present in this book and how they reflected on the ideologies present then. It will also illustrate the meanings of the text and how it also impacted its audience at a contextual level.

To begin with, the genre of this book is entirely fictional though based on a true account of reality. The author chooses a cast to depict her major themes that were the reality during the days she lived, but the encounters were fictional as for as the characters were concerned.

Secondly, having been born during the African American human slavery era, Stowe was well informed of the situation on the ground regarding the inequality of races and genders as was the norm then. This common situation compelled her to write a literary work that had themes concerning the social injustices evident in the society she lived in. The first theme that is dominant in her novel is slavery. This was the subordination of other non-white races to the white race people to serve as caretakers and laborers in their enterprises. Slavery was a tool of social dehumanization that left a trail of horrors in its wake. Black people were the primary subscribers to this trade and were treated as the property of their masters; they were often beaten as a form of punishment, raped to appease their masters and also sold out to other white supremacist slave traders as payment for their master's debts. This situation led Stowe to develop the character Uncle Tom, who suffers the same fate as any other black man would have undergone. Stowe uses this character to bring to light the unfair treatment and the actual reality of slavery as was not known by those who never suffered it. She depicts Uncle Tom as a relatively honest man and of good personality, but those positive traits do not save him from being treated as a slave and being sold out. She communicates the fact that the issue of slavery was more than discriminative, it was dehumanizing.

Another theme that is equally explored in this book is the race issue. Race segregation has been a contentious problem in the present times and as goes all way back to the 1860s (Spiller 42). Stowe as mentioned lived during times when racial segregation was real and was the order of the day. The society was divided into two; the white supremacists and the people of color. The former class considered themselves as superior and as the cream of the society while the other group was found to be too inferior. That classification meant that even basic human services were not equally offered and privileges were a life of the whites and not the blacks. This cruel reality compelled Stowe to use this theme to depict her main characters and how they struggle against their white masters to live. She strives in her way to describe the sufferings of the common black man.

The other theme that is also presented religion, it was prevalent during these times, due to the harsh social political and economic struggles that the black communities lived in, to seek reprieve in religion as a way to escape ordinary day suffering. Therefore Stowe as a staunch abolitionist as we mentioned before used her religious muscle to describe how prayer can be a formidable tool to fighting the monster of slavery and racial segregation. She depicts her main character Uncle Tom as a Christian and faithful person who suffers the full stretch of slavery but in his way can propagate his faith still and change the attitudes of people like Mrs. Ophelia and Eva (Stowe 42). It was also evident that much of the charismatic religion based churches were formed mainly by the black communities, they formed the foundations that were the fundamental towards human slavery liberation and racism liberational movements (Hamilton 58).

Moreover, this book apart from portraying and bring to light the reality of the African American person in the then slavery and racism infested society also employed the use of imagery and symbolism to effaceable communicate and concretize Stowe's message. Literature works go hand in hand with the use of symbols and metaphors to effectively bring to context and identify with the audience reading it (Bennett 23). Stowe uses the cabin as her prominent symbol. Notice that the novel is not only referred to as; ‘Uncle Tom' but as ‘Uncle Tom's Cabin'; this demonstrates that insistence is in the cabin to which Uncle Tom is an attachment. It was the norm then that wealthy people lived in the cities and magnificent houses, but the ordinary folks and more so the slaves or the black community lived in the cabins (Gates 34). They were relatively small shelters that were meant to house but not to offer any homily privileges. So the choice of accommodation for Uncle Tom was very contextual and contextual to depict the humble and diminished dignity of the black man.

Hair is also another symbol that has been used actually in the novel. It was prevalent during the Victorian era for people to keep hair locks of their faithful departed as part of keeping their memory (Brown 10). Therefore in this novel to depict that cultural norm Stowe presents Eva who asks Mrs. Ophelia to cut off her hair lock and distribute it to the other slaves as part of sharing her memory. Hair also had a sexual connotation to it. The cutting and keeping or distribution of hair from a deceased woman was part of symbolically sharing out her fertility and productivity to those who inherited her hair (Brown et, al, 12). So Stowe uses those cultural ideas to depict how even at the deal of Eva, her civil fight continues and remains productive even to those who inherit her hair locks.

Another important symbol is the flowers. Flowers have a contemporary connotation of depicting life and propagating aspects of something to which they are related to (Smagorinsky55). This novel captures that reality so well, it demonstrates how regardless the efforts of the whites i.e. Mr. Simon and George, efforts to stop the revolts that emerge in their black back yards, the struggle continues one. Just as a flower is delicate, if it happens to grow on a piece of soil, it is indicative that element is productive. Therefore even as the key protagonists to this anti-slave struggle are killed (Uncle Tom), the struggle continues as long as the flowers grow around Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

A dollar is also another symbol illustrated in this novel. It was the norm then that slaves were bought and sold as common goods to their master, either to gain funds or repay debts. These transactions in America were done under the monetary dollar. Therefore the use of a dollar that George Shelby gives to Uncle Tom after he is whisked away by the slave trader was symbolic of him purchasing his freedom. Freedom then was not a right guaranteed to all American as later became with the passing of the 13th amendment that abolished slavery (Foner 45). To the black it was a commodity that one had to work, save a lot of money and purchase, it was this reality that Stowe sort to depict, and to shed light on the fundamentals that the white people took for granted the very life source for the blacks.

Moreover, Stowe who was a well-versed teacher and a literature enthusiast knew too well that so that her entire black struggle falls into perfect shape and take form, she had to include characters that were indicative of those themes. To begin with, her choice of names for the characters was quite indicative and pragmatic. She chose names for the black characters that were common in her days within those respective groups. For instance; Tom was a common name within the black community and hence ‘Uncle Tom' fitted the best depiction of a black person of respect and dignity. On the contrary, she also used the names, for instance; George Shelby and Chloe to represent the white supremacists (Williams 56). Those names were indicative of the white race, and so the audience would be at a vantage point of creating a mental picture of that white, possibly mean person they know.

She also presented the characters in a dualistic nature, she introduced a specific theme and for it showed a character that propagated actions contrary to that theme. In a sense, for each topic, she depicted both protagonists and antagonists. For instance, in the slavery theme she presented; Uncle Tom on one side versus George Shelby on the other hand. For the idea of religion and faith, she introduced Uncle Tom and Mrs. Ophelia on the contrary. In short, she had a dualism of character personification for each of her ideas and seemed to balance the presence or evil with good and vice versa.

She also introduced a new twist in this works that were unique to it. She presents an irony in her expression of the outcomes of the black struggle. As mentioned previously she used the theme of religion to demonstrate how it can be a formidable tool towards the abolishment of the slave trade. However she at the same breath depicts Uncle Tom as a Christian and a relatively religious person, he undergoes suffering as any other black person would have during those days. Hoping that since he is prayerful, then his end would be victorious, Stowe makes a twist in the story by changing the predicted course of the story to have Uncle Tom sold to Mr. Simon, another slave trade, there he suffers much harsher fate and is eventually killed in horrifying circumstances. It would have been the expectation of the reader that Uncle Tom would have finally overcome his sufferings just as many other characters had been portrayed by Stowe within the story to have been successful through the power of prayer. This character that is the center of the entire story ends up dead. That is ironical considering the already set prayer remuneration precedent.

Finally, having gone through this book, it is noticeable that the message of the author was well communicated and that she used all literature tools at her disposal to deliver her message to the world. Her primary insistence was that the societies must change. Human beings must go beyond perceiving each other as commodities either superior or inferior. That it was a time that the social evils and injustices come to an end. It was a time that those crimes that were hidden from the rest of the world be made known and that the black community was to keep up its struggle for liberation. It is a text that offers hope for the marginalized and those in dire life circumstances.

Works cited

Bennett, Andrew, and Nicholas Royle. An introduction to literature, criticism and theory. Routledge, 2016.

Brown, Daniel. Representing Realists in Victorian Literature and Criticism. Springer, 2016.

Foner, Eric. "Abraham Lincoln, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the Problem of Freedom." Geo. JL & Pub. Pol'y 15 (2017): 59.

Gates Jr, Henry Louis. The signifying monkey: A theory of African American literary criticism. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Hamilton, Charles V., and Kwame Ture. Black power: Politics of liberation in America. Vintage, 2011.

Os, M. van. "Uncle Tom's Cabin: A woman's struggle against slavery." Yapp 1 (2013): 122.

Smagorinsky, Peter. "The territory of literature." English Education 48.2 (2016): 109.

Spiller, Robert Ernest. The cycle of American literature: an essay in historical criticism. Vol. 643. Macmillan, 1955.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, and Charles Edward Stowe. Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe: Compiled from Her Letters and Journals. S. Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1889.

Williams, Andreá N. "Recovering Black Women Writers in Periodical Archives." American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism 27.1 (2017): 25-28.

September 11, 2021

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