Mr. Shelby, a landowner in Kentucky in the 1800s, is deep in debt. So, he sells two of his slaves— Tom and Eliza’s little son— to Mr. Haley to close off his debt. While Mr. Haley manages to sell Tom to Augustine St. Clare, Eliza escapes his clutches by running away with her child in the middle of the night. ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ chronicles the struggles of Tom and Eliza in separate, parallel subplots. For a while, Tom enjoys a decent life in St. Clare’s household, but when he dies in a bar-brawl, Tom is once again put up for auction, and this time, he is bought by a merciless brute, Mr. Simon Legree. Legree’s slaves work long and terrible hours with little or no food in their stomachs and often die quickly, but Legree finds it cheaper to replace them with new slaves than take good care of them. Tom stands up against the immoral ways of Legree, but in the end, he dies a terrible death. Meanwhile, Eliza’s husband, George Harris, also escapes from his owner, and they reunite in a Quaker camp. Later, with slave-catchers close on their heels, they flee to Canada where they can finally live as free citizens.
In the 1800s, the American government supported slavery. In those times, it was legal to buy and sell black men and women like livestock, to treat them like dogs, and murder them if need be. When the slaves started trying to run away from their terrible fates, the government passed a law that made it illegal for anyone to help them escape. It was then that Harriet Beecher Stowe decided that something must be done about it, and thus, she created this masterpiece, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Uncle Tom’s Cabin exposed the real face of this shameful institution to America and also to the rest of the world, and dramatically shifted public opinion about slavery. It is said to have fueled the civil war that finally resulted in the abolition of slavery.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is written in the third person in an informal, conversational tone. Stowe has painted a vivid picture of “life among the lowly”. She has sprinkled the dialogues with local black-folk dialect, and this gives a realistic touch to the tale. Its sentimental tone is sometimes tedious, but it fulfills its purpose of awakening compassion and guilt in our hearts.
I found it difficult to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Because it is difficult to read about the inhuman condition of slaves. Because it is difficult to read about man’s callousness, and his capacity to stoop to shocking levels of cruelty. But in the end, I must admit that Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a powerful, powerful read. It deserves the pedestal that it has made for itself in literature. It had tremendous repercussions in its time, and for me, it is proof that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. In my opinion, you must read this book at least once!
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