Sunday, July 20, 2008

Uncle Tom's Cabin (book review)

Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is a story of cruelty, of escape, and of hope. It documents the fictional journeys of two slaves (young mother Eliza and kind, old Uncle Tom) and tells of how both of their lives change as time goes by.

When this book was published, it was an immediate bestseller. It was translated into more than 20 different languages. Queen Victoria wept over it. The book's effect on the world was phenomenal. It showed the world what a major issue slavery really was in the U.S., and it shocked people in the North, many of whom had never really thought much about the issue, into acting against slavery.

In the beginning, both Eliza and Tom are owned by kind Mr. Shelby and his wife, but things soon change as Shelby sells both Tom and Eliza's young son Harry to get himself out of debt. Eliza overhears his conversation with the trader, and decides that she is not going to take it. In the dead of night, Eliza and Harry sneak away, determined to elude the slave catchers and their vicious hounds. Tom also hears the news, but his faith in his master never wavers, and he allows the slave traders to take him away from his heartbroken family. He does not leave, however, without great sorrow.

Meanwhile, Eliza and Harry are busy keeping the slave catchers off their trail. They are taken in by a kind Quaker family, and while there, Eliza meets her handsome young husband, George. The family, now reunited, is led by a guide from the Quaker home to their destination of Canada. But even this journey is not an easy one as they face an open confrontation with the slave catchers.

Tom, while on a boat down to the south, meets a beautiful young girl named Eva, who is determined to have her father buy him. Her father, the handsome and thoughtful young Augustine St. Clare, is happy to oblige. Tom finds life at St. Clare's plantation satisfying, and enjoys spending his days with Eva. But when death strikes the family, Tom finds himself without a master yet again. Tom was lucky to find Eva and her father. He's not so lucky this time. There are many cruel masters among the bunch, and when Tom is sold to an ugly brute named Legree, he knows he has found one of them. Legree's slaves are beaten as they work in the fields all day, and have hardly any time to sleep at night. Legree believes Tom's pious, unbreakable spirit to be something which no slave should possess, and Tom immediately becomes one of his least favorite people on the plantation. One night, while in a rage, Legree shoots Tom. Even as he lies dying on the floor of a shed, Tom is loyal enough to forgive his master for the horrible things the brute has done.

This book, especially the ending, was incredibly sad. Tom's incredible loyalty is hard to imagine, especially after the things Legree has done to him. However, this book wasn't perfect. The picture it painted of the happy slaves on Shelby's plantation wasn't true in most cases. In fact, masters as kind as Shelby and St. Clare were very rare. Even despite these flaws, the book was phenomenal and it is something I am going to read over and over again.

This book is for the Classics Challenge.


Nymeth said...

What a great review, Annie. This is a book I've always been curious about, and your review makes me want to move it up the list.

Trish said...

Like Nymeth your review makes me very curious about this book. I do own it but for some reason I've been avoiding it (how awful is that?!). It's always great to find a book that you can read over and over...glad you liked it.

Jean said...

You know, I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I've never read this. So many books to read and other things to try, and so very, very little time. I shall now make sad face as I try to get the work done that I promised to send off first thing tomorrow.

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