Tara's Reviews > Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
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Aug 25, 12


This was the first in my attempts to take advantage of the free books on iTunes and read a few classic works of fiction.

Well, I can appreciate how this book might have served as a very effective emotional appeal in its time, but unfortunately I'd have to say that (at least in my opinion) it doesn't wear its age as well as other classics have. There were a number of issues that, for me, made it impossible for me to really get engaged with the story.

First, the descriptions of the slaves come off not so much sympathetic as profoundly condescending: "Oh, look at these dear, simple people leading their simple, little lives!" It lends an unpleasant sense of cognitive dissonance when the book is making a passionate argument for their humanity while at the same time describing them a bit like pets.

Of course, the depictions of other characters aren't exactly note-perfect; in fact, there's not a single one of them that isn't a simplified characteristic, taken to the extreme - the good characters are ridiculously good, the evil ones as bad as can be, and in between are a bunch of little lost lambs, just waiting to be saved by one of Heaven's messengers on Earth; O Hallelujah! This tendency made it a bit difficult to really believe in the characters.

Not being particularly religious myself, I also couldn't really embrace the book's effort to impress us with the religious fervor of Tom and a few other characters (though I suspect it may have been effective in challenging a very Christian reader to think about how much of the Christian ideology they demonstrate in their own lives). Conversely, I found myself thinking that, in another time, this same story might have been told to show what an awful tool religion is in the hands of an oppressor--deceiving zealous dupes like Tom into tamely accepting the horrors in his life based on some nebulous hope of a better place after his suffering finally kills him. Not the message I know I was supposed to get from Tom's tragic story.

All in all, I was more impressed by the author's concluding comments than by anything that came before. I thought she made an incredibly sincere and stirring argument in support of the idea that her work was based on real horrors in the world, and I applaud her for calling out her Northern neighbors (and, very boldly, the Christian church!) for their rationalization if not outright complicity in allowing the slavery system to survive.

Again, to be fair, I also think that this book was well calculated to stir the emotions of a reader who might not otherwise have conceived of Southern slaves as a race of *humans*, deserving the same right to freedom and self-determination that white citizens took for granted. If it suffers from a lack of subtlety, perhaps it was because subtlety would not have done as much to drive the moral point home. So for that, I certainly respect this book's place in history, even if I can't say I enjoyed it.
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