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Uncle Tom's Cabin
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Old School Classics, Pre-1900 > Uncle Tom's Cabin - SPOILERS

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message 1: by Pink (new) - rated it 1 star

Pink | 6554 comments This is the discussion thread for Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, our Old School Classic Group Read for July 2016.

Spoilers allowed here.

Please feel free to discuss anything you wish, relating to the book and let us know what you thought :)


Melanti | 2383 comments I'm glad I'm almost done because I'm getting really, really tired of Stowe's racism.

Has anyone else noticed that (with a couple of exceptions - primarily Tom) the intelligent, educated slaves are light skinned, and the dark skinned ones are either nasty and brutish or childish?

This is especially noticeable in the last 1/3 or so.



And the religion... Oh, the religion. Sigh.

I just got done reading a passage where a woman who's been raped for the last 5 years feels that she's been living in sin (presumably for having sex outside marriage, since she's mentioned nothing else) and laments that God has placed her where she can't help but sin. Tom's response? "I think we can help it."

Which incredibly unhelpful and not comforting, to say the least.


Mickey I hope no one minds if I take part in the discussion. I read this about two years ago, and I was so blown away by how well written it was! I had always heard that the book had little merit but its historical role, but it truly was an amazing book. I can see why she was so well regarded by the writers of her age.

I think a huge part of the reason for her unpopularity now has to do with how differently we view slavery. We live in a society that has condemned it outright, but at the time of this book, slavery was legally practiced in many parts of the country.


Mickey Leo Tolstoy called this book "one of the greatest productions of the human mind".


Melanti | 2383 comments Mickey wrote: "I hope no one minds if I take part in the discussion. ..."

The more the merrier!


message 6: by Amy (new)

Amy Eckert | 117 comments It interesting imagining Tolstoy reading this. Of course, Tolstoy is a far superior writer than Stowe in my opinion. I'm only up to Chapter Five. I agree, that the light skinned slaves are revered more and portrayed with greater sympathy than the darker skinned slaves.

And, I feel myself cringing throughout these opening chapters. I love 19th century literature, however this seems far more dated, with this use of "quadroon" and such. I understand it's an older book written at a different time, but so was Tom Sawye, which didn't make me cringe nearly as much. The scene where Georgevand Election za's little boy is called to come in and "entertain" Mr, Shelby and thevslave trader was painful. Such a minstrel show!

I'm assuming that Stowe was a strong Christian, and tried to put Christianity into the book. I, however, reading it in 2016, feel that it shows how white people used Christinity to ke slaves "in their place." The early scene between George and Eliza is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. George is furious, for good reason, about his treatment, and the idea of slavery, while Eliza, educated in Christian values tells him to just go along with it, because God has a plan and they should just accept that. I feel like Stowe wants us to admire Eliza for those beliefs, but I was more in agreement with George.


message 7: by Katy, New School Classics (last edited Jul 09, 2016 08:53AM) (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9902 comments Mod
I read this one years ago and did not enjoy it then. I remember so little about it -- but I do remember that I did not enjoy the writing or the characters.

I understand that this is a historically important novel. That is why I picked it up. But has it stood the test of time as a novel?


message 8: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9902 comments Mod
Mickey wrote: "Leo Tolstoy called this book "one of the greatest productions of the human mind"."

This is intriguing. I would have never guessed that Tolstoy had read this book. I want to know more now.


message 9: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9902 comments Mod
This is a really nice article:

The First Great American Novel

"Soon after the Civil War ended, author John W. De Forest called for a work of fiction that would help reunite the country and at the same time place it at the pinnacle of world literature. He called this hypothetical work “The Great American Novel,” a term that has persisted doggedly ever since, producing expectations that a single novel might one day incorporate the diverse perspectives of the United States in a grand explanatory narrative. “This task of painting the American soul within the framework of anovel has seldom been attempted,” De Forest admitted, then proffered his own nomination for the honor: “The nearest approach to the desired phenomenon is Uncle Tom’s Cabin.""

Read the entire article here: http://www.neh.gov/humanities/2013/ma...


message 10: by Melanti (last edited Jul 09, 2016 09:46AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Melanti | 2383 comments Amy wrote: " I feel like Stowe wants us to admire Eliza for those beliefs, but I was more in agreement with George. ..."

This mirrors my thoughts, more or less. Tom's the hero of the story, basically because he always just goes along with "God's plan" through out the whole novel.

I like George's attitude a lot better.


message 11: by Mickey (last edited Jul 09, 2016 10:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mickey Kathy wrote: "This is intriguing. I would have never guessed that Tolstoy had read this book. I want to know more now. "

I always wish author biographies would focus more on what they read and how they reacted to it. It seems like it should be a big part of getting to know the mind of a writer, not just focusing on the outward details (what she eats or what kind of house he lives in). If I remember correctly, I think Tolstoy disliked Shakespeare and couldn't understand his high standing in literary circles. But I think sometimes writers are so immersed in their own version of the art of writing, that it can be hard to switch into someone with a radically different vision.


message 12: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - added it

Katy (kathy_h) | 9902 comments Mod
Mickey wrote: "...I always wish author biographies would focus more on what they read and how..."

I agree -- that would be a great biography!


Mickey Amy wrote: "...the light skinned slaves are revered more and portrayed with greater sympathy than the darker skinned slaves.

I have to disagree with this. Harriet Beecher Stowe as a believing Christian, elevated Tom into the highest position that it is possible for a human to aspire: a Christ-like figure. He had a moral courage that other characters of all races recognized even though he was a slave. I can't remember the physical description of his skin (which, honestly, doesn't that seem a little weird to be quibbling about just how dark he was as if that means something different about his status?), but wasn't he was described as darker skinned?


message 14: by Amy (new)

Amy Eckert | 117 comments I wasn't thinking so much about Tom, but Eliza. Stowe definitely spends a great deal of time describing how beautiful Eliza is, and how she had very light skin. The other characters mention it as well. Part of what made her so desirable to men is that she had light skin.


message 15: by Mickey (last edited Jul 09, 2016 10:54AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mickey As far as the George vs. Tom debate (although I would like to acknowledge that they are both the creations of Stowe), if you think about it, Martin Luther King Jr was more a "Tom" than a "George". (And, as everyone knows, King was influenced by Gandhi who was influenced by Tolstoy who may have been influenced by Stowe!)


Melanti | 2383 comments Yes, Tom is darker skinned, and yes, Stowe turned him into the hero.

But he also passively accepted fate instead of trying to escape.

If you look at the featured characters who took fate into their own hands - George, Eliza, Cassy - those characters are biracial and light skinned.

I'm not sure it's fair to say that the light skinned slaves are revered or portrayed with greater sympathy, but they're certainly portrayed differently!

Generally speaking, the ones with lighter skin are generally portrayed as more educated, speak with less dialect, are the ones to proactively take charge of their lives.

And it also stood out to me that Topsy was described as the darkest of her race. And, granted, she had a ton of street smarts - but except for Sambo and Quimbo - she's one of the least pliant and most resistant to Christianity.

There's a couple of exceptions, and there's other reasons that come into play (how and where they are raised), but it's a definite trend I noticed.


When you have an author say that black people "are not naturally daring and enterprising", then have the ones that manage to escape light enough to be able to pass for white - that, to me, is rather telling.


message 17: by Kathleen (new) - added it

Kathleen | 4210 comments Kathy wrote: "I read this one years ago and did not enjoy it then. I remember so little about it -- but I do remember that I did not enjoy the writing or the characters.

I understand that this is a historically..."


I am only on Chapter 8, but I have to agree with you Kathy. I too acknowledge its historical importance, but so far for me, I'd say no, it doesn't hold up.

I can see how evoking Christian charity might have helped open the minds of some people when this was written, but I'll be curious to see how evenly the value of Christian meekness is applied as I keep reading. Like, the slaves are written as commendable characters if they "go along with God's plan," yet it seems we're also supposed to think highly of Mr. Shelby, so why didn't he go along with God's plan and accept his financial problems without resorting to selling his slaves? To read this today, I find the double standard sad and grating, as well as the stereotypical comments Melanti mentions.

I understand it is a matter of opinion and taste, and it is interesting to read the different impressions everyone has. Reading everyone's thoughts has helped me to stick with this one!


Chris | 235 comments Kathleen wrote: "Like, the slaves are written as commendable characters if they "go along with God's plan," yet it seems we're also supposed to think highly of Mr. Shelby, so why didn't he go along with God's plan and accept his financial problems without resorting to selling his slaves?"

I think we're supposed to think more highly of Shelby's wife because when Eliza is hiding and listening in on their conversation, that's just the lecture that she gives to him. That even if it costs them everything else he shouldn't sell Tom & Harry. Shelby may have been nice to his slaves but it ended as soon as he hit financial trouble. It's this very action that causes the plot to begin with.

Christian meekness isn't a trump card for anyone. It would be nice if things were that black and white but Stowe certainly knew they aren't and I think she tries to show that. She demonstrates that the freedom of the slave is better, so those who are able to work towards that goal should be working towards it. Eliza was meek up to the point where she wouldn't be able to care for Harry. She then leaves her mistress and takes Harry and yet is a hero as well for doing so.

So, yes, Christian meekness is an important point and it is presented as such, at the same time relieving human suffering and slavery is even more important and is the whole point of the book.

I really think Tom is presented the way that he is in order to demonstrate to her readers (presumably people who think of themselves as 'good Christians') that Tom, a black slave, is a better Christian than they are. It's their very apathy that allows the institution of slavery and it took a character like Tom to help wake them up.

Kathy wrote: "I understand that this is a historically important novel. That is why I picked it up. But has it stood the test of time as a novel?"

I kind of thought it had until reading it with the group. I think it's a book that requires you to remove a lot of today's presuppositions and ideals in order to give it a fair shake. I don't think that's necessarily Stowe's fault because there is no way to know what society will be like 160 years later but I believe that's what detracts from the book causes it to be a book that holds its historical significance but is otherwise just a relic.

I do hope I'm saying that right. Personally I enjoy the story, this is my 2nd go through of it and part of my bingo challenge.


message 19: by Sara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara Hi all!

I read a couple of these comments before I had a chance to really dig into the story and I must admit that I was thinking, "Duh! Of COURSE there will be racism in this book...it IS about slavery!" HOWEVER, now that I'm into the book a bit, Melanti, I really do see what you are talking about!

Just comparing characters like Eliza and George to Sam or "Black Sam--as he was commonly called, from his being at least three shades blacker than any other son of ebony on the place..." (p.50). Sam is clearly portrayed as a goofy/simple-minded character and if HBS does this with all darker-skinned characters, I could see how it would get tiresome.

In spite of that, I'm REALLY enjoying this book so far!


message 20: by Sara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara One more thought: has anyone else seen similarities between Harriet Beecher Stowe's writing and Louisa May Alcott's writing? The style reminds me quite a bit of Little Women.


Melanti | 2383 comments A little.

They both were written by abolitionist women from New England, writing within a couple of decades of each other, so just from their similar life histories, it would make sense they seem reminiscent of each other.

There's definitely some similarities, but Alcott comes off as a kids' author, for me, where Stowe's writing is a lot more serious - long allegories, and such, which I've never seen Alcott use. (Not that I've read a ton of Alcott, so she may have used long allegories in other books.)


Mickey Melanti wrote: "Yes, Tom is darker skinned, and yes, Stowe turned him into the hero.

But he also passively accepted fate instead of trying to escape."


I think it's important to understanding HBS's point that readers look at how their own values might be warping the book for them.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin, the darkest skinned black people are not barred from attaining the highest spiritual goals. It has to do with the universality of Christianity. It's not a question of attributes (racial or individual) that makes someone valuable, and this is something that HBS shows again and again. She shows slaves who are superior to their masters, not because of money or power. She shows a spiritual realm in which masters are often bankrupt and slaves are often rich.

Our modern prejudices may cause us to elevate slaves who ran away, but that is a prejudice of ours and does not take into account that slaves had a variety of coping mechanisms, and it's difficult to say that one is "right" or "moral" and all others are wrong. This isn't something HBS put into her book, but something that we put into it. Those that ran away (and they exist, and Stowe has characters that do) are not morally superior to those who stay.

Think of it this way: Do we consider Martin Luther King Jr. as passively accepting his fate because he did not leave the U.S. and go to Canada or Africa? Why is Tom different? He also chose to stay in a society that was corrupt and work within it to change it. Remember how he refused to whip the slave girl? Yet it's amazing to me that we don't see this and just think of him as "passively accepting his fate".

Would we say this to Jews who had survived the concentration camps? There is a willful lack of understanding about how people are in such extreme situations. Being judgemental is generally considered a bad thing now, but that does not mean it is not done regularly.


Melanti | 2383 comments Mickey wrote: "Melanti wrote: "Yes, Tom is darker skinned, and yes, Stowe turned him into the hero.

But he also passively accepted fate instead of trying to escape."

I think it's important to understanding HBS'..."


Nothing about what I said had anything to do about morality.

I'm saying there's a marked difference in how Stowe portrays characters based on their skin color.


message 24: by Mickey (last edited Jul 13, 2016 05:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mickey Melanti wrote: "And it also stood out to me that Topsy was described as the darkest of her race. And, granted, she had a ton of street smarts - but except for Sambo and Quimbo - she's one of the least pliant and most resistant to Christianity."

It doesn't make sense to me that all the dark skinned slaves have to be shown as superior in order to prove Stowe isn't a racist. Topsy was actually one of my favorite characters. She is like Jo in Dickens's Bleak House (which I think is a reading choice this month). Both are characters that show the inhumanity of their positions because they are both totally ignorant of God. Such characters are supposed to outrage readers with the idea that there are people growing up in their society (this is a time when missionaries are often sent to far out places to tell people about God) with not the slightest inkling of God. It is not a judgement against them as children, but a judgement against the system as a whole that allows children to grow up in such conditions, and it was seen as such.

Topsy was never described as stupid. She was ignorant because of her circumstances, but she was described as learning quickly how to read. Her biggest hurdle was sewing, because she could not sit still.

Besides being delightfully entertaining, she functions as an indictment against slavery. The tendency to see her as a "less than" character simply because she isn't shown as uncommonly intelligent has to do with what we value in people, not Stowe making a dig at black people's intelligence or spirituality. Again, there are smart black people and spiritual black people in the story. Not every character has to be a symbol of their race's potential. That would be terrible writing.


Melanti | 2383 comments I think we're going back and forth with each of us making the exact same points over and over again.

I don't find endless arguing to be particularly fun, so I'll just bow out of the conversation now.

I hope everyone enjoys the book.


message 26: by Mickey (last edited Jul 13, 2016 06:05AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mickey Melanti wrote: "Nothing about what I said had anything to do about morality.

I'm saying there's a marked difference in how Stowe portrays characters based on their skin color. "


I don't think there is. The hero of the story is a dark skinned slave who achieved a Christ-like death. The focus on the different shades of black skin (something you're bringing into the story as evidence of racism) would likely not have entered Stowe's mind.

One of the ways that we have been taught to process literature is looking for racist or sexist passages or looking at characters as if they are emblems of their race or gender. This will warp books in such a way as to make an abolitionist's book against slavery be viewed as racist. This inability to see an author's intent clearly limits us in understanding books from different times because we will not (or maybe cannot) read it as it was intended. We spend our time looking for what shade a particular slave's skin is instead of looking at the institution of slavery and how it affects people (both white and black).


Mickey Melanti wrote: "I think we're going back and forth with each of us making the exact same points over and over again.

I don't find endless arguing to be particularly fun, so I'll just bow out of the conversation now.


I find talking about these things interesting. They help me clarify what I think and I like the challenge of expressing myself clearly. If you are finding the discussion tedious or repetitive, then you have every right to end it. Although I personally don't agree with your interpretation of the book, I enjoyed discussing it with you.


Mickey I was thinking over what I believe to be the problem with looking at this from the perspective of a race-based balancing act and how this conflicts fundamentally with the view of the author. In categorizing characters based upon their race, and even further upon the shade of their skin for black folks, there is a division that directly opposes what the author intended to unite, (and which, in her society, was not a foregone conclusion): the idea that all people regardless of station, status, and skin color have a divine spark that, if fed, allowed for the creation of a righteous life (which may seem like a worthless goal to anyone who is a strict materialist, but has been the life's work of many people). It's not about a race being intelligent or powerful enough to earn that aspect, but the inborn nature of every person regardless of personal or racial attributes. This would have resonated with a contemporary crowd (and by all accounts, did). That message is still explicitly there and resonates (the book reviews section shows this) today.

The idea of showing the races as equal in station and status (which is how many look at characterization of races in books today) would have been quite impossible at the time and could not have shown slavery, which would have defeated the author's intent: to show the degrading aspects of slavery on white and black alike.

To not be able to see this theme is to not understand the book and where it's coming from, which is a pity.


Mickey I looked this book up and was rereading some parts of it. I think one of the things that she did well was she did not portray the Northerners in such a fashion for them to feel complacent with their "correct" views on slavery. One of the people who were most changed in the story was Ophelia, who went from being an abolitionist who disliked and was prejudiced against blacks to someone who took a slave girl back with her to Vermont in order to liberate and continue to educate her. Right before St. Clare dies, they discuss the problems with Northern charity and the aftermath of emancipation.

Stowe seems to be saying that correct belief (believing in abolition) is not enough, but has to be followed by the feelings of love and kinship.


message 30: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3423 comments I absolutely loved the book. Stowe left no one in America off the hook for slavery. She used various forms of sarcasm and irony to forward her continuing theme that the nice "masters" were responsible for the brutal ones and for the slave trade because, had only the brutal one's existed, everyone would have been outraged and slavery would have been short lived. The so called nice ones still doomed their own slaves to the horror of being sold to brutal masters when they got in financial trouble or died.

I don't think Stowe was racist. The narrator was not her direct voice until the last chapter when she speaks in her own voice. The style is completely different than the rest of the book where the narrator takes on many roles and is often speaking ironically to an audience she knows to be racist. She taunts them with their prejudices. The narrator shifts from 3rd to 2nd person and also seems to take on the thoughts of different characters from time to time.

The irony is set up in the very first chapter where we are introduced to "A man of humanity" who is a slave trader and is obviously not a man of humanity. In an even more ironic twist, the so called gentleman (Mr. Shelby) sells a child away from his mother and a husband away from his wife and kids and can't be seen ultimately as man of humanity either.

When Stowe clearly addresses the audience as herself, in the last chapter. There, she goes on at length to scold the Northerners about their silence and how their racial stereotypes contribute to the problem. Here, all irony and sarcasm are removed. Now that the reader has seen the "unenterprising" types jump from ice patch to ice patch travel to Canada, make a safe good life there, but opt to move to France for the best education and then ultimately settle in Africa. Stowe herself lived in the same state all her life and never even visited the south so "unenterprising" would not be a pejorative if it were her thought but it is in the thoughts of others. Speaking as herself directly, she specifically says that she's witnessed first hand and heard many accounts how former slaves have every bit a strong enterprising spirit to learn as white people and can learn every bit as well if not even better.

She also explains how most of the characters in the book are based on real people that she knew or were known by personal friends. She said nothing about lighter skin being better in her direct scolding and appeal to the northerners in the end. The characters in the book reflected the racist attitudes of people at the time. The light skinned slaves were treated better and were more likely to get educated and kept in the house instead of the field etc... because of the racist slave owners. That has been well documented outside of this book. She used irony to show these northerners who agreed on this point of beauty & superior ability to show that they were mostly used as sex toys for the wicked if a woman, or beat down more for looking and therefore in the mind of a racist acting more white if a man.

Stowe was exposing all of the different racist thoughts as incorrect. They weren't her thoughts. In the book she clearly uses Ophelia and Topsy to dispel the dark skinned myth. Topsy was wild and wicked because she was raised without love, not because she was extra black. Once Topsy experiences the love of Eva she begins to change and once Ophelia drops her prejudice and loves her also, Topsy blossoms. Sambo and Quimbo and other plantation slaves become "barbarized" not because they are born that way but because they were beaten into submission and allowed no love or community of any kind for years upon years. The same would happen with people of any race. The extraordinary love and faith of Tom changes them.

Tom was the hero in that he changed so many people through his love and faith but not one slave who escaped was in any way looked down on for choosing the escape route and every person who aided in their escape was lauded for their ignoring of the law. Tom was held to be above white Christians, as they were the audience for book. No white person in the book was as righteous. Stowe showed that a person would have to be Christ-like to bear such continued Barbary and remain faithful and forgiving to the end knowing that not many in her audience could see this high character in themselves.

I can understand people being bothered by the religion if they aren't Christian. However as Christian, I still read books written from the point of view of other faiths and I'm not offended by their peaceful messages. Had Stowe been a Muslim or an atheist, lecturing the violent oppressors and or complacent people of her faith/beliefs, I can't imagine not liking it, but maybe I'd give it 3 or 4 stars instead of the 5 I'm giving it. I'd be happy that tolerance and love were getting a strong voice. I'm sure there are some Christian's who would be offended by a non Christian message just as some non Christians are here. It would be natural, especially if taken off guard. I had no idea that there was such a strong religious theme before I read the book. Maybe if one knows going in that this is a Christian plea to Christians they would see it differently.


Mickey Sue wrote: "I absolutely loved the book. Stowe left no one in America off the hook for slavery. She used various forms of sarcasm and irony to forward her continuing theme that the nice "masters" were responsi..."

Awesome post, Sue! I'm curious-was there a person or event from the book that really resonated with you?


message 32: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3423 comments Mickey wrote: "Sue wrote: "I absolutely loved the book. Stowe left no one in America off the hook for slavery. She used various forms of sarcasm and irony to forward her continuing theme that the nice "masters" w..."

I loved all the characters but aside from Uncle Tom, the Ophelia & Topsy characters were probably the most important for Northerners like myself. People in the North often absolve themselves from the scourge of slavery but Ophelia shows clearly how our ancestors contributed to the problem through silence, inaction and stereotypes.

St. Clare and his wife were also great characters and I loved that he, as the atheist/agnostic, was the much kinder one while she was a Christian in name only who was as morally bankrupt as Legree.

The event most important for me is when St Clare tells Uncle Tom that he has started the process of freeing him. It is at this point that we learn Tom is not okay with being a slave as may otherwise appear by his extreme good nature towards his captors and they towards him up to that point. This scene shows the reader that even the most well taken care of slaves would rather be poor and free.

What about for you Mickey?


Mickey What I liked most about it is probably the things that make it so characteristic of a 19th century novel. I enjoy the wide panorama. We get introduced to so many characters and places in this novel. We see so many situations. It feels very roomy in 19th century novels. One of the things that bothers me so much about the "stereotypes" charge is that there truly is a stunning variety of different kinds of people in here. It feels like an exhaustive look at slavery. I actually enjoy the aspect that so many other modern people have a problem with: the interjections of the author's opinion into the novel. I like for a novelist to tell me what they think of something. That's one of the reasons I love George Eliot so much. I also love a novel that can make me laugh and cry.

I liked Topsy the best. I loved her story and her fire. Ophelia was also a very interesting character, and I've stated, I liked how she wasn't portrayed as some upright individual who was correct in her ways. Stowe-being such a equal-opportunity scold to people-managed to write one of the most popular novels. That's surprising to me. St Clare could be funny, but there was something I didn't like about him. He could recognize hypocrisy easily enough, but he did nothing but laugh at it. Marie was a perfect beast of self pity. I think each character was finely drawn and their motivations were well explained. Stowe makes it easy to see how slavery corrupts people and society.

I was so surprised when I read this book. I had always heard how terrible it was. I read A Tale of Two Cities around the same time with the same reaction. How could anybody not love this? It's so epic!


message 34: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3423 comments Mickey wrote: "What I liked most about it is probably the things that make it so characteristic of a 19th century novel. I enjoy the wide panorama. We get introduced to so many characters and places in this novel..."

I loved all you speak of too. I was so surprised as well because I had negative connotations associated with it due to how "Uncle Tom" is used as a pejorative now. I would have thought the character was someone more like Sambo and Quimbo, not necessarily in their violence, but in the way they tried to keep their own people down in order to gain favor with their captors. A book about that type of person, made me uninterested, though any broad range of actions by such brutally treated captives could certainly be understood.

I loved how Stowe did not advocate that slaves should have been more like Tom. The escapees were celebrated to the point that even the white slave trader shot by George is also rescued by George's party. He ends up seeing the error of his ways through their love and kindness. That was another extremely important scene!

When Uncle Tom talks Cassy out of killing Legree, I think that could bother a lot of people, it bothered me because he deserved to die, I wanted him dead! But I'm sure this was the point in it because most all readers would have thought that too. How could one not? A slave who killed a white man at the time would have been hunted down and helped by no one. Here, they are forced to face that killing could have been justified. Choosing not to and instead coming up with a great escape plan caused Cassy to reach true freedom in all respects.

With St. Clare, though gentile and somewhat caring, he was recklessly lazy. Still, his philosophical discussions were so good at exposing Ophelia's bias and less overt racism as was common in the North.

I've never read any George Eliot. I'm so behind on reading classics. Your comments make me want to move up Middlemarch on my list. Too bad the group already read it.


message 35: by Pink (new) - rated it 1 star

Pink | 6554 comments So, I managed a total of 8 pages before I gave up. This book is not for me, at least not right now. I just don't want to read about such awful practices of slavery, I couldn't stomach it (and I've read a lot about slavery and slave narratives, as well as race issues through the civil rights era and today). I'm actually wondering how anyone get's through reading this for pleasure (not for study) while actively considering the issues being dealt with. I think perhaps I'm feeling it too sensitively right now, which I wasn't expecting at all. These are important issues to read about and racism is something that I think about a lot of the time, within my household and with the never-ending newsreels of racist attacks and hate crimes. Perhaps if I felt we'd moved on further as a society, or if I was less knowing, then I'd find it a fascinating read, but right now I just find it angering and tiring.

As for Stowe's writing itself, in the very small amount that I read, I quite liked her prose. I also liked what she was trying to do, highlighting and stopping an abhorrent practice. I've read a lot of praise and criticism of her work, both here and in articles discussing this book and even though she wasn't perfect in her views, she was certainly moving in the right direction. I think if I read the whole book I'd be frustrated by her moralising and religious tones and disappointed by her own racism, even though it was vastly better than most people of the time. Overwhelmingly though, I think I'd just be left feeling sad and angry over the racism and hatred of slavery. It's not the summer read that I need right now.


Nathan | 421 comments Pink wrote: "I'm actually wondering how anyone get's through reading this for pleasure (not for study)..."

The content was difficult, especially the breaking-up of families. I found it reassuring to know that, despite its flaws, Stowe's work has been a massive force of good. It gave the U.S. a hard shove in the back and forced a big step forward on the path toward equality.

It's sad how long and difficult the path has been and how much farther we have to go. Knowing that one voice can make a big difference makes it all a little easier to bear.


message 37: by Mickey (last edited Jul 24, 2016 05:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mickey It was written to be difficult. You are meant to feel crushed by what happens to these people. As far as the slaves go, you are meant to identify with their pain and despair. You are meant to see them as fully human: as a people and as individuals.

Everyone's gag reflexes are different. There's a violent rape scene in one of my favorite books from adolescence: The Women of Brewster Place (a book of stories about black women living in a certain rundown apartment complex, which, if I remember correctly, didn't touch on racism as a problem). I've read the rape scene exactly once, the first time I read the book and now I just skip it. It's a powerful and well-written scene but the feelings it evokes are just too raw and painful for me to want to enter into willingly multiple times. My sister has a problem with deviant sexual scenes. I loaned her the book The Red Tent and the biggest impression she has of it is about the bestiality that's mentioned. "Those poor sheep!" she told me, "Why would you give me this awful book!?". She had a similar reaction to Middlesex, too.

Honestly, I think it's important to expand your mind by not shying away from difficult (in the sense of emotionally painful) passages. I tend to consider it an impediment rather than a badge of honor to dislike a book, but I also think it's important to learn one's limitations (in a humble way) and respect them. Sometimes you start a book when you're not in the right place to receive it properly and it's best to discontinue the experience because you're the bad ingredient that's going to make the overall dish a failure.


message 38: by Loretta (new)

Loretta | 2670 comments Pink wrote: "So, I managed a total of 8 pages before I gave up. This book is not for me, at least not right now. I just don't want to read about such awful practices of slavery, I couldn't stomach it (and I've ..."

Yep. I couldn't get through it either Pink. I probably read a bit more than you Pink (not much more, trust me!) but I just couldn't continue. I don't think my personal goal to read more classics will be marred by not reading it! After all, there are just so many other classics out there to be read! :)


message 39: by Pink (new) - rated it 1 star

Pink | 6554 comments Mickey wrote: "Honestly, I think it's important to expand your mind by not shying away from difficult (in the sense of emotionally painful) passages..."

Yep, that's my usual opinion too, which is why I was surprised to feel this way about Uncle Toms Cabin. I'm not one to usually shy away from uncomfortable topics, indeed most of my reading is disturbing or depressing and I think we should all push ourselves to read outside of our comfort zone. I don't usually have a problem with reading about slavery either, in works of fiction, non-fiction or in slave narratives. So I didn't expect this to hit me quite so hard and find it too repugnant to read. I think this came from the first chapter holding a mirror up to slavery and describing what happened in normal everyday occurrences, not in a critical light, but as a simple matter of fact. Of course these are things that I know happened, but I didn't want to read about them for pleasure, at least not right now. To be honest this book probably hits a little too close to home for me, my family surname (through slavery) is St Clair, my children are 'quadroon' and so reading and thinking about how different their lives would have been 160 years ago just makes me want to scream and throw the book against the wall.


message 40: by Loretta (new)

Loretta | 2670 comments Pink wrote: "Mickey wrote: "Honestly, I think it's important to expand your mind by not shying away from difficult (in the sense of emotionally painful) passages..."

Yep, that's my usual opinion too, which is ..."


Well said Pink!


Mickey Pink wrote: "To be honest this book probably hits a little too close to home for me, my family surname (through slavery) is St Clair, my children are 'quadroon' and so reading and thinking about how different their lives would have been 160 years ago just makes me want to scream and throw the book against the wall."

That's the intended reaction no matter what your ancestry or race. Even if you are the most lily-white person, you should see your children in the book. I can't fault you for not wanting to "go there" emotionally (seeing as how I just admitted I do the same thing with a book I regularly reread), but it's certainly a mark of the power of the book that it hits that nerve so strongly. Perhaps you will come back to it later and you may be surprised that your reactions are different than you predicted they would be. Who knows?

Have you heard of all those studies lately about how reading novels in particular makes you more empathetic and open-minded? This is a perfect example of it. I can put myself into an experience that is not my own. You can do the same and we can be enriched by the experience.


message 42: by Pink (new) - rated it 1 star

Pink | 6554 comments Mickey, I think that we have much the same opinion of books and the importance of reading things that push your boundaries and keep you open minded.

Yes I think the intended reaction of Uncle Tom's Cabin is to make people feel uncomfortable, but I don't agree that everyone will have the same reaction to the book irrelevant of their skin tone. My reaction can only be my own, as someone who is privileged in having light skin tone, so as not to directly experience daily racism. Yet having direct and violent experiences of racism, both within my relationship and with my children. I would expect to have different experiences and reactions to slavery if I were black and I don't think that as a white person I can understand it in anything like the same way.

Of course I can empathise and put myself in the position of people different to myself, but there is a vast difference in imagining other scenarios and experiencing issues closer to home. I recently read Night which made me think of how harrowing it would be to lose your family in the holocaust and We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families that opened my eyes further to the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide and again made me contemplate dealing with mass genocide. Even though the issues I read in each of these books was more graphic and disturbing than the first chapter I read in Uncle Tom's Cabin, they were not as close to home and reminiscent of my personal experiences. Although again I'd point out that my experience as a white woman in England means that I come to this book with a different perspective than my daughter would as a mixed race woman or a black woman living in America would. It's a bit like me saying that I can empathise and understand the plight of holocaust survivors when I have no Jewish ancestry. It's just not the same at all. Of course we should all read about different experiences, but some will be more resonant than others. Like you've mentioned, some hit home in ways that are personal to yourself and so you have to be the judge of what is or isn't right for you.

As I've already mentioned, I don't shy away from reading about slavery or issues of racism. They're topics that I still find important to read about and contemplate, but for me that didn't work with Uncle Tom's Cabin. I read predominately for two reasons, to learn, or for pleasure and this satisfied neither of those requirements. If someone else enjoys the book, or learns something new, that's fantastic, but personally I'll be looking elsewhere in future.

I should point out that this isn't a criticism of the book, or of Stowe's writing. Quite the opposite, as she seems to write incredibly realistically about slavery and I actually enjoyed her prose. I can see why this book worked so well at the time and I'm glad that it's still read and studied today, as I think it should be. I think it holds an important place in the history of emancipation and it can also be studied in how well it's stood the test of time. If I were studying it, I think I'd love it, as it could raise endless debates, for and against it's merits, but I'm reading for personal enjoyment and this just isn't enjoyable.


message 43: by Mickey (last edited Jul 24, 2016 09:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mickey Seeing only through the eyes of race is a big problem in how we experience life. Books are a way in order to erode that limitation. To say, 'I cannot know what it is like to lose my family because I am not Jewish' is simply not true. To say, 'I can never experience racism because I am not black' is also untrue. You are emphasizing the division of people into races, which is something that Stowe did not do. She emphasized people's humanity and their capacity to share in the sorrow and terror and the pain of slavery as a slave through the power of empathy. Just think if a white woman read this book in the 1850's and said, "This has nothing to do with me, I'm white." You are supposed to relate to the characters and care about them, no matter what your (or their) skin color. All white people do not have a shared experience with racism. Your daughter will not have a "black" experience or a "white" experience" or a "mixed" experience. She will have her own individual experience and that may be vastly different than another girl's experience who has the same ancestry who lives down the street.

I'm using this quote a lot lately, but there's a fabulous quote in a book about reading by Pat Conroy called My Reading Life that goes:

“Here's what I love: when a great writer turns me into a Jew from Chicago, a lesbian out of South Carolina, or a black woman moving into a subway entrance in Harlem. Turn me into something else, writers of the world. Make me Muslim, heretic, hermaphrodite. Put me into a crusader's armor, a cardinal's vestments. Let me feel the pygmy's heartbeat, the queen's breast, the torturer's pleasure, the Nile's taste, or the nomad's thirst. Tell me everything that I must know. Hold nothing back.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe was never a slave or a slave owner. Tolstoy never lived through the Napoleonic Wars. Dostoyevsky never killed a pawn broker or his father. You don't have to write or read what you've experienced personally. You don't have to be stuck in the race, gender, era, religion, social status, country that you were born into and to stay stuck in the mentality of any of these factors is a choice.

I always like this quote from Roman times: I am a human; nothing human is alien to me.


message 44: by Mickey (last edited Jul 24, 2016 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mickey This example is going to be a little long-winded. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the Netflix documentary "Making a Murderer" which is about a white man who may or may not have been framed by the police in Wisconsin (maybe even twice!) There were two commentaries lately that interested me because they showed how much we tend to identify problems with other factors.

I watched a reaction video from a black man who said something like, "My first reaction to hearing about this case was 'Welcome to my world',"(presumably talking about police harassment and injustice in the criminal system), so he identifies such problems as 'belonging' to blacks, to the point of wondering, "Does this man have some black in him?" because it was difficult to identify something he had previously considered as a black problem with a white victim.

Relating to the same case, I recently commented on a book review comment on the West Memphis Three case (three white teenagers were tried and convicted of murdering three eight-year-olds in a Satanic ritual in Arkansas, it's a very celebrated case of wrongful conviction), but this comment said something like, 'I don't know why anyone would want to live in the South, if things like this happen. It's all just Deliverance with banjos.' or something. I commented that miscarriages of justice don't only happen in the South, look at the young black teens who were wrongfully convicted of raping the Central Park jogger in New York or the Wisconsin case from "Making a Murderer".

It might be a natural tendency to pair factors like geography and race with topics like police brutality or miscarriages of justice. Perhaps as a way to help ourselves feel safe (that doesn't happen in my community!) or maybe as just a way to make logical patterns out of what can often seem like chaos. But it also limits it in the mind as being the topic for a given set of people. I think books (particularly unsettling books) can help people see beyond their neat categorizations, which is a good thing.


message 45: by Kathleen (new) - added it

Kathleen | 4210 comments Pink wrote: "So, I managed a total of 8 pages before I gave up. This book is not for me, at least not right now. I just don't want to read about such awful practices of slavery, I couldn't stomach it (and I've ..."

So nicely said, Pink. I appreciate you sharing your personal connection to the story—I can only imagine the frustration this must have given you. You’ve eased my mind about my own decision to put this aside, and at the same time inspired me to go back to it one day.


Mickey Pink wrote: "It's a bit like me saying that I can empathise and understand the plight of holocaust survivors when I have no Jewish ancestry. It's just not the same at all."

Do you really think Jewish ancestry would mean that a person would be able to empathize and understand the plight of holocaust survivors more readily? Would not, say, the Rwandan survivors have more personally shared experiences?

I've met an American Jew whose grandmother or great-grandmother was in a concentration camp during WWII and lived with him growing up, but it's also possible, even likely, that a Jew could have no extra, more personal contact with a concentration camp survivor than any other non-Jewish American. What would cause him to have any special insight into the holocaust? Would he necessarily feel it more keenly than a goy who reads Night? I'm not convinced.

Does a black person living now have a special insight into slavery? Or would that go to people who have experienced slavery personally (the only instance I know of in modern times had to do with a series of articles in Baltimore in the '90s about African Christians being slaves)?

I can see a case being made for racism or anti-Semitism that has been experienced by someone directly, but the idea that a religion or a race makes you particularly knowledgeable about a social problem is a dangerous simplification. Genocide is not unique to one group. Exploitation is not unique to one group. To teach people that this is so and to say that no one outside the group can understand or empathize is damaging.


message 47: by Pink (new) - rated it 1 star

Pink | 6554 comments Hhm, I don't really have anything else to add than what I wrote in my post above. I'd just be repeating myself.


message 48: by Mickey (last edited Jul 24, 2016 11:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mickey I think that some of the problems with reading any book "critically" has to do with the problem of distancing oneself emotionally from the story. To bother with whether a person is light skinned or dark skinned is looking very superficially at what is going on with that character.

Perhaps that's part of the reason why there's been such trouble with this book as opposed to others that have been read. Perhaps it's a defense mechanism to the sad situation or maybe it has to do with some misguided idea that 'I shouldn't feel for this character if I am not of the same race.' But the feeling is such a huge part of the point, as is the religion. If you cannot suspend your own thoughts and prejudices against Christianity, if the most empathetic default mode you can go into is ignoring it, you will lose out on so much of the book and that's the reader's loss, not the book's.

Whether the book has stood the test of time or not isn't really a question for everyone to answer in one voice. It's a question for anyone who reads it. I've read it, and I have to say that its magic is still there. I have a feeling that the way that we are encouraged to read it (whether races are shown as equal or not and silence being the best defense against a charge of racism), will probably itself not stand the test of time.


Mickey Pink wrote: "Hhm, I don't really have anything else to add than what I wrote in my post above. I'd just be repeating myself."

No worries, Pink.


message 50: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3423 comments Pink wrote: "So, I managed a total of 8 pages before I gave up. This book is not for me, at least not right now. I just don't want to read about such awful practices of slavery, I couldn't stomach it (and I've ..."

I know how you feel Pink. I never had any interest in reading this book but decided to go outside my comfort zone for this group. I'm so glad I did, but I wouldn't necessary recommend it to everyone, especially seeing how some people take it. I saw it ultimately as a love story. It's about how caring isn't enough, it takes love to conquer evil. It would be worth it to try again some day, but still, no guarantee you'd take it as I did.


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