Throughout history, few books have garnered more controversy than Harriet Beecher Stowe’s UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. When he met Mrs. Stowe in 1861, President Lincoln proclaimed, “So you’re the little woman that wrote the book started this great war.” That may be a bit of an overstatement, but the book certainly had enormous social and political consequences.
In the social structure that has evolved since the emancipation of slaves in this country, few labels have a more derogatory intent to the black person than being called an “Uncle Tom”. We hear it repeatedly used to indicate a black person who chooses not to follow in lockstep with the direction of radical black anarchist leaders. For the life of me, I can’t grasp that concept. What greater compliment than to be referred to as a man who faced such immense adversity yet who remained steadfast in his faith.
I realize the argument is that Tom did as he was told and refused to stand up for himself, but that argument only portrays the shallowness of a society that has been more and more anti-Christian as time goes by. Those who would make that argument fail to see the strength and courage it takes for a true Christian to resist temptation and consistently put personal challenge into the Lord’s hands.
This book, today, receives a tremendous amount of criticism for Stowe’s constant Christian “preaching” throughout the book. Stowe, born in 1811, is of the founding daughter generation. Her strong portrayal of Christian virtue is yet another reminder that America was founded on Christian principles. People today, in our society where Christianity is under constant criticism, hate to admit that America once was, and was intended to be, a Christian nation. At the time of its publishing, Stowe’s work was criticized for being biased towards anti-slavery, but was never criticized for its expression of Christian virtues.
For me, and I’m sure others, the book does have one great flaw. Mrs. Stowe was well-known for accurately depicting the vernacular of a particular region. While that may add authenticity to a story, it also creates a painfully tedious read. That is the case here. This is not a book that most people could pick up and read at once. For me, it was a long daily process of 10-20 pages at a time.
Here is an example of what I’m referring to; “I’m thinkin’ my old man won’t know de boys and de baby. Lor’! she’s de biggest gal, now, -good she is, too, and peart, Polly is. She’s out to the house, now, watchin’ de hoe-cake. I’s got jist de very patern my old man liked so much a bakin’. Jist sich as I gin him the mornin’ he was took off. Lord bless us! How I felt, dat ar mornin’!”
I’m sure there are readers who appreciate such authenticity, but for me, and I’m sure untold masses of high-school students who once found this on their “required reading” list, that is just plain tedious. My only other knock on the book is the “happily ever after” ending which Stowe gave to several of the main characters. For those once trapped in the bondage of slavery, I don’t believe too many of them lived out that kind of scenario.
That said, if you’ve not read this book, do so. Find a way struggle through it. Stowe gives portrayals of both sides of the slavery coin. By that I mean, she managed to portray that many slave owners considered their slaves as family members and treated them with respect and kindness, while there were also other owners who viewed slaves as mere possessions to be abused and defiled.
This book may not have started the Civil War, but it most certainly had a profound effect upon society like few books in history have ever had. That fact, in and of itself, makes this book a must read for everyone.