Monday, April 6, 2009

Apparently I'm Not Very Good At This Job

You all have my apologies.  I don't usually do blog posts on Sundays and totally spaced off that yesterday was the 5th.  And as of the moment I don't have my review typed up yet.  

Please feel free to start leaving your comments on Uncle Tom's Cabin and I will ad my thoughts to yours in the comments.

(And don't forget to vote for May's book in the side bar.)


Mr. Mordecai said...

Until this month, my only exposure to Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the mini-play inside of The King and I. I hadn't expected the two to be identical, but I was still surprised at just how different they actually are.

I really enjoyed reading the book. I thought it was extremely well written, and I enjoyed the pious tone with which Mrs. Stowe wrote. I was also impressed that she was just as willing to point out the faults of those in the north as well as those in the south.

One of the things that made me think the most from the book was St. Claire's comments directed towards Miss Ophelia, pointing out that we are nearly always willing to send others away to tackle life's great problems, and honor and support them in their efforts, but that we shun the opportunity to make the same changes at home. It made me wonder how many things I could be doing better at.

I must admit, that I had a hard time predicting what would happen to Eliza, George and Uncle Tom. It always seemed that things were just within the reach of turning out differently. Especially with Uncle Tom, it was easy to hope that with all the references to his wife, family, and the varied efforts of others to free and retrieve him that things would have ended better for him.

But - in retrospect, I don't think there could have been any better way for the book to take its course. In light of the fact that Mrs. Stowe was writing with a particular motive in mind, it only stands to reason that those who fled north should succeed, while those sent to the south would perish.

Would you be willing to risk your reputation, face fees, etc. to help a slave? Probably not, if you had no hope of it doing any good. If Mrs. Stowe could instill in people's heart's, though, that helping people fleeing to the north actually did immeasurable amounts of good, they might think harder about making those tough choices.

Likewise, although it's frustrating to see Tom's fate, it also seems only appropriate for the book to show the cruelty of southern slavery in its most extreme sense. If Tom had eventually been returned home, it could just as easily be argued by proponents of slavery that "even in that Cabin book, things turn out right in the end. There's no harm, after all, in sending slaves down south. It'll all work out."

I thought the references to the pain and hopelessness involved in slave families was extremely well done. It's heartbreaking to think of all the things that happened. I also really appreciated the demonstration of just how damaging it could be for slaves to lose their masters, either through death or unexpected financial hardship.

I couldn't help but think as I read that it must have been challenging for slaves to find motivation to truly be the best they could be. After all, the more exceptional their nature, the more valuable they became and the harder it would eventually be to secure their own freedom. It almost seems that, in a way, slavery motivated people toward complacent mediocrity (like many of the slaves on Legree's plantation). It was certainly detrimental to misbehave, but there wasn't really any good motivation to excel either. (George's case is a good example.)

It was also really interesting to read and think about the lengths at which people went to control the education of slaves on the whole. I always have, and continue to wholeheartedly believe that education is one of the greatest blessings that people can have, and that it makes a bigger difference in people's lives than nearly anything else.

Finally, I must admit that as I read, I couldn't help but notice little snippets here and there -- shadows almost -- indicating that even Mrs. Stowe still had a long way to go with regard to treating African Americans with true equality. It's a bit telling to read her commentaries regarding 'that humble, impressionable race,' and think that although she was quite obviously ahead of her time, there were still many hurdles to achieving true equality.

And, as I consider my own emotions and feelings of insecurity as I've found myself in the wrong part of town in Oakland and elsewhere, I wonder how much more progress there still is to make.

Anonymous said...

Tom died beacse he was a slave and the other slaves ran away. Tom refused to tell his master where they were, so the master whiped him very hard and that's how Tom died.Tom was good about protecting the other slaves beacause he loves Jesus.The master should not have whipped him at all.
love,Hannah McCarty

PS. Hannah is my daughter, just turned 8 years old. She really wanted to write this, so here you have it.
Thank you

Sharon in KY said...

All I can say is “Wow!” I had heard of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and I knew it was considered a “classic” but I had no idea what it was about. I was even surprised to find that the archetypal villain, Simon Legree, had his origins in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

I was bowled over with the fullness of faith in God, the Bible, and a coming Judgment in this book. When written these were accepted beliefs and valid arguments against slavery. How sad that today these arguments would not be considered valid at all. Should slavery have persisted in this country to the present day, how could we ever extricate ourselves from it? I mean, legally, unborn children are killed at their mother’s request. How much do we really value life as a nation?

Since Stowe wrote from a belief in God, she had to explain where God was in the lives of the slaves. If the slaves were indeed equals, possessing the same souls and emotions and desires as their masters, then why did God allow such inequality and cruelty to exist? The whole book seems to me her answer to the age-old “problem of evil, pain, and suffering”. I think she answered this beautifully throughout Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and especially in Simeon’s words to George – “If this world were all, George, thee might, indeed, ask, where is the Lord? But it is often those who have least of all in this life whom he chooseth for the kingdom. Put thy trust in him, and, no matter what befalls thee here, he will make all right hereafter.” Even in Tom’s horrible physical end, Stowe portrays incredible spiritual victory in Jesus.

I loved the fullness of Stowe’s characters. Tom is a Christ-like character who gives his life that others might live, but he does struggle and we agonize with him and wonder how he will endure in his faith in the midst of such despair. I loved Mrs. Shelby. She tries to be the godly “mistress” of her slaves’ lives and souls but she is as controlled by the system of slavery as the slaves. Young George Shelby embodies all that Stowe hoped for in the male readers of her book, especially those of the next generation of leaders, that they too would vow to do “what one man can to drive out this curse of slavery.” Miss Ophelia would be a bit intimidating to meet I believe, but very admirable as well. She gives advice like strong medicine but she is willing to receive and seriously consider advice as well. I suppose she is the embodiment of all that Stowe hoped for in the female readers of her book, that they would accept the responsibility for the education and integration into society of the freed slaves. And I liked Miss Ophelia’s expressive knitting! Marie St. Clare was a full character too. I wanted to strangle her but partly because I saw, in exaggerated measure, my own selfishness, my own blindness to others as my little world revolves only around my precious self. UGH!!

The worship scene in Uncle Tom’s cabin made me think of the 1st-Century church as they gathered in homes and each person had the opportunity to participate. The picture of faith clapping, crying and rejoicing in its taste of glory made me hungry to taste too. I love imagining the exhortations, the relating of experiences, the singing, the Bible reading, and the humble prayers of a Tom. Indeed, another favorite scene for me is when Mr. St. Clare overhears Tom praying for him.

I haven’t yet reread the Introduction to my Barnes and Noble Classics edition but I recall that Leo Tolstoy was a fan of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. One reason I’m sure is that Stowe is looking at this problem of the privileged and their dependence on and their responsibility toward the under-privileged. In Anna Karenina Tolstoy considers these same dependence/responsibility problems of the wealthy Russian land owners toward the peasants who work their land. Not exactly slaves yet very nearly. Tolstoy as a young man set up a school on his estate for the education of any peasants who wanted to attend. He knew, as Stowe did, that an uneducated person who had always been a dependent needed a lot of personal attention to become a productive free citizen.

All through Uncle Tom’s Cabin I was appalled by the conversations referring to the slaves as “stock” or “cargo” or “property” and their emotions as inconveniences to be managed. And I am sickened to have to admit that such conversations still exist in the world. Children, girls especially, are stolen or even purchased from their parents as so much property to be used up in pleasuring perverted men. I weep for all that was and all that still is.

Stowe’s message is still timely. I question and reproach myself – Would I have spoken against slavery? Would I have defended human life? Well, how much do I do to prevent abortions? Do I ever offer to help a pregnant teenager? How hard have I worked or prayed even for the poor of the world? The poor are the ones most vulnerable to enslavement.

I did a little on-line research and through found a top-rated charity called Free the Slaves. I visited their website at Did you have any idea that there are 27 million slaves in the world today and some of them are in the United States?! From their website: “Free the Slaves works on the ground with liberators around the world. We do what it takes to free men, women and children and help them stay free. Basic needs for food, shelter and safety from angry slave owners must be met. Then the system that allows slavery to flourish has to be dismantled and another created by former slavers learning to live in freedom.”

I am going to sign up for Free the Slaves emails and use them as reminders to pray for the poor and the enslaved and for the end of slavery. I also plan to support Free the Slaves financially. Mr. St. Clare could rightfully reproach me for “getting up a society” and sending some poor missionary out to do what I’m not willing to do myself. I’m tossing money at a cause but not lifting a finger myself. Like Mrs. Shelby I cry out “Lord, forgive us!”

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this book, and it has become a classic to me. I have written down comments on a lot of passages, and I like to go through them again and again. Tom's faith is like that of the first century christian: persecution purified it and gave it strenght. To do it otherwise would mean to loose hope.There was none left on earth: nowhere to lay your eyes upon but above. From this point and on, you no longer fear for your body or posessions, or relationship ties, other than their salvation; you KNOW that the Lord is near. Stowe's insight on what Africa would be like if it was free is based on the christian-like character she atributes to the race (page 177, "gentleness, their lowly docility of heart, their aptitude to repose on a superior mind and rest on a higher power, their childlike simplicity of affection and facility of forgiveness..." Well, we all know how Africa is 160 years later. There is poverty beyond comparison, civil wars, tirany, racial segregation, epidemic deseases, and so forth. I have to say that we had slavery in my country also, and the quadroons were quite a trade in itself. Brazil was colonized inicially by the worst class of Portuguese people (the scam, really: murderers, thiefs, prisioners sent off to finish their sentences in the new colony. Of course they needed slaves, and tried the native indians, but they were very hard to enslave; the African black was easier, more DOCILE (word and explanation found in our history text books, elementary level). Well, the colony also had a jesuitic education, wich led to not a true christian religion, but a mix of catholicism and african religion (it was easier to convert them by accepting their gods and giving them christian names).So, what we find today in Brazil almost daily in hundreds of corners of roads,is the "works" (chicken heads, blood, a bottle of some alcoholic beverage, is an example),that invocate some favor from some entity, or even more commonly, desaster over an enemy's head (like a boss, a rival, etc). Not to mention an infinity of rituals, shell readings ("buzios", to tell the future and make decisions), etc. These things are so impermeated in all levels of the Brazilian society, that the liders pay enormous amount of money in orther to get some special favor or to acomplish some evil desire, like to be elected for a certain position, or destroy a political rival. It is common knowledge that these things came from the african slaves. If that is so, christianity entered the hearts of the American slaves through the well planted seeds of the word of God, sowed by American true and fervent christians. How much do we know about their work? I know there were a lot of strong christians who lived quiet lives in this country (quiet but active) who did the work of God, that we don't know about, but they were there, or this Nation would not have grown to the power that it is today. I hope that I might get to be as strong as they were, so I can help to keep this country from going too deep down into atheism and immorality. Thank you, Harriet Stowe, for Tom, and for Ms. Ophelia (my second favorite character).

Shimmy Mom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shimmy Mom said...

Oh, the tears I have shed this last month!
Like most of you, I had heard of Uncle Tom's Cabin, but I hadn't read it, in fact I didn't know what it was about. I only knew that I had a sister-in-law say a few months ago that she had recently re-read it and she had remembered how important it was.
Oh what an understatement I ended up feeling that was. As a homeschool mom, I was constantly realizing, "my kids need to know this". Growing up in a time and age that we do know, they have NO concept on what slavery really was/is and that it still exsists in the world. At least parts of this book will be part of our curriculum in the coming year.

I did love the religious tone of this book. What an example Tom became to me. I too felt that it was very well written. I love how Stowe was able to make us love all the characters that had any good in them. (Tom, Ophelia, Eva, Emmeline, Cassy, St. Clare, the Senator's Wife, The Shelby's and the Quakers) even though they were not perfect. She pointed out the flaws of the thinking of St. Clare and Ophelia and made me understand the feelings of those like Prue, Topsy and Cassy. While I strive to emmulate Tom's character, I couldn't help but feel for and understand the others wanting to give up. The story of the baby being sold and the mother jumping over board absolutely broke my heart. And the opposite is true. I truly despised the Traders, Legree, and Marie. Like Sharon, I wanted to reach into the book and SMACK her a few times.

On a personal note, one quote that really stuck out to me was: " Obeying God never brings on public evils." (Said by the Senators wife, when he says it's now illegal to help a run away.) I think that is very true. Am I doing all that I can do and what I know is right? Or do I care more about getting into "trouble" with other people and affecting what they think of me.

I too was often questioning myself as to what I would do if I had lived in that time, or in those situations. And I think it would have been a combination of characters. But I am definitely striving to be a Tom now.

I also did like how she managed to prove her point, (which I don't know if she could have done without killing our favorite character) and yet still gave us a "happy ending." When all the characters ended up coming together in the end. The rest escaping and being re-united with families they never thought they'd see again did make me rejoice and I realized that some of it never would have happened without Tom's sacrifice. Everything really does happen for a reason and sometimes we don't see God's designs until the work is accomplished.

I was also very struck by the story of Eva. Oh my little angel Eva. How I loved her character. Many times while reading of her I thought, "Only those who liken themselves to little children shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Sometimes I think we get a glimpse of what is meant by that. It takes being truly humble, caring, affectionate, and loving.

From all I learned spiritually from this story, it did succeed in making me very angry as well. I still do not understand how people could be so cruel to other human beings or have such prejudices. I agree with Mrs. Mordecai, there were even statements in the book from the author herself or from 'good characters' that proved there was still improving to be done and unfortunately I realize that there is STILL improving that needs to be done, all over the world. I hope that I can raise my children to be Georges.

Thank you all for your comments. (even you Hannah, welcome to the group!) I think that we have all taken a lot away from this book and it feels good to feel like I have been bettered.

Anonymous said...

There is so much that I could comment on Uncle Tom's Cabin. I love what Stowe said about how much should be said about the beauty of an older woman. It is true! I have so many questions in storage for when I meet an older woman that is wise and experienced in love and patience!
And what about the touch of love that transformed Topsy? Ms. Ophelia's righteousness would lead her nowhere with Topsy, without love. Just a sense of duty and fairness would not cut it! And what about the prejudice the slaves had against themselves? The ones that worked on the plantations versus the ones at the masters's houses? The lighter skin ones versus the darker ones? The idea the a mistress that worked was not a refined one? Even Aunt Chloe did not want Mrs Shelby to go "as low" as working as a piano teacher (I might not be recolecting this correctly). Slavery did more than just harm the body and humiliate the spirit; it wharpt the very sense of been a human been, the sense of equality, of been all the creation of God.
I apologize for my spelling, I cannot use a speller on this, and I've been to busy lately to check it on my dictionary. I'll try to do better! Also, sorry for quoting a passage on an earlier comment, giving a page number. I realize each one might be reading from a diferent publisher! I was not thinking very clearly that late in the night.
Thank you every one!