Social Protest in Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

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Uncle Tom's Cabin as Social Protest

Even today, with literature constantly crossing more lines and becoming more shocking, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin remains one of the most scandalous, controversial, and powerful literary works ever spilled onto a set of blank pages. Not only does this novel examine the attitudes of white nineteenth-century society toward slavery, but it introduces us to the hearts, minds and souls of several remarkable and unprecedented characters.

In a time when it was quite common for a black woman to see almost all of her children die, Harriet Beecher Stowe created Eliza; a strong and powerful woman fleeing slavery and risking everything to protect her son.

In Chapter Seven, we see through Eliza's eyes, just how painful and heart wrenching her personal sacrifices are to her.

"It is impossible to conceive of a human creature more wholly desolate and forlorn than Eliza, when she turned her footsteps from Uncle Tom's cabin. Her husband's suffering and dangers, and the danger of her child, all blended in her mind, with a confused and stunning sense of the risk she was running, in leaving the only home she had ever known, and cutting loose from the protection of a friend whom she loved and revered. "

Statements like this were not simply crafted to enhance character development; they were created in an attempt to make whites see slaves as mothers, fathers, Christians, and most of all...people. The character of Tom is described as "a man of humanity" certainly not a description commonly linked to black people at that time.

Tom was truly the first black hero in American fiction. However, Stowe based many of her assessments on her own reality. And while it is obvious that she very much advocated the abolition of slavery, she did not completely rise above her own racism. After all, this work was written during a time in which racial equality was incomprehensible to most whites. Therefore Stowe's ingrained prejudices were bound to seep out occasionally, despite her positive convictions.

There is a section in Chapter 30 which reads as follows:

"Ah, ha! that's right. Go it, boys, -- go it!" said Mr. Skeggs, the keeper. "My people are always so merry! Sambo, I see!" he said, speaking approvingly to a burly negro who was performing tricks of low buffoonery, which occasioned the shouts which Tom had heard.
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