The Strength of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Strength of Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

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The Power of Uncle Tom’s Cabin  


Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, has had a tremendous impact on American culture, both then and now.  It is still considered a controversial novel, and many secondary schools have banned it from their libraries.  What makes it such a controversial novel?  One reason would have been that the novel is full of melodrama, and many people considered it a caricature of the truth.  Others said that she did not show the horror of slavery enough, that she showed the softer side of it throughout most of her novel.  Regardless of the varying opinions of its readers, it is obvious that its impact was large.

      For instance many of the characters in the book have become the stereotypes of slavery in the South.  An example of this is Uncle Tom himself, whose name was eventually degraded into a nickname for blacks who were too subservient to whites.  He became the stereotype of the passive slave who would do anything his master told him, because it was his duty as a slave.  However few remember how the strength of his faith was what allowed him to tolerate the horrors that were enacted upon him. 

      Another example of the stereotyping of Stowe’s characters is Aunt Chloe, Uncle Tom’s wife, and her children.  Aunt Chloe is an excellent example because she has become the “Aunt Jemima” stereotype.  She had a “round, black, shining face” and wore a checkered headscarf, and she worked in the kitchen, took care of the kitchen, and basically ran the household.  Not to mention for many years black children were still stereotyped as mischievous like Mose, Pete, and, later in the novel, Topsy. 

     Even the slave owners and traders are stereotypes now.  Mr. Shelby and his wife have become the “gentlemen and lady” slave holders, who see themselves as good Christian people and attempt to take good care of their slaves, but still don’t see black people as equal to whites.  Simon Legree has become the stereotypical cruel master, who let his estate go to hell, but continued to work his slaves too hard and beat them senseless (or, in Tom’s and other’s cases, to death) when they did not behave as he thought they should. 

      However there are other ways this novel has been influential to American culture.  After its publishing it helped spread the ideas of the abolitionist movement.

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  Though some thought the book was to soft, it still brought to light some of the horrors of slavery, and the hypocritical Christian ideology of the South. The fact that this novel is written using Christianity and what makes a “good” Christian is versus what makes a “bad,” or hypocritical, Christian, shows that the much of America has moved away from the Deist movement of the 18th century.

     It is a return to a more puritanical Christianity.  For while God is still a more distant, and kinder, figure than his was in the Puritans’ world, he is once more involved in the daily lives of people.  This novel shows the beginnings of what many of today’s churches believe that God is always present in the lives of his children and he helps people out in mysterious ways.  An example of this in the novel is Eliza’s crossing of the Ohio River.  Sam, one of the slaves who was “helping” Mr. Haley catch Eliza, told his Mrs. Shelby that it was only with God’s help that she could have made it across the river by jumping on the ice flows.

     Though it is a novel full of melodrama, it is also a moving novel that has had a profound effect on American culture.  It is also a novel that has mirrored some of the changes in American culture, such as the slowly changing views of Christianity.  The abolitionist movement, and those who the movement was trying to convince, profoundly felt the novel’s impact.  Its message is still important, or there would not be arguments over whether the book should be required reading, or whether the book should be in the school libraries at all.  This book, along with such novels as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  by Mark Twain, will always be important as long as there are people who believe that its message is not only irrelevant but that it should be banned from libraries, or even burned.  And so Harriet Beecher Stowe has managed to influence American culture and society more than 100 years after Uncle Tom’s Cabin  was published.
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