Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Stowe’s book was a primary source, specifically a book that created new emotions in the minds of the North—emotions contrary to what they have heard and believed. Embodied with abolition views, her book gave the unwavering effect of the malice of slavery causing the diction to encompass biases, sometimes exaggerated, against the South. Purpose: Stowe was writing this document as a response to the country’s ignorance of the morally corrupt side of slavery, and to be directed mainly at the North. She provides very detailed accounts of life as a slave working under Legree—the despicable, southern plantation owner.
When Tom, the main character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, professed his unwillingness to beat his fellow slaves, Legree’s anger represents the epitome of dehumanizing torture to black slaves as a whole, and all of this is captured by Stowe’s emotional writing: “. . . ‘An’t I yer masters’? Didn’t I pay down twelve hundred dollars, cash, for all there is inside yer old cussed black shell? An’t yer mine, now, body and soul? ’ he said, giving Tom a violent kick with his heavy boot; ‘tell me! ’ ’No! no! no! my soul an’t yours, Mas’r! You haven’t bought it, — ye can’t buy it!
It’s been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it; — no matter, no matter, you can’t harm me! ’ ‘I can’t! ’ said Legree, with a sneer; ‘we’ll see, — we’ll see! Here, Sambo, Quimbo, give this dog such a breakin’ in as he won’t get over, this month! ’” This act of slave resistance made an impact in the South that is not surprising but rather a desirable response in all the minds that read Stowe’s book. Along with her desire to educate the public, Stowe wanted to establish the priority that some action must be taken to end this suffering.
Stowe also added another purpose in the novel through religious morals and Biblical allusions: “. . . ‘my soul an’t yours, Mas’r! You haven’t bought it – ye can’t buy it! It’s been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it’. . . ” Tom is speaking to Legree here referring the “one that is able to keep it” as God. It also shows that Legree cannot force them against their will even with obsessive abuse, physically and mentally with dehumanizing names such as ‘dog’, ‘critter’, and ‘beast’. This instance of slave resistance shows that slaves should remain strong in hope for the day slavery will be banned. Value:
The novel of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was historic in the sense that it trumped almost every idea about slavery. It was the best-selling novel of the 19th century, after the Bible, and gave support to the abolitionist’s cause in the 1850s (300,000 copies were sold in the US; one million copies, in Great Britain). It had such an impact that when she met with Abraham Lincoln, even the President of the United States was impacted and basically said to her that she is the little lady who started this Great War. After Lincoln’s words were made public, the novel had become out of print for many years causing Jewitt to go out of business.
Until Ticknor and Fields put the work back into print in 1862, the book lost all of its demand. It not only was poignant in our hearts but also inspirational. Stowe’s book was the basis for several other anti-slavery novels, plays, or simply the countless newspaper editorials. It is obvious to historians that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one of the most influential pieces of literature in the United States and was a landmark for the abolitionist’s cause that establishes how terrible slavery was in great detail by giving a perspective inside the corrupt system. Limitations:
The limiting factors of this novel as a historical source are the biases within the perspective, stereotypes popularized from this story, and exaggerative writing that instigates the pro-slavery responses to Stowe’s novel. Historians must take into account that this work is completely fictional and is only one response from an woman overcome with anger. Provoked by the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law prohibiting the aid to runaway slaves, Stowe takes her anger out on the South by the power of the pen. She writes the novel as fiction, but still brings across the possibility that slavery isn’t as cracked up as it used to be. Mammy”, “pickaninny”, and “Uncle Tom” are all stereotypes that were brought on by slavery. Each derogatory term relates to a specific category but they all have one requisite feature in common—black skin colored and enslaved by a white master. Some views on this piece of literature say that Stowe exaggerated slave life and that not all masters are cruel and oblivious to the human condition. Though 90% of the black population was enslaved, this argument makes a reasonable proposition, because many slaves were not treated badly as others.
A large number of slaves were bought to oversee for their master or even to protect their master, and some slaves were able to purchase their freedom with money they made from a special skill, even then, those slaves returned profits to their original masters after they were free. The status of Americans directly correlated by birthplace; therefore, Stowe’s novel provided a view of slavery that cannot pertain to it as a whole, but only one aspect. Yes, it was extremely impactful. No, it cannot be a historical source to represent slavery wholly.