Uncle Tom’s Cabin, also called Life Among the Lowly, was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is a realistic, although fictional view of slavery. The main characters in this story are Uncle Tom, Eliza and George Harris. Uncle Tom is a pious, trustworthy, slave. He never wrongs anyone and always obeys his master. A very spiritual person, Uncle Tom tries his best to obey the Bible and to do what is right. Eliza is a beautiful slave owned by George Shelby, Sr. , the same person who initially owns Tom. Eliza has a son, Harry. Eliza’s husband, George Harris, lives on a nearby plantation.
George is a brilliant man, and invented a machine that was used in the factory he works in. His owner became jealous and demoted George from his factory job to doing hard labor on the plantation. This story takes place throughout the states of Kentucky and Mississippi. Chapters 1-5 Because his Kentucky plantation was overwhelmed by debt, George Shelby, Sr. makes plans to trade some slaves to a slave dealer named Haley in exchange for debts being canceled. The dealer selects Uncle Tom as payment for the debt. While the two are discussing the possible transaction, Eliza’s son, Harry, comes rushing into the room.
Haley decides he wants to take Harry also, but Shelby refuses to part with the child. Eliza, overhearing part of the conversation, is frightened and confides her fears to her husband, George Harris. The fact that George’s owner is mistreating him, combined with a possible sale of his son persuades George to begin planning to run away. After inferring from an overheard conversation between Mr. & Mrs. Shelby that they are indeed going to sell Harry and Uncle Tom, Eliza warns Tom and she runs away. Chapters 6-15 Eliza is able to cross the Ohio River and get to a safe place before Haley’s two hired slave-catchers can catch up with her.
Although he was warned, Uncle Tom stays on the plantation, leaving it up to God to protect him. At the same time, George Harris begins his escape. Disguised as a Spaniard, George takes his time finding a route on the underground railroad. He just happens to go to the same place where Eliza and Harry are being hidden. The family is finally united at a Quaker Settlement. Uncle Tom, meanwhile, is on a boat en route to New Orleans. After gallantly saving the life of young Eva St. Clare, he is rewarded by being bought by her father, Augustine.
Augustine is married to a selfish woman who claims to be sick and takes no interest in her daughter. So it is on his return trip from Maine where he has picked up his cousin Ophelia who will care for Eva that Augustine buys Tom. Chapters 16-30 Unused to Southern customs and slavery, Ophelia tries to bring order to the St. Claire plantation, but the pampered slaves do not cooperate. Eva, who has always been frail, was dying and asks her father to free his slaves. After her death, Augustine was making plans to free the slaves when he was killed while breaking up a fight. Mrs. St.
Clare had no intentions of freeing any slaves and had Uncle Tom sold at an auction to a brutal plantation owner named Simon Legree. Chapters 31-40 For weeks, Uncle Tom tries in vain to please his new master. Legree has enough of Tom’s goodheartedness after Tom was ordered to beat another female slave and refused. For this show of obstinance, Tom was beaten until he fainted. A slave woman named Cassy helps treat Tom’s wounds and afterwards went to Legree’s apartment to torment him. Legree is superstitious and believes that Cassy would cast an evil spell on him, and as a result, he was afraid of her.
Haunted by her and his guilty secrets, Legree drinks until he falls asleep. Soon, Cassy along with another slave, Emmeline, run away from the plantation. Convinced that Tom knows something about it, Legree again has him beat until he can’t speak or stand. Chapters 41-45 Two days later, George Shelby, Jr. arrives at Legree’s plantation to buy Tom back, but it is too late. Uncle Tom is dying, and at his death, Shelby Jr. determines to free all his slaves. He then helps Cassy and Emmeline escape. Later, on a river boat headed north, they meet Madame de Thoux whom they find out is George Harris’ sister.
Upon discussing this, they also discover that Cassy is Eliza’s mother. The two women go to Canada where Eliza, George and Harry had settled. Finally, the family is united. Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped to turn the tide of public opinion against slavery in the 19th century. This controversial novel was initially written to question slavery and to convince people of its wrongness. It was the first book that brought the problem of Negro slavery in America to the attention of the world. It became not only a bestseller, but a social documentary of the lives of slaves.
While living in Ohio just across the river from slave holding Kentucky, Harriet Beecher Stowe had a first hand view of terrified runaway slaves and cruel bounty hunters. After moving back to New England, she decided to write a book about what she had seen. At one point she said, “My heart was bursting with the anguish excited by the cruelty and injustice our nation was showing to the slave, and praying God to let me do a little and cause my cry for them to be heard. “1 Mrs. Stowe’s cry was heard very loudly in her book that criticized slavery and counted slavery as a national sin.
She hoped her novel would bring slavery to a quick and peaceful end, however it only increased northern hostility towards the South. Although some people applauded the book and its views, there were still many critics. In addition, southern slave holders claimed that “By crystallizing militant antislavery sentiment in the north, Uncle Tom’s Cabin played an important factor in precipitating the American Civil War. “2 As problematic as some of the book’s language and descriptions were, it still managed to evoke international sympathy for African-American slaves.
It is believed by many that the book affected English readers so much that they decided not to join our civil war on the Confederate side or even recognize the Confederate states as a nation. Since European readers were so far away from slavery, they listened to Mrs. Stowe without question because she, as an American, was an expert on the issue of slavery. Abraham Lincoln met Stowe during the war and reportedly called her, “The little woman who wrote the book that started this great war. “3 Even if it didn’t cause the Civil War, this great American classic definitely popularized the abolitionist movement.