In January 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe received a welcome inspiration from
her brother Henry Ward Beecher who had come for a visit. One particular
night, the two stayed up until the early hours of dawn talking of their plans
to fight slavery. It was this night that Stowe confided in her brother that
she had begun a story that would set forth the sufferings and wrongs of
slaves. Henry encouraged his sister that she had to finish it. It was the
following month that a powerful scene for the end of her book came to her in
church. As she sat on the pew she envisioned a vivid picture of an old black
man being beaten to death by two slaves at the orders of their white master.

From then on, the words poured out of her. She felt as if it were not she
who was writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but the hand of God. Stowe offered this
story to The National Era who agreed to publish the book. In the North,
Stowe’s novel raised an outcry against slavery. In the South, it provoked
anger and hatred. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not by any means the sole incident
that forced the nation to address the issue of slavery. It was however, an
inspiring and persuasive novel that helped change the mind of a nation. In
fact, when Abraham Lincoln met with Stowe in the White House in 1863 he
greeted her by saying, “So this is the little lady that made this big war.”
{Harriet Beecher Stowe by Cecelia Bland; pg. 15}
The story opens with an intense conversation between Mr. Shelby and a Negro
trader called Haley. Haley holds Mr. Shelby’s IOU for a considerable amount
which he is unable to settle. Haley, being a cruel businessman, or in
words more suiting, a human hunter, takes full advantage as to compel Mr.

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Shelby to part with two of his most loved slaves–Uncle Tom, his general
manager, and a little boy, the child of Eliza Harris. Eliza is Mrs. Shelby’s
loved maid and the wife of George Harris. Being determined not to have her
child sold down the river, Eliza runs off with the boy in the night. Before
following her, we must take in to consideration two points in the story.
The first is the conduct of Mrs. Shelby aiding at Eliza’s escape. Conduct
which is held up to the reader as commendable, and with the highest respects.

Mr. Shelby has told his wife of the deal and that nothing could change what
had to be done and what is done. The reputation and good faith of Mr. Shelby
is now on the line and Mrs. Shelby knows this. Although the trade was
painful and hard for Mrs. Shelby, her loyalty and obedience to her husband
would force her to go along with the ordeal. But this didn’t stop her from
putting several obstacles in Haley’s way. It is in this part of the book
that Stowe brings out what is considered a higher law to bear upon Mrs.

Shelby’s line of duty, as obedience to one’s husband was not recognized by
the new notion of woman’s rights. Perhaps there is no separation within from
ethical consistency.
The second part which we will discuss is the indifference many believe to
the fact and probability displayed in a conversation between the men who
become engaged in the pursuit of Eliza. Haley, having given chase after some
delay, catches up with Eliza just in time to see her, child clutched to her
arms, brave the dangers of the ice-bound Ohio River and gain the opposite
bank in safety. This was one of the most dramatic and well-known scenes in
the book that will forever leave its mark within me. Frustrated by failure,
Haley goes to a nearby tavern where he runs across two old acquaintances as
evil as himself and who are also Negro traders. Haley gets them to assist
him in capturing Eliza. The matter is debated and a deal with the devil is
struck. The parties agree that in the case of recapture, the child is to be
surrendered to Haley and the other two will take possession of Eliza. Haley
pays fifty dollars in advance in case of failure. Here is a little dialogue
that takes place between them:
I’d manager that ar; they’s young in the business and must spect to work
cheap,” said Marks, as he continued to read, “Ther’s three on em easy cases
cause all you’ve got to do is shoot em or swear they is shot; they couldn’t
of cours charge much for that.” {Page 89}
Some think this conversation between the men is unbelievable using the basis
that a man would not pay for lost, or in this case, dead property. George F.

Holmes put it this way, “What man in Vermont, having an ox or an ass that had
gone astray, would forthwith offer half the full value of the animal, not
for the carcass which might be turned to some useful purpose, but the
unavailing satisfaction of it’s head?” {The Southern Literary Messenger, 18
(October 1852), pg. 634} I find that statement from Mr. Holmes utterly
closed minded and verging on the edge of uneducated and naive. We have
learned what a cruel and devilish man Haley and other slave traders were.

Mr. Holmes would try to have us believe that men who would rip a child from
their mother’s arms or beat a man to death without an ounce of compassion is
not capable of having one of his runaway slaves killed just for the sole
purpose of knowing the nigger got what he deserved. Surely Mr. Holmes does
not expect his readers to be as naive as he.
Going back to Eliza and her child, we follow them to the house of Senator
and Mrs. Byrd, where they are welcomed and cared for. Before the two
arrived, the Byrd’s had been in a heated conversation about lending aid to
runaway slaves. We learn that Mr. Byrd is against helping runaway Negroes
and has recently helped passed a bill in the legislature of Ohio to forbid
it. Mrs. Stowe, in this part of the book, takes great pride in showing us
how strong convictions of duty are melted away as the Senator hears Eliza’s
story. The worthy Senator proceeds to help Eliza to safety by smuggling her
at night down dark and dangerous roads quite some distance to a nearby Quaker
village. The reader who will reflect upon the matter a single moment will
see that the Senator is applauded for what in his day was considered one of
the worse offenses–the violation of his oath.
Now we will turn back to George Harris, a remarkable black man who is
considered a genius. George was hired by a large bagging factory where he is
considered in charge of things. It is this factory in which he invents a
machine for cleaning hemp that is considered as talented as Whitney’s cotton
gin. After the invention, his master comes for a visit to the factory.

Outraged and embarrassed at the fact that George is more intelligent and a
better businessman than himself, he takes George away from the factory and
seeks to humble his proud spirit. George is put to tasks that are often
degrading and when he does well he is beaten. After enduring all he can, he
says goodbye to Eliza and the boy who are still at the Shelby estate. He
then disguises himself and with two pistols and a bowie knife, he runs off to
the border of the free states. Eliza and George are later reunited at the
Quaker village by a lucky accident. But they are not out of danger, for they
are still being hunted. It is necessary for them to continue to push on to
Canada. On the way they are overtaken and a struggle ensues between the two
parties in which one hunter, Loker, is shot by George Harris. The rest of
the pursuers flee and the heroic three proceed to the Canadian shore of Lake
Erie. Their struggle was tremendous and hard and now they can rest knowing
they are free at last.
Now we go back to see what fate came to Uncle Tom, who was also sold but did
not run. When Haley comes back from the pursuit of Eliza to take Uncle Tom,
the master Shelby is overcome with emotions and leaves the plantation in
order to avoid the sadness of goodbye. But the others, including Mrs.

Shelby, weep tears of sorrow for what is about to happen. The only two who
seem unaffected are in fact Uncle Tom and Haley. It is qualities like these
in Uncle Tom that lead the critics of the book to view it as a bad novel.

Baldwin, the literary critic writes, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a bad novel,
having in it self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality much in common with
Little Women. Sentimentality, the ostentatious parting of excessive and
spurious emotion, is the mark of dishonesty, the inability to feel…Tom has
been robbed of his humanity and divested of his sex.” {Leslie A. Fiedler, The
Inadvertent Epic; pg. 15} I however, believe that Stowe was trying to show a
picture of a man, who being beaten down by society, was only trying to hold
fast in his belief of a mightier law, the law of God.
A mile from the house, Haley and Tom meet with young George Shelby, the son
of Uncle Tom’s former master, who has been absent for a few days. After a
touching goodbye, George promises to redeem Tom at some future point. Haley
reaches the Mississippi and heads to New Orleans. Before they arrive, a
fortunate event happens that will forever alter Tom’s future. Among the
passengers on board the steamer is Mr. St. Clare, a rich planter, and his
daughter, Eva, and one Mrs. Ophelia, his cousin. One day the little girl
falls overboard just as the boat is leaving a landing. Tom, who has been
reading the Bible nearby, jumps in immediately and saves the young girl from
drowning. A friendship between the two develops. It is this friendship that
leads to the purchase of Uncle Tom by Mr. St. Clare, whose plantation in New
Orleans becomes our hero’s new home. His duties here consist mainly of
keeping little Eva happy. They played together and often Eva would read
stories to Tom. For two years they enjoyed peaceful, playful days. But soon
little Eva becomes fatally ill. Day by day, the charming bright little face
that Uncle Tom so enjoyed was vanishing away. Tom spends much time at the
dying girl’s bedside.
It is scenes like these in Mrs. Stowe’s novel that leaves the reader full of
emotion. At last the inevitable happens and little Eva slips away. Uncle
Tom is engulfed with grief. This by far was one my favorite parts, written
so eloquently that one can almost feel the sorrow that overcomes Uncle Tom.

Soon after the death of little Eva, Mr. St. Clare determines to emancipate
Tom and takes the first steps to do so. But a cruel twist of fate leaves St.

Clare stabbed and dead before his wishes for Tom are carried out. Tom finds
himself at the mercy of his master’s widow Marie St. Clare, a ruthless and
proud selfish woman. In a greedy and cruel manner, Marie sells Tom. Uncle
Tom now becomes the property of Simon Legree a Red River planter.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin is entitled praise for this remarkable character by
giving the world assurance of a devilish villain. Legree carries Uncle Tom
in fetters to his plantation. Here Tom endures such cruelty that it seems
almost impossible to bare. He is beaten daily for the sole reason that he
doesn’t deserve it. And when he does not cry during the beatings, it is
considered cause to intensify the pain. He does more than his share of the
work and is flogged for it. One day, in a frenzy of rage, Legree scourges
Tom beyond the point of human endurance and the hero falls, never to get up
again.While Uncle Tom is dying, young George Shelby comes to redeem his
promise. One can almost feel the emotions that rage out of control in the
young George Shelby as he sees his long tried Negro servant and friend die.

The following scene was the only slightly disappointing scene. Stowe gets
our blood pumping for revenge and we long to see Legree pay for his crimes.

Instead, the reader’s only justice is when “with one indignant blow,” he
knocks Legree “flat on his face!” The reader expects much more from an
author who had us on the edge of our seats as we watch Eliza dash across the
river, made our hearts break as we watched little Eva die and our hatred for
Legree boil in our blood as we slowly watched him murder our hero. One must
question why Stowe would set us up for the anticipation of a justifiable
homicide only to deprive us of it later.
Before Tom’s death and when he came to the plantation, he came across a
woman named Cassy, another of Legree’s slaves. Her life was a hard one full
of great suffering. She was a child of a slave woman and a wealthy white
man. She lived a life of luxury and at the proper age was sent to a convent
where she learned many things. Her father had died of cholera when she was
just fourteen and Cassy was listed as part of his property. The lawyer that
came to settle the property was intrigued by her beauty and in turn Cassy
fell in love with him. He bought Cassy and for years she lived the life of a
fairy tale. He furnished her with servants, carriages, dresses and much
more. The two had two lovely children. But the dream soon turned into a
nightmare. Cassy was sold with her two children to pay off gambling debts
and Simon Legree came in to possession of her. Her children were sent off to
a fate unknown to Cassy. She devised a plan of escape with another servant.

It was in connection with their disappearance that Uncle Tom suffered.

Cassy, disguised as a Spanish Donna and the other woman as her servant,
took Legree’s money and escaped. They reached safety on a Mississippi
steamboat. It was on this boat that they came across George Shelby on his
return to Kentucky. George, struck by the beauty of Cassy, observes her
rather closely. Cassy becomes a little uneasy and confides in him her story.

Mr. Shelby assures her of his protection.
Occupying the room next to Cassy is Madame de Thoux. The Madame begins to
make inquiries of Shelby concerning George Harris who we find out is her
brother. It is during this conversation that Shelby mentions Harris’
marriage to Eliza. Now we learn that Eliza is Cassy’s child. We are soon
rewarded with a grand family reunion in Montreal where George Harris is
living five to six years after the beginning of the story.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a remarkable book that changed the mind of a nation.

Reading the book was an eye opening experience that portrayed the pains and
sufferings of black slaves. Mrs. Stowe should be commended for writing such
a moving novel when it was considered unpopular for a woman to voice her
views and opinions on political matters. I applaud Mrs. Stowe for her
integrity and courage.


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