Literary Criticism of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Essay
Literary Criticism of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in order to persuade the readers that slavery was bad. Her Christian views led her to do this and depict her characters as every-day life as she could and not be too over dramatic about everything that happened. Her story could be interpreted as a non-fiction if the reader does not know the history of it all, because she uses a very subtle approach to get to reader through making all events in the book seem very real as if she had really seen them. Stowe’s relationship with the book is that the book are her thoughts through a story. Not just any thoughts, but her abolitionist views and how much she disagreed with slavery.
Stowe not only uses the book as a whole to convince of slavery’s evils. She uses individual characters and their journies (emotional, physical, etc.) to get into the reader’s head and make everything believable to the point where one thinks that the book is non-fiction.. She doesn’t use a very abrupt way of getting her message across. She tells things like they are. Not all southerners are evil, and northerners aren’t angels either. Every scene that Stowe needs to, persuades the reader that slavery is evil and non-Christian.
Uncle Tom, the protaganist of this book, is used by Stowe to introduce slaves as not being ignorant, rag-wearing, illiterate people. Tom is a “pious fellow” as stated by Arthur Shelby: “No; I mean, really, Tom is a good, steady, sensible, pious fellow.” (Pg.4). Stowe also shows that Shelby is a good man himself, by showing that he actually cared for his slaves, and didn’t treat them like objects. But, you could get a bit confused by Shelby when he showcases Eliza’s little boy to Mr. Haley as if he were some type of circus act, “Now, Jim, show this man how you can dance and sing.” (Pg.5). By giving two different views of Shelby at such an arly stage of the book, one can’t really get a grasp on whether or not he really has sentiment, until further on in his and Mr. Haley’s conversation.
Mr. Haley, on the other hand is shown to be a “wanna-be” higher class type of man: “He was a short, thick-set man, with coarse, commonplace features, and that swaggering air of pretension which marks a low man who is trying to elbow his way upward in the world.” (Pg.3). Haley also seems to be a man who is very persuasive to get what he wants, but seems to make hollow promises: “Howsomever, I’ll do the very best I can in gettin’ Tom a good berth; as to my treatin’ on him bad. you needn’t be a grain afeard. If there’s anything that I thank the Lord for, it is that I’m never noways cruel.” (pg.33).
When the reader is first introduced to Haley, he seems to be a kind slave trader who only wants Shelby to give him slaves, because of a debt. But, he decieves the reader, and ends up being a man that mistreats his slaves often through violence. The first a reader gets to see of Haley’s ill-mannered side is when he has found out that Eliza has escaped with her son Harry (the child that was to be sold to him). Haley is enfuriated and cariies himself in an awful manner: “‘I say now, Shelby, this yer’s a most extro’rnary business!’ said Haley, as he abruptly entered the parlor. ‘It seems that gal’s off, with her young un.'” (Pg.44). Even though it might not be much to read of somebody yelling, this incident does open the door for much more disastrous occurances further in the book. Eliza’s escape is not the beginning.
Eliza Harris plays an enormous role that makes the reader think and also sympathize. Eliza is a young, beautiful, courageous slave. But nor only is she a slave. She is a mother and wife also. Eliza’s biggest part in the book is when she shows the reader what maternal attachments influence a woman to do when she knows her child will be taken from her. After discovering that her son is going to be sold to a slave trader in order to pay a debt, she decides that the only reasonable thing to do is take him, and escape so she can be by her child’s side and never be separated from him. She consults Tom, and he says that he will not fight the decision made by his master to be sold, but he encourages his friend to, so she will not be away from her son.
Eliza leaves and heads towards the Ohio river and Haley is looking for her. But, two slaves that Mr. Shelby sends with him to guide him lead him the wrong way to stall, but somehow ended up crossing paths with her and alert her. Once this happens. one of the biggest scenes in the book is shown: “The huge green fragment of ice on which she alighted pitched and creaked as her weight came on it, but she staid there not a moment. With wild cries and desperate energy she leaped to another and still another cake; stumbling-leaping-slipping-springing upwards again! Her shoes are gone-her stockings cut from her feet-while blood marked every step; but she saw nothing, felt nothing, till dimly, as in a dream, she saw the Ohio side, and a man helping her up the bank.” (Pg.62). Stowe draws a vivid image through her writing of this scene, of a mother’s struggle to keep son’s life with her and not in the hands of anybody else.
Struggle is also seen, not just for life, but for what was morally right as a Christian. Senator John Bird was one of the people who voted in favor of the Fugitive Slave Act, clearly showing that he was not about to help any type of runaway slaves. But, his wife was a very Christian woman with morality that ran through her veins, and she lived by the Bible. Her struggle was to convince her husband that slavery was wrong and he should not agree with the law passed, because the Bible says that good will to all men was a must. Mrs. Bird informs, “Now, John, I don’t know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate.” (Pg.82).
By this, the reader has already been influenced positively and negatively by so many of the characters that Stowe brings into this well thought out persuasive piece of art. Christianity was what influenced her, and powered her abolitionist views. It led her to take abolitionism into her own hands, and “educate” the country (and in hopes, the world) of how negative slavery was.
Being raised in a very strict Presbyterian home, she was taught all about the value of life through the gospel. Stowe’s religious views were imprinted into her mind and soul, and they set a path for her. Her path was to enlighten the southerners that agreed with slavery and were cruel to the people they held captive to do their bidding. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was written in response to the acts passed against slavery (e.g. Fugitive Slave Act). Each page of the story contains journey, experience, growth, development, and so much more with each and every character.
With her characters, she uses them as her source of persuasion of the views opposite from the southern views. Stowe doesn’t come straight out and say, “Slavery is evil! Don’t agree with it!” She is very implicit with spreading her outlook on slavery (even though it is known that she is an abolitionist).
Characters such as Quakers seem to invoke Harriet Beecher Stowe as a whole, for the simple fact that they are just as she was. Quakers are religious persons that helped slaves, because the Bible said they should help anybody and everybody that needed help. All the characters talked about before, seem to also take Stowe’s viewpoints. Even her “bad guys” have her point of views too. If you think about it, all that she is against is embodied in the slave traders and evil southerners of the book.
Stowe does a phenomenal job of taking all her abolitionist views and putting it on paper, and conveying her deepest hates for slavery in such a well thought work of art. Her persuasion is easily seen through her characters. They grab you, shake you, and bring tears to your eyes. Stowe seems to know how to get into people’s heads. She does it just like when you have a set of headphones on and you’re listening to your favorite song, and it sticks with you forever.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 13 September 2017
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