Uncle Tom's Cabinby Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncle Tom's Cabin brought the evils of slavery to the consciences and hearts of the American people by its moving portrayal of slave experience. Harriet Beecher Stowe shows us in scenes of great dramatic power the human effects of an economic system in which slaves were property: the break up of families, the struggles for freedom, the horrors of plantation/i>… See more details below
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Uncle Tom's Cabin brought the evils of slavery to the consciences and hearts of the American people by its moving portrayal of slave experience. Harriet Beecher Stowe shows us in scenes of great dramatic power the human effects of an economic system in which slaves were property: the break up of families, the struggles for freedom, the horrors of plantation labor. She brings into fiction the different voices of the emerging American nation, the Southern slave-owning classes, Northern abolitionists, children, the sorrow songs and dialect of slaves, as well the language of political debate and religious zeal. The novel was, and is, controversial, abrasive in its demand for change, yet also brilliant in the deployment of dialogue, with great comic skill and a power of pathos that made it a runaway bestseller in its time that continues to move us today.
Harriet Beecher Stowe was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1811, the seventh child of a well-known Congregational minister, Lyman Beecher. The family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she met and married Calvin Stowe, a professor of Theology in 1836. Living just across the river Ohio from the slaveholding state of Kentucky and becoming aware of the plight of escaping slaves led her to write Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in book form in 1852. She wrote the novel amid the difficulties of bringing up a family of six children. The runaway success of Uncle Tom's Cabin made its author a well-known public figure. Stowe died in 1896.
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Read an Excerpt
In Which the Reader Is Introduced to a Man of Humanity
Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February, two gentlemen were sitting alone over their wine, in a well-furnished dining parlor, in the town of P-------, in Kentucky. There were no servants present, and the gentlemen, with chairs closely approaching, seemed to be discussing some subject with great earnestness.
For convenience sake, we have said, hitherto, two gentlemen. One of the parties, however, when critically examined, did not seem, strictly speaking, to come under the species. 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. He was much over-dressed, in a gaudy vest of many colors, a blue neckerchief, bedropped gayly with yellow spots, and arranged with a flaunting tie, quite in keeping with the general air of the man. His hands, large and coarse, were plentifully bedecked with rings; and he wore a heavy gold watch-chain, with a bundle of seals of portentous size, and a great variety of colors, attached to it, --which, in the ardor of conversation, he was in the habit of flourishing and jingling with evident satisfaction. His conversation was in free and easy defiance of Murray's Grammar, and was garnished at convenient intervals with various profane expressions, which not even the desire to be graphic in our account shall induce us to transcribe.
His companion, Mr. Shelby, had the appearance of a gentleman; and the arrangements of the house, and the general air of the housekeeping, indicated easy, and even opulent circumstances. As we before stated,the two were in the midst of an earnest conversation.
"That is the way I should arrange the matter," said Mr. Shelby.
"I can't make trade that way--I positively can't, Mr. Shelby," said the other, holding up a glass of wine between his eye and the light.
"Why, the fact is, Haley, Tom is an uncommon fellow; he is certainly worth that sum anywhere,--steady, honest, capable, manages my whole farm like a clock."
"You mean honest, as niggers go," said Haley, helping himself to a glass of brandy.
"No; I mean, really, Tom is a good, steady, sensible, pious fellow. He got religion at a camp-meeting, four years ago; and I believe he really did get it. I've trusted him, since then, with everything I have,--money, house, horses,--and let him come and go round the country; and I always found him true and square in everything."
"Some folks don't believe there is pious niggers, Shelby," said Haley, with a candid flourish of his hand, "but I do. I had a fellow, now, in this yer last lot I took to Orleans--'t was as good as a meetin, now, really, to hear that critter pray; and he was quite gentle and quiet like. He fetched me a good sum, too, for I bought him cheap of a man that was 'bliged to sell out; so I realized six hundred on him. Yes, ,I consider religion a valeyable thing in a nigger, when it's the genuine article, and no mistake."
"Well, Tom's got the real article, if ever a fellow had," rejoined the other. "Why, last fall, I let him go to Cincinnati alone, to do business for me, and bring home five hundred dollars. 'Tom,' says I to him, 'I trust you because I think you're a Christian--I know you wouldn't cheat.' Tom comes back, sure enough; I knew he would. Some low fellows, they say, said to him--`Tom, why don't you make tracks for Canada?' 'Ah, master trusted me, and I couldn't,'--they told me about it. I am sorry to part with Tom, I must say. You ought to let him cover the whole balance of the debt; and you would, Haley, if you had any conscience."
"Well, I've got just as much conscience as any man in business can afford to keep,--just a little, you know, to swear by, as 't were," said the trader, jocularly; "and, then, I'm ready to do anything in reason to 'blige friends; but this yer, you see, is a leetle too hard on a fellow--a leetle too hard." The trader sighed contemplatively, and poured out some more brandy.
"Well, then, Haley, how will you trade?" said Mr. Shelby, after an uneasy interval of silence.
"Well, haven't you a boy or gal that you could throw in with Tom?"
"Hum!--none that I could well spare; to tell the truth, it's only hard necessity makes me willing to sell at all. I don't like parting with any of my hands, that's a fact."
Here the door opened, and a small quadroon boy, between four and five years of age, entered the room. There was something in his appearance remarkably beautiful and engaging. His black hair, fine as floss silk, hung in glossy curls about his round, dimpled face, while a pair of large dark eyes, full of fire and softness, looked out from beneath the rich, long lashes, as he peered curiously into the apartment. A gay robe of scarlet and yellow plaid, carefully made and neatly fitted, set off to advantage the dark and rich style of his beauty; and a certain comic air of assurance, blended with bashfulness, showed that he had been not unused to being petted and noticed by his master.
"Hulloa, Jim Crow!" said Mr. Shelby, whistling, and snapping a bunch of raisins towards him, "pick that up, now!"
The child scampered, with all his little strength, after the prize, while his master laughed.
"Come here, Jim Crow," said he. The child came up, and the master patted the curly head, and chucked him under the chin.
"Now, Jim, show this gentleman how you can dance and sing." The boy commenced one of those wild, grotesque songs common among the negroes, in a rich, clear voice, accompanying his singing with many comic evolutions of the hands, feet, and whole body, all in perfect time to the music.
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