Friday, August 24, 2007


Eyre Crowe
Slaves Waiting for Sale--Richmond, Virginia (1861)
Oil painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1861
Slaves Waiting for Sale, Original Sketch, 3 March 1853,
Published by Crowe in With Thackeray in America

Harriet Beecher Stowe created a passionate, heart-wrenching, balanced, well-rounded masterpiece when she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. This is a book that every American should actually read in its entirety, rather than assume he or she knows the main parts of the story. Yes, it is tragically sad, sob-inducing, and will stick with you long after you have returned it to the bookshelf, but it is a story we must all know.

One of my favorite aspects of this brilliant work is the variety of characters and situations. The author presents good hearted masters, cruel slaves, clueless members of society, and everyone in between. She doesn't gloss over the real difficulties faced when freeing slaves. She doesn't portray abolitionist Northerners as blameless.

The most difficult passages for me to read involved the stories of the slave mothers and their children. My stomach twisted into knots. I then kissed and held my boys so tightly; they didn't understand what came over me. Oh, how much we as a nation have to answer to before God!

pg. 47-48

But stronger than all was maternal love, wrought into a paroxysm of frenzy by the near approach of fearful danger...

The frosty ground creaked beneath her feet, and she trembled at the sound; every quaking leaf and fluttering shadow sent the blood backward to her heart, and quickened her footsteps. She wondered within herself at the strength that seemed to be come upon her; for she felt the weight of her boy as if it had been a feather, and every flutter of fear seemed to increase the supernatural power that bore her on, while from her pale lips burst forth, in frequent ejaculations, the prayer to a Friend above, 'Lord, help; Lord, save me!'

If it were your Harry, mother, or your Willie, that was going to be torn from you by a brutal trader, tomorrow morning--if you had seen the man, and heard that the papers were signed and delivered, and you had only from twelve o'clock till morning to make good your escape--how fast could you walk? How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom--the little sleepy head on your shoulder--the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck?

...How the touch of those warm arms, the gentle breathings that came in her neck, seemed to add fire and spirit to her movements! It seemed to her as if strength poured into her in electric streams, from every gentle touch and movement of the sleeping, confiding child. Sublime is the dominion of the mind over the body, that for a time, can make flesh and nerve impregnable, and string the sinews like steel, so that the weak become so mighty.

pg. 356

Is there anything in it glorious and dear for a nation, that is not also glorious and dear for a man? What is freedom to a nation, but freedom to the individuals in it? What is freedom to that young man who sits there with his arms folded over his broad chest, the tint of African blood in his cheek, its dark fires in his eye--what is freedom to George Harris? To your fathers, freedom was the right of a nation to be a nation. To him, it is the right of a man to be a man and not a brute; the right to call the wife of his bosom his wife, and to protect her from lawless violence; the right to protect and educate his child; the right to have a home of his own, a religion of his own, a character of his own, unsubject to the will of another.

pg. 358

Oh, what an untold world there is in one human heart!

Harriet Beecher Stowe is a captivating study, herself. My appetite whetted by the introduction in my copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin, I purchased Harriet Beecher Stowe and The Beecher Preachers by Jean Fritz to add to my reading stack. Harriet was raised in a household in which her seven brothers were trained for the preaching profession, and the daughters were trained to never speak in public. She wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin while tending to her five living children and expecting her seventh. What, I ask myself, is my excuse?

Uncle Tom's Cabin was August's book selection for ChocLit Guild. We had a delightful evening, meeting at Poet's Garden with a fire in the fire pit, candles in the lanterns, blankets and pillows on the grass, chocolate dessert on our plates, lavender lemonade in our glasses, and the stars gradually coming out to preside over the lively discussion.

One question offered up is this: What tragedy are we so immersed in today that we can't see it clearly? What societal ill would be glaringly obvious to several generations before or after us that our brain-washed souls cannot see? Any thoughts?


Sherry said...

The tragedy of abortion, surely. Related to that is our disdain for those who have a different number of chromosomes (Down's syndrome) or who are in some other way mentally or physically challenged or different. Most babies with Down's are now aborted before they are ever born. Surely this is a travesty that future generations will find hard to fathom.

Anne said...

I finally read Uncle Tom's Cabin for the first time a couple of months ago, and I can't believe I'd missed that book all my life. Thanks for your review.

What tragedy/societal ill? I agree with Sherry -- it's abortion.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful review, Heidi. I visited Stowe's home in Connecticut a few years ago and was so inspired by her life that I had to include a chapter on her in my forthcoming kids' church history book. She was a woman ahead of her time, I think.

In addition to abortion, I would add that the global sex trade is just as much a tragedy, given the millions of women and children being abused all over the world (including many in the U.S.) and yet relatively few people seem to be taking notice and doing something about it. I pray God will use my generation to bring that industry to its knees.

Anonymous said...

I had read it when I was in high school. I recently bought the book to re-read it. After reading your review, I think I will push it up my read list. This book has that timeless quality to it. There are certain issues which are still relevant today.

I am glad I came here.

Barb said...

First: I'm fitfully jealous of your book night!
Second: My opinion to your questions:
The refusal to people that there is truth...
Political correctness - especially directed at sexuality...Our moral compass is broken and for some that is okay. This lack have absolutism is haunting us and I hope/pray we will return to see truth is vital to our society, not just individuals ("if it's right for you, okay, but it's not for me")

Carrie said...

I read this back in high school. I just recommended it to my SIL who is in high school. I bought a copy for her intending to reread it before giving it to her. Your review prompted me. (Reminded me of my own personal challenge? Ugh.)

I agree with the others in saying "abortion."

Framed said...

It's interesting to me that I've never read a book as famous and influential as this one. I need to correct that oversight.

carole said...

I have yet to read this book - and your post has made me realize that it's "high time" I got it out from the library!

My mother in law likes to think that daycare centers will be ridiculed in the way that we ridicule slavery today. That may seem more benign than abortion (which certainly I hope will be seen as an atrocity one day!), but nonetheless it is interesting to think about.