2007: 110.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin


“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.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

So, this is the little book that started that great big war!  I’d never actually been called upon to read a single word of this before (despite writing my college honors thesis on the war), so I found it extremely interesting from a historical perspective.   The writing is wildly uneven, and the book has a lot to make a modern reader uncomfortable,* but it is more complex than I’d been lead to believe, and it does somethings extremely well.  

Stowe is heartbreakingly effective whenever the story turns (as it often does) to the loss of children, whether they be slave children sold and separated from their parents, or the (SPOILER) cloying, but still sad death of Little Eva.  When Eliza is given clothing of the dead Senators beloved child for her beloved child, that is just about the best passage on how we are all human beings, and how awful slavery is.  On the other hand, the scene when Tom is sold away from his wife and children has no emotional resonance at all - they seem like aliens, not broken-hearted people.  I, to play armchair psychologist, think that since Stowe had suffered from the early death of her son, she knew  that emotion and could make it real, while the other was just outside her imagination.

Still, the book is worth reading as history, and at least somewhat as literature.  There are enough affecting passages (and some cracking if improbable plot points) to help you through the bad patches.  And, I did like the fact that she called out the Northerners for being uncomfortable with black people, rather than just making them seem saintly, and the South evil (and, indeed, Simon Legree is born in Vermont).

Finally, one of my favorite quotes comes from this book, and I want to reproduce it below.  Pg. 157 of my Washington Square Press edition**:

“Of course, in a novel, people’s hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story that is very convenient.  But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us.  There is a most busy and important round of eating, drinking, dressing, walking, visiting, buying, selling, talking, reading, and all that makes up what is commonly called living.”

LOVE it - it should be on note cards that the broken hearted can carry around to make themselves feel better.

Recommended for:  People who can handle a bit of melodrama, and are interested in seminal texts of American history; people who love books about perfect angel children, a la Eva.

* For example, at the end of the book, every single heroic freed black person choses to migrate to Liberia.  Wishful thinking, Harriet??

** Who knows? I bought used at a library book sale. It originally cost $.25!! Sigh -- I want to go back in time and just buy books!!

Date/Place Completed: 7/18/07; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Commuting Book; Books that Started the Civil War

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017