Friday, April 10, 2015

A Reread: Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Title: Uncle Tom's Cabin
Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Published:  1852
Challenges: a reread

This was my fourth time reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was read at the request of a book club I recently joined.  The first time I read it was because I was curious; the second time was because I had my son read it for high school, and I wanted to ask comprehension questions; and the third time was for The Well-Educated Mind reading challenge.

For me, that third time screamed parallels to a more current American abomination: abortion.  In the 1850's, slaves were property under the law, and an owner had the right to do with his slave, as he so desired; but in the late 1900s to this current day, an unborn baby is property of its mother under the law, and a woman has the right to dispose of it, if she so chooses.  To see how I took Harriet Beecher Stowe's argument against slavery and transferred it to abortion, go HERE.  Otherwise, I have a new topic.

This fourth read was interesting because I realized that Mrs. Stowe was targeting not only slave owners for breaking up families and treating people like they were without human feeling or souls, or our government for permitting slavery to exist, or Northerners who harbored similar feelings toward blacks; she also had a stern lecture for fellow Christians, or the Church, in general.

According to Mrs. Stowe, the Christian Church was too silent on slavery. She said,
Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart.  What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear.  What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows up the soul!  And yet, oh, my country! these things are done under the shadow of thy laws!  O Christ! thy church sees them, almost in silence! 
When she learned, after the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act, that "Christian and humane people...recommending the remanding escaped fugitives into slavery, as a duty binding on good citizens...she could only think, These men and Christians cannot know what slavery is; if they did, such a question could never be open for discussion."

Of slavery, she said,
Nothing of tragedy can be written, can be spoken, can be conceived, that equals the frightful reality of scenes daily and hourly acting on our shores, beneath the shadow of American law, and the shadow of the cross of Christ.
She implored Christians and the Church to receive runaway slaves, and educate them and assist them to safer shores.

At the very end of her conclusion, Mrs. Stowe warned the Church and the Nation:
A day of grace is yet held out to us.  Both North and South have been guilty before God; and the Christian Church has a heavy account to answer.  Not by coming together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved, - but by repentance, justice, and mercy: for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!
Yikes!  I think Mrs. Stowe was one mighty, courageous woman: to take on a whole nation by writing this "living dramatic reality," in order to shake Americans (Christians) out of their slumber, to expose the wickedness that was being legally permitted right before their eyes and ears, if they would just see and hear the evil; if they knew the truth, Christians (at least) could not - should not - remain silent.

Well, I used to think the same thing about abortion - if only people knew the truth about what happened during an abortion, if they saw the results and heard the stories, they would be moved. Unfortunately, I think we are of a different age now.  I think many people know the horror, but they feel apathetic, dispassionate, or even powerless.  However, Stowe is correct in her concern that our Nation will have to answer for its sins and every lukewarm Church for its silence; in fact, I have a feeling we are seeing God's judgment upon our country this very day for our national iniquities. Every nation is subject to God's judgment.

Anyway, while we were still reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, my friend asked me if we were going to read anymore about the cabin because it was only a small part of the story. Why was it titled Uncle Tom's Cabin if it was not a bigger part of the story?  Well, it is true: it is only in the beginning; and it wasn't until the very last paragraph that Stowe leaves us with, George, Tom's master (giving a eulogy for Tom), speaking to his newly-freed slaves:
So, when you rejoice in your freedom, think that you owe it to that good old soul, and pay it back in kindness to his wife and children.  Think of your freedom every time you see Uncle Tom's Cabin; and let it be a memorial to put you all in mind to follow in his steps, and be as honest and faithful and Christian as he was.
I have to believe that it was just a symbol for an honorable, faithful man, and Christ-like figure.  His cabin was a safe and loving home for everyone who entered it because he was a good Christian husband, father, and friend.  Stowe made him to be someone we should strive to be like.  And I'll say, Good luck with that because his character was absolutely perfect.


  1. Hmmmm. Interesting! I do not think it would have ever occurred to me to compare slavery to abortion. But you make a compelling argument. As for Stowe's novel, once was enough for me. It is now -- to my mind -- a hopelessly time-bound museum piece because of its style.

    1. Are you saying once was enough because the subject matter was difficult to get through? I can totally understand. (I cry each time.)

  2. I'm impressed by the number of times that you've read this book; I've heard people say that it's difficult to get through once. I haven't read it yet and I really should get to it. Your post reminds me of the Wendell Berry essay that I just read; sometimes we Christians can certainly get complacent. We like everything "nice" and it's certainly timely to have writers (and others) stir us up a little and get us more connected to our part in society. A wonderful post and a great connection!

    1. Thank you, Cleo.

      Stowe's UTC has been compared to a sermon. She is not only lecturing Christians, slave owners, Northerners, and the government, but I think I get a hint of her questioning God and His whereabouts. Many times she uses the voice of a slave to proclaim, "God is not here!" (How could God permit this to go on?)

      My kids and I are studying the Romans, and it is amazing to see how complacent they became toward the depravity that occurred around them, so long as they were content and comfortable and had their basic needs met; and then they lost their liberties.

      I see that happening in my own country now, and I wonder if another Stowe could even possibly make a difference to anyone b/c people are so ignorant of justice, righteousness, courage, and truth. Everyone is selfish-driven. Sadly, that idea permeates the church, and sometimes Christians are not exempt from being indifferent, lacking courage, and looking the other way.

      Anyway, I hope you get to read UTC soon. I think you will find many things to appreciate about it.

  3. You have a new blog header! It's quite cool.

    I haven't read all of UTC, just sections. It's one of those classics that I know I *should* read, but somehow just haven't yet. One day.

    1. Thanks, Hamlette!

      Yes, you just have to read UTC! It's like required American literature. : D

  4. Thank you for your piece on Uncle Tom's Cabin. When I listened to an audio version years back, I too cried at times as the climactic scenes took place. It is powerful and overwhelming in the effect it takes on a reader. The author, Mrs. Stowe, is reported to have said that God wrote the book, rather than herself, and that she just took his dictation.

    As a Christian that you are, I wonder if you would be interested in Alice Child's, "Knock-Knock-Knocking on Hell's Front Door", a short but urgent writing about the current state of our nation? It's a brand-new writing of hers (not that that matters), and is easily looked up. Something you said in your comments brought it to mind.

    I've enjoyed roaming through your wonderland of a blog to re-experience familiar books and learn about new ones.

  5. I'm sorry for the hasty mistake, but the author I referred to is named Alice Childs, not Alice Child. Eschatology is her field. Another lady who, I think, writes remarkable pieces regularly is Geri Ungurean.

  6. Hi, George,
    Thank you for your comment. Yes, UTC is an emotional read, and such an important book in literature. I had no idea Stowe thought that about her book, but I'm not surprised bc she had a lot to say to the Church. I think I may have a book of Alice Childs, jut not the book you mention. I will have to check it out. sounds like something I would read. thanks. And I will look up Geri Ungurean. Thank you very much for your kind words!!!

  7. Thank you Ruth for your consideration. On another subject, I'm not much into history, but I seemed to get more out of the John Adams biography than 1776 by David McCullough when I listened on Audible about a year ago. I'm glad you're going to look into Geri Ungurean, the pieces she writes are pertinent and moving and she is very prolific.

  8. Ruth, the piece about Hell's Front Door by Alice Childs is to be found on the Rapture Ready site and is just a short writing among many others of hers and Geri's which are listed on this site. I hope you will find time to look into them.

  9. GEORGE: So I wasn't able to find Hells Front Door or Geri Ungurean or Alice Childs via my library system. But I can still keep an eye open when looking through used books. I was able to get a copy of Chute's book of Shakespeare Stories. (You had suggested that on my homeschool blog). Also I am going to read all of McCullough's books that I own, and hopefully I will enjoy them. My son really liked 1776, and I hear even better reviews of John Adams. So we'll see how that turns out.
    Thanks for your insight!!

  10. Thank you for trying to locate the writers I mentioned, Ruth. Both ladies are strongly scriptural and eloquently express a strong sense of urgency about our times that ministers to my spirit. Part of your own piece about UTC reminded me of their essays and made me think you might like them.

    It dawns on me that the Adams bio I listened to was Passionate Sage by Joseph Ellis, rather than McCullough's book on Adams which is over three times as long as Ellis's work. I'm glad you have the enthusiasm to take this on, and so much more. (I'm also glad you got hold of the Shakespeare book by M. Chute, may it serve well.)