Uncle Tom’s Cabin
About the Author
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
Harriet Elizabeth Beecher was born on June 14, 1811, in Litchfield, Connecticut. She was one of 13 children born to religious leader Lyman Beecher and his wife, Roxanna Foote Beecher, who died when Harriet was a child. Harriet’s seven brothers grew up to be ministers, including the famous leader Henry Ward Beecher. Her sister Catharine Beecher was an author and a teacher who helped to shape Harriet’s social views. Another sister, Isabella, became a leader of the cause of women’s rights.
Harriet enrolled in a school run by Catharine, following the traditional course of classical learning usually reserved for young men. At the age of 21, she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where her father had become the head of the Lane Theological Seminary.
Lyman Beecher took a strong abolitionist stance following the pro-slavery Cincinnati Riots of 1836. His attitude reinforced the abolitionist beliefs of his children, including Stowe. Stowe found like-minded friends in a local literary association called the Semi-Colon Club. Here, she formed a friendship with fellow member and seminary teacher Calvin Ellis Stowe. They were married on January 6, 1836.
Along with their interest in literature, Harriet and Calvin Stowe shared a strong belief in abolition. In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, prompting distress and distress in abolitionist and free Black communities of the North. Stowe decided to express her feelings through a literary representation of slavery, basing her work on the life of Josiah Henson and on her own observations. In 1851, the first installment of Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, appeared in the National Era. Uncle Tom's Cabin was published as a book the following year and quickly became a best seller.
Stowe’s emotional portrayal of the impact of slavery, particularly on families and children, captured the nation's attention. Embraced in the North, the book and its author aroused hostility in the South. Enthusiasts staged theatrical performances based on the story, with the characters of Tom, Eva and Topsy achieving iconic status.
After the Civil War began, Stowe traveled to Washington, D.C., where she met with Abraham Lincoln. A possibly apocryphal but popular story credits Lincoln with the greeting, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” While little is known about the meeting, the persistence of this story captures the perceived significance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the split between North and South. (From Biography.com)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851)
Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly is an anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. Published in 1852, the novel had a profound effect on attitudes toward African Americans and slavery in the U.S. and is said to have helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War.
Questions for Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Many different people help Eliza during her flight -- Mr. Symmes, the Bird family, the community of Quakers. What similarities and differences are there among all these people? What reasons does each of them give for helping Eliza?
What is the significance of the repetition of names (e.g., there are two Toms, two Georges, two Henrys [Henrique and Harry])?
Much of the dialogue in the book is given over to a debate on the morality of slavery. Most of the slave owners feel that they are "above" the slave traders. Is this true? Why do you think that so many members of the clergy defended slavery?
Discuss the differences between the portrayals of men and women in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Does Tom fit with the rest of the men in the book? Why or why not? How does the portrayal of women reveal Stowe’s feminism?
What roles do circumstance and chance play in Uncle Tom’s Cabin? Does the text use either of them to help explain the existence of slavery?
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