Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Privilege of Love

I am, like, thirty pages away from finishing Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is good. SO GOOD. It was one of those books that everyone else chose to read in high school, but I just HADDD to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. *facepalm*

Pattie, you pretentious cow.

I cannot wait to get home tonight and finish the book. I cannot WAIT. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is no thriller, there’s enough preaching in it to satisfy any Southern baptist. But what makes this book so effective is the emotional appeal to the reader. Harriet Beecher Stowe was perhaps not the most skilled writer; the plot is sometimes boring, sometimes preachy, and sometimes predictable, but in an age when black people were seen as trading commodities and as farm animals, Stowe’s tactic of striking at the idea of family is a new one that sticks to the back of the reader’s throat.

Perhaps where this is most effective is not necessarily in painting the black man or woman as an emotionally refined person, on par or even more morally sound than the white people, but she strikes at perhaps the biggest group of people to inhibit social change: the ones who think they are morally upright, while unwilling to make a strong or difficult choice to stick by their convictions. Tom Loker, the slave catcher who tries to apprehend Eliza and her son, is almost synonymous with evil, and is up there with such terrible characters as Iago, Miss Havisham, and Patrick Bateman, to name a few. But I argue that perhaps the most evil of characters in this book are the ones that Stowe was trying to reach out to in real life.

It’s people like the Shelbys, or Augustine St. Clair, who are the real villains. They hide behind their ideals and good intentions, and their goodwill and fair treatment of black people only went as far as it was socially and financially convenient for them. They lacked the discipline to make a stand. They didn’t want to get involved.

Like so many of the Northerners who read her book, Stowe was writing not to combat slavery, but to combat the apathy and excuses made by those who disagree with it and refuse to take action. She wrote against the middle, which made me think,

if she was writing this in 2016, who would she be writing about?

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About Angela

Editor, bookbinder, and writer.

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