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Re: Uncle Tom's Cabin - Ch. 40 through 45
I don't want to cut off any discussion that might still occur, but I also have a certain need for closure in order to move on to other things. So I guess I'd like to sum up, if not the book itself, at least my reaction to rereading it. I don't think this is a book that reveals a great deal more with a second reading. In fact, I'm sorry to say that flaws were more evident to me a couple of years after first knowing the book. I think that on the subject of slavery, the several slave narratives that have achieved recognition constitute a more complete, accurate, and impactful treatment of the topic. These books, such as Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Solomon Northrup's Twelve Years a Slave were available also to readers around the time of the publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin, but it's not hard to understand why Stowe's book would be more appealing to a mass audience that would have been largely suspicious of abolitionist radicalism and unprepared for too much unrelieved painfulness. The slave narratives, not surprisingly, have a lot of the latter quality. Stowe evidently thought her task was to change the sentiments of the public, and she was right that a sentimental novel could do the job.
There's no gainsaying the importance of Stowe's book in raising consciousness about the evil of slavery. She also wielded a certain skill, but it is the skill of the sentimental novelist, laying it on very thickly and without subtlety, that marks her style. She releases the waterworks dozens of times in the book, which amounts in my mind to trying to compel the reader to feel something, rather than to move the reader by means a more skilled writer of fiction would use. The age when readers were genuinely moved by such effusiveness has long since past.
The religiosity of the novel, its constant preaching, is another trait that makes it rather a hard slog. Stowe herself probably would have been a preacher if women were allowed in that profession in 1850, so it's easy to understand why she seems to tie the worth of the black slaves to their ability to accept Christ. If slaves can be Christianized, she tells us, then who can doubt that it is sinful in the extreme to deprive them of liberty. From our own era, we would deny that conversion has any bearing on worthiness.
I've mentioned previously Stowe's romantic racialism, whereby blacks were endowed with qualities of trustfulness, loyalty, and simpleness that set them apart from the more forceful, intellectual, and independent whites or "Saxons." Although we can see she means well, we can also see how such a division could be used later to justify separate but equal.
Please if anyone is still reading, comment on any part of the book or on what I've just said.