Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)

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Well, I read this one with some other women on the AO forum. It’s a depressing one. I expected that. It made me weep sometimes to read the stories of mistreated slaves, particularly where families were broken up. It sounds so inadequate to say such a simple sentence and not just tell you all the atrocities I read about. And the worst part is, that although this is a work of fiction, Stowe based her fiction on all the real-life account she could get hold of. It was haunting to read what men will do to each other, particularly when they can reassure themselves that their victims don’t feel as a normal human being would feel in such a situation.

 

It was also heartrending to have to read about Tom going from master to master. At first he goes from a good master to another good master, who even intends to set him free: and THEN the good master dies unexpectedly, and no amount of good intentions are the same as actually being free. Tom is sold along with the rest of the estate and then he ends up in REALLY BAD CIRCUMSTANCES. It was a surprise to read of that master’s death, but retrospectively, I see it was a completely necessary plot element. It doesn’t matter how nice your master is if you’re a slave. If you’re property, your fate is up in the air. A nice master can die, and next week you’ll be in the hands of a terrible master who, in a just world, would not ever be able to buy a human soul to do he pleases with.

This was a difficult book to read all the way through, because I’d dread picking it up to read more sad tales, especially in the last half. Near the end it gets a little more comforting, but it remains a book to hurt you in the soul, and quite on purpose. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why this book was such a powerful influence in the politics of the day, and despite being a harrowing experience, I think everyone should read it for themselves.

Jenna

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