Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Introduction

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a rather vocal story with some strong depictions in the lives of the slaves in the South. As a fictitious ensemble, this story simply sought to bring to light the slavery situation in the above mentioned territory. Beacher Stowe did not base her book on the reality of any particular serf but on the collective narratives of bondage. However, any reader would conclude that her assertions are rather factual. At the time, the author’s aim may have clouded the minds of the readers and critics since she was an abolitionist with the hope of terminating slavery in the South. However, Beacher Stowe’s assertions in this book are very similar to the relationship between serfs and their masters. Her claims are also seconded by the confessions of a real bondman in Harriet Jacobs’ The Trials of a Slave Girl. In her text, this former slave confesses to a number of inhumane experiences that only serve to echo Harriet Beecher Stowe’s musings in the fictional piece discussed in this paper. This paper will consider the aspects of slavery that justify the position of the book as a rationale depiction of helotry in the South. In this review of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work Uncle Tom’s Cabin, there is an examination of the issue of slavery by Stowe’s and the current historians. This paper also incorporates the works of Harriet Jacobs Trials of a Slave Girl and George Fitzhugh The Blessings of Slavery.

How Slaves were Looked Upon and Treated

It is easy to note in every instance of slavery discussions that the masters considered their serfs as lesser beings. They were treated as inferior and rather undeserving of the basic rights of humanity. This is evident in the concept of slavery which entails owning a human being and claiming their rights. The masters felt that they had the right to the lives of their subjects to the point that they could treat them as they pleased and even murder them if they saw them as useless or unable to live up to their expectations. In Harriet Jacobs’ The Trials of a Slave Girl, the threat of death is what mostly kept the heroine from defying her master. This indicates that the lords indeed owned their slaves to the point that their lives were considered as bargaining tools in exchange for their unquestioned obedience (Stowe 26). Harriet Jacobs, for instance, was unable to even confess her predicament to her grandmother for fear of being killed by master ‘Flint’.

In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a close comparison is in the confrontation between Tom and his lord Legree. Legree is unable to accept that Tom could defy him as such. His basis for buying the slave was the man’s calmness. Legree thought that it would be easy to corrupt Tom since he had bought his ‘body and soul.’ And when Tom in his soft spoken voice rejects this assertion and tells his master that he only owns his body and not his soul, Legree is very offended. For this reason, he orders the ‘gigantic negroes’ to take the ‘dog’ away and torture him in a way that he would not get over any time soon (Stowe 39). This action indicates an inability of Legree to accept the individuality of the serfs, and realize that they too could have principles and beliefs as other people.

George Fitzhugh, on the other hand, in The Blessings of Slavery, writes that slaves in the South were more privileged than anywhere else. They apparently worked less than 9 hours a day and their masters took care of them (Fitzhugh). This argument seems more economic than social, and it can be construed as factual as well. The life of a serf at the time was much cheaper since they were barely permitted to have any physical possessions. They fully belonged to their lords and could not lay a claim on anything. Such economic argument further strengthens Harriet Beecher Stowe’s assertions in the book. The slave was nothing but a means of production, which was appreciated based on how much they were able to accomplish (Jacobs 47). Rather than considering their needs and expectations as a people, this author centers on the serfs’ capabilities and limited or rather rigidly defined responsibilities within a capitalist economy. Within all this process, they are only domestic producers in a society of free laborers with only taxes and freedoms to complain about.

The Impact of Slavery on the Slaves

In Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the slaves are seen as despairing individuals whose only option is to be submissive in order to stay out of trouble. Tom’s case is, thus, highlighted as an exception where the charge placed upon the slave was too far from his own moral compass to the point that he felt pushed to defiance. The shock registering with the onlookers in this encounter indicates the fact that they were not at all expecting the soft spoken slave to come out so strongly against his master’s orders. The willingness of the ‘Negroes’, however, tells another story of instances where the serfs were rather submissive and willing to do their master’s bidding, for one reason or another. In most cases, they did it to stay out of trouble. This is especially the issue in Harriet Jacobs’ The Trials of a Slave Girl, where the young girl of fifteen faced death at the hand of her master if she did not submit to him willingly or if she confessed to anyone of his villainy. For the author, her enslavement dictated her rights and freedoms and the extent to which she could be the person she had always wanted to be. The heroine knew she did not want to do her master’s bidding, but she also recognized that no one would be willing and capable of protecting her against him. In this case, this submissiveness is not a sign of willingness to be a serf, but rather fear for their safety and security in the hands of their lords. In the context of helotry, one can appreciate it within these two texts and the historical reality. The context of the slave’s submissiveness is not in their contentment to serve their masters and be treated like property.

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The bondmen position in slavery is only validated by their ability to take orders and bow down in front of their lords. George Fitzhugh, however, differs in the context that the slaves actually enjoy being captivates because their masters take care of them and they can, thus, spend their time in peaceful slumber whenever they find the time to do so (Fitzhugh). This assertion is seemingly imaginary seeing, as the demands of a slave’s life are not limited to the fields. Considering the domestic serf, whose work encompassed running the master’s household, there barely was a time to rest. The close proximity that they had with the master’s household gave them the unfortunate opportunity of encountering the lord’s scrutiny at all times, thus, limiting their ability to enjoy their lives. They may have had a restricted scope in terms of work production, but they certainly did not have the luxury of idle afternoons as argued by this author.

On their cultural traits and beliefs or values, the bondmen mostly used religion to cope with their situation. Tom, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin was known to quote the Bible in his defenses against his master’s iniquities, while Harriet Jacobs admitted that no human power could have saved her from her lord’s clutches, not even her grandmother who was respected and even revered in the slave community (Stowe 89). This implies that in cases where humanity was either unable or unwilling to help the serfs, they turned to God for their salvation. Having lost all hope of being physically saved, they hoped to have their souls claimed by the One True God who loved them unconditionally and would be willing to consider their true worth as people, not as beasts that toil the land.

Conclusion

Considering the extent to which Harriet Beecher Stowe is similar to the true confessions of former slaves like Harriet Jacobs, it is easy to establish that the present day historians are more interested in the image of the American society in light of their slavery days. The current researchers, as proved in the North American history arguments, are more willing to bend the truth to suit their end game than to correct a wrong situation through acceptance and apology. On the one hand, there are many sides of a story, and the life of a slave may look more forbidding from the serf’s perspective. The truth here, however, is that there were far too many corroborating accounts to claim coincidence or exaggeration. The Southerners may continue to deny it, but they did mistreat their slaves severely to the point that the abolitionist movement did not just become a northern initiative. It also rather engaged the southerners, some of whom were white.

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