Monday, March 15, 1999

Uncle Tom's Cabin

by Harriet Beecher Stowe

With an Afterword by John William Ward.  A once wealthy man is forced to sell his beloved slave, Uncle Tom, to get out of debt.  And a female slave escapes with her small child, joining her impetuous, proud husband George in flight.  And from there the two plot points continue and diverge in an episodic fashion, and we meet a whole host of characters, including the benevolent, effeminate St. Clare and the brutish Simon Legree.

There are some very stunning passages in the book, some powerful, impassioned arguments.  The characters are varied and interesting (cruel whites, cruel blacks, noble whites, noble blacks, capable women, cruel women, incapable women), except perhaps the appallingly mawkish little Eva, a Christ figure (Tom is also a Christ figure, but his behavior seems more likely).  But there is also a lot of tiresome preaching, which I suppose is to be expected, as is the dated race theories and chuckleheaded antics of some of the black characters.  I also think the story probably got a bit out of Stowe’s hands at 465 pages (!).  All in all, though the story is more often than not compelling, it’s a bit too preachy and awkward.  One detail --- odd that “Uncle Tom” should have come to mean a servile black man, when Tom is a strong-willed, noble man who simply refuses to do evil, even if it means he’s to be tortured to death.  He’s servile because he accepts his lot, but he certainly makes his own decisions in life.  The Afterword argues that the book should be read nowadays because its central argument is that people cannot be moral in an immoral world; all societies corrupt, and the only noble souls are those removed from society, like Quakers, Christian slaves, and children.

three stars

No comments:

Post a Comment