Sunday, December 24, 2006

Review of Uncle Tom's Cabin

Like the Odyssey & Don Quixote, Uncle Tom's Cabin wasn't what I expected, or rather the amount of time given to the title character is less than i expected. Roughly half of the novel covers Augustine St. Clare, the well meaning & kindly New Orleans slave owner who is too self-indulgent to actually get around to freeing Tom from slavery despite his intentions & stated promises. For long sections, Tom is either not present, or makes very token appearances, and since Augustine is a kindly owner, the horrors of slavery are basically missing for large sections of the novel. Even though evil Simon Legree is the most famous white character in the novel, he appears roughly three-quarters of the way through the novel, which is when the horrific aspects of slavery (beyond separation of families) finally appear.

Given Stowe's history, I should not have been surprised at how preachy the novel was, but the long discourses on Christianity & heaven still stood out as excessively preachy. Obviously Stowe was trying to galvanize all Christians to follow her lead & fight slavery.

I can easily understand why blacks would be offended by the novel: Tom tells his wife that he won't hear a bad word spoken against his master right after he finds out that he'll be sold and later Tom tells Legree that he'll be a faithful and loyal servant since Legree has purchased him.

Viewed from a literary lens, Uncle Tom's Cabin is a far inferior (slave) novel to Kindred, but given the historical impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin, it will still be in print a hundred years from now, while I hope, but am uncertain, that the same is true of Butler's fine novel.

Addenda 1: Looks like the famous quote ""So you're the little lady who wrote the book that started this great war." is apocryphal, which lowers Stowe in my opinion for having fabricated the quote.

Addenda 2: Funny (in the odd sense of the word) ending from our perspective - George & Eliza (escaped slaves) move to Liberia, the shining hope for blacks, to fight against slavery with the backing of a nation. What would they & Stowe think if they knew Liberia's future under Samuel K. Doe and Charles Taylor? Would they merely be sad or be appalled at what has happened to Liberia over the past 26 years?

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