Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s CabinHarriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin may never be seen as a great literary work, because of its didactic nature, but it will always be known as great literature because of the reflection of the past and the impact on the present. Harriet Beecher Stowe seemed destined to write great protest novels like Uncle Tom’s Cabin: her father was Lyman Beecher, a prominent evangelical preacher, and her siblings were preachers and social reformers. Born in 1811 in Litchfeild, Connecticut, Stowe moved with her family at the age of twenty-one to Cincinnati. During the eighteen years she lived there she was exposed to slavery. Although her only personal contact with the south was a brief trip to Kentucky she knew freed and fugitive slaves in Cincinnati. She also had friends who participated in the Underground Railroad. She learned about slave life by talking to these people and reading antislavery tracts. She began writing while still living in Cincinnati. In 1836, she married Calvin Ellis Stowe, a distinguished bible scholar and theological professor, and they had seven children. After marrying, Stowe continued to write supplementing her husbands limited earnings.
In 1850, the United States congress voted to pass the Fugitive Slave Law, which prohibited Northerners from helping runaway slaves and required them to return the slaves to their owners in the south. Stowe having moved to Brunswick, Maine with her family had been planing to write a protest of slavery since her experiences in Cincinnati. The passage of the fugitive slave law proved a powerful catalyst. She began working on Uncle Toms Cabin and published it first in serial form in the abolitionist magazine The National Era. The first installment appeared on June 5, 1851, but before the serial could be completed, the novel come out in a two-volume set in 1852. The book became an immediate and extraordinary success, selling over one million copies in America and England before the year was out. Thus, Stowe became the most famous American female writer of her day.
Because his Kentucky plantation was overrun by debt, Mr. Shelby made plans to sell one of his slaves to his chief creditor; a New Orleans slave dealer named Haley. While they were discussing the transaction, Eliza’s child, Harry, came into the room. Haley wanted to buy Harry to, but …
…range of evil, from the heartless cruelty of Simon Legree, the subtle weakness of Mr. Shelby, and the humorous rascality of Topsy are all transformed by the power of Uncle Tom’s acceptance of his fate. It is for the reader to go into the actual world and transform it.
Donovan, Josephine. Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Evil, Affliction, and Redemptive Love. New York: Twane, 1991.
Gossett, Thomas F. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture.” Southern Methodist University Press 13 Feb. 1985: 1+.
Hedrick, John D. “Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life.” Oxford University Press 9 Feb. 1994: A2+.
Hughes, Langston. Critical Essays on Harriet Beecher Stowe Ed. Elizabeth Ammonds. Boston: G.K. Hall 1980. 102-104.
Lynn, Kynneth S. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. By Harriet Beecher Stowe. Boston: The Belknab Press of Harvard University Press, 1962. vii-xxiv.
Reynolds, Moria D. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States. Boston: McFarland, 1985.
Stern, Madeleine B. “Harriet Beecher Stowe.” Dictionary of Literary Biography. 12th ed. 1982. 425-433.
Yarborough, Richard. New Essays on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Ed. Eric J. Sundquist. Boston: Cambridge University Press, 1986. 45-84.