Uncle Tom's Cabin Questions and Answers
by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin book cover
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 What effect did Uncle Tom's Cabin have in the North? How did it make people feel about slavery?

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The eNotes Study Guide contains many thousands of words about every aspect of Uncle Tom's Cabin. It even contains a chapter by chapter summary of the novel. Under "References" (see link below) the following introduction describes the impact of the novel on the American people.

When Uncle Tom's Cabin burst on the American scene, first as a series of installments in the antislavery journal the National Era in 1851 and 1852 and then in 1852 as a two-volume edition published in Boston by John P. Jewett, many readers were overwhelmed by Harriet Beecher Stowe's powerful portrayal of the sufferings of slaves. Within the first eight weeks alone, sales of Uncle Tom's Cabin reached a whopping fifty thousand copies, and six months after that it had sold a quarter of a million volumes. On a scale hitherto unknown in America's publishing history, readers responded to Stowe's novel of sentiment, family, separation, and reunion.

The novel presents a somewhat romanticized and melodramatic picture of slavery in the South. Today the book is regarded as important, not for its literary merit, but for the effect it had in shaping public opinion against slavery. The novel was also influential in Europe, and eventually it was translated into every modern language, including Chinese. It has been credited with starting the American Civil War which led to the emancipation of all the Southern slaves.

There are many different summaries of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the eNotes Study Guide for this famous novel, many of them reprinted from other reference books such as Masterpieces of World Literature. Individual characters are also described and discussed. 

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Historians typically say that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin had a tremendous impact on the North.  Abraham Lincoln supposedly greeted her by saying, “So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”  This probably did not happen, but it reflects the impact that historians tend to ascribe to Stowe and her book.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is said to have caused people in the North to become much more opposed to slavery. It is said to have helped make slavery less popular by putting faces on the slaves and on their owners. People came to picture slaves as being similar to Uncle Tom and they came to identify all people who owned slaves with Simon Legree.  In other words, instead of thinking of slavery in impersonal terms that could be somewhat easily ignored, people started to think of slavery as involving “real” people like those in the book.  Because of this, more people came to think that slavery was an evil institution that should be opposed.

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tomcalwriter | Student

No one can possibly measure the effect Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on the North nor how much effect it had on causing the Civil War. However, Abraham Lincoln called Harriet Beecher Stowe, its author, “the little lady who made this great war.”

The book was among the most successful ever written. Three thousand copies sold the first day, ten thousand within a few days. On April 1, a second edition went to press. In its first year, more than 300,000 copies were sold in the U.S. and two million worldwide, as the book gained in even bigger following in England than at home. Six months after its publication, a dramatic version of the book was being shown on stage and numerous productions followed worldwide, all without her sanction, as she had not obtained the rights to its theatrical presentation. And as the book was freely circulated in the South in the beginning, it was widely read there as well.

The book describes plantation life in Kentucky and paints the picture of a benevolent slave owner and his slaves, one of whom, Uncle Tom, is the master’s trusted servant. However, this picture of contentment quickly changes when the master faces financial problems and is forced to sell his slaves. The separation of families, the inhumane treatment at slave auctions, the physical torture by brutal slave traders and overseers, and the attempts by slaves to run away along the Underground Railroad are all depicted by Stowe with poignant mastery.

It plucked the heartstrings of many a reader and it has been observed that it converted more people to abolitionism than all the thousands of meetings and rallies opposing slavery that preceded it. Many who fought in the Civil War for the North acknowledged that it was Uncle Tom’s Cabin that opened their eyes to the horror and injustice of slavery. Many at the time also felt as Longfellow, who called the book, “one of the greatest triumphs recorded in literary history . . .”

While it has since been unfairly maligned and misunderstood in modern times, its speaks volumes of truth about the human condition that still ring strongly today.