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Analysis

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

During her life, Harriet Beecher Stowe had been personally disturbed by slavery but socially and publicly uncommitted to action until the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. The passage of this cruel, inhumane, un-Christian act caused her to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe brought a moral passion to her indictment of slavery which was impossible for Americans to forget. Harriet Beecher Stowe had great dramatic instincts as a novelist. She saw everything in terms of polarities: slavery as sin versus Christian love; men active in the cruel social process of buying and selling slaves versus women as redeemers, by virtue of their feelings for family values. She depicts the glory of family life in Uncle Tom’s cabin—glory that is contrasted with Tom’s separation from his family and his unhappy end at the Legree plantation.

Undoubtedly, many events in the novel were taken from Stowe’s life. While her husband Calvin Stowe, a biblical scholar, was a teacher at Lane Theological Seminary, she had lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, where slavery was a prominent issue because Cincinnati was a location where many slaves tried to escape North. She understood slavery as an economic system and had also heard many details and anecdotes about slavery from family members. Her brother Charles had worked in Louisiana, and her brother Edward had lived through riots over slavery in Illinois. Harriet Beecher Stowe knew Josiah Henson, an escaped slave, who was the model for Uncle Tom. Eliza Harris was drawn from life. She may have been a fugitive who was helped by Calvin Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher. The original of Eva was the dead daughter of Stowe herself. The original of Topsy was a slave named Celeste, who was known to the Stowe family in Cincinnati. The character Simon Legree, although sketched by Charles Stowe, owes much to writers of melodrama and gothic novelists as well as the imagination of Harriet Beecher Stowe herself.

The novel is divided into three sections. The first section takes place on the Shelby estate. It is an accurate description of the scene, since Stowe had...

(The entire section is 704 words.)