17 October 2012
My High School Reading List: Huck Finn or Uncle Tom?
If I were a high school English teacher and I could only choose either Uncle Tom’s Cabin or The Adventures by Huckleberry Finn to teach in my American Literature class, I would go with the latter.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe is a classic novel published in 1852. It is said to be, by some people, the book that triggered the Civil War. By discussing the issues of slavery of her time and the cruel aspects of it Stowe tried to give people a wake-up call on their diminishing abilities to feel any kind of sympathy for slaves. The novel was meant to motivate people to open their eyes and see how cruel and wrong it was to treat others like objects rather than human beings. Not only did slavery allow mistreatment and violence, but it also inevitably served as a reason for thousands of families to break up. So Stowe argues that not only whites, but blacks suffer just as much as everyone else; that they are able to feel love and pain as well, so mistreating them was just wrong. And it did serve its purpose, although there were just as many negative reactions.
Throughout the whole book, Stowe tries to approach the idea of slavery from an unwavering Christian point of view. She portrays this with the help of Uncle Tom and Evangeline St. Clare. Tom, a middle-aged black man, is a very intelligent and religious man. He is introduced to us at the beginning of the novel as a well-respected slave at Arthur Shelby’s plantation. His master trusted him so much that he would even let the slave handle his finances. But despite their close bond, when pressed for money, Shelby does not hesitate to sell Tom off to a slave trader. No matter what happens, no matter how unfortunate or cruel, Uncle Tom never disobeys authority. But most importantly, his belief in God doesn’t waver, not even a single time. Even when he was betrayed by his master and sold off to a slave trader separating him from his family at the plantation, or when he was abused really badly, Tom never attempts to escape and save himself. His unrealistically loyal and constantly self-sacrificing personality was what distracted me and prevented me from “getting into” the novel. Throughout the book, we feel sympathy for Tom, we can see his pain, but we do not “understand” his pain at all, because the way the book is written, it’s not easy for the reader to relate to the perfect character that Stowe describes. Human beings are never flawless, and there are times when we get confused and start questioning ourselves, or, in some cases, God, but Stowe’s character accepts everything as part of life, as part of “the Lord’s plan”, which creates an invisible barrier between the audience and Tom. Another interesting character is little Eva. She’s white, she’s from a relatively wealthy family, she’s loved by everyone. In other words, she has everything anyone could ever need, the direct opposite of Uncle Tom. But there is one thing that Eva and Tom have in common. That’s their unlimited and unconditional love for people. Eva’s love for everyone around her, regardless of their station in life, their race, and even their character, is one of the things that shows how thoroughly Christ-like she is, which puts her in the same light as our main character. These two unrealistically ideal characters are what made me question the author at some points. Even laying on his deathbed, Tom says: “The Lord’s bought me.” His faith in God is as strong as ever, but from these words we see that even in heaven Tom still sees himself as a slave, as something buyable. This brings me to my second question. If this book is supposed to be eye-opening and educational, what is the moral of Uncle Tom’s Cabin? If you stick to the rules and be a good slave, like Uncle Tom, the Lord will “buy you”? That even after death, you will still be a slave, just with a different master? How would this affect a...