The Influence of the 1850s in Uncle Tom's Cabin

Topics: Slavery in the United States, American Civil War, Slavery Pages: 7 (2769 words) Published: March 19, 2008
The Influence of the 1850's in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin Despite heartbreaking family separations and struggles for antislavery Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) erupted into "one of the greatest triumphs recorded in literary history" (Downs 228), inspiring plays, pictures, poems, songs, souvenirs, and statues (Claybaugh 519). As Uncle Tom's Cabin was being published in the National Era newspaper in forty weekly installments (x), it was received by southerners as yet another political and ethical attack on slavery (Crozier 4), which was not uncommon in the 1850s. As for some northerners, Uncle Tom's Cabin was accepted very warmly due to their increasing dislike of slavery, and its strongly feministic idealism seen throughout the story were popular among women of the time. But, even some northerners who disliked slavery condemned the book because they feared it would stir up civil altercation (Downs 235). The heated disputes between the North and the South over slavery caused both sides to divide farther apart until the breaking point in 1865 with the beginning of the Civil War. Clearly, the first half of the nineteenth century in America influenced the writing of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. In the opening scene, Stowe introduces Arthur Shelby, a typical southern slaveholding gentleman, and he is discussing his debt with Mr. Haley, a rather insidious slave trader. Because he is in debt, Shelby fastidiously sells his most valuable slave, Tom, an extremely "steady, honest, capable" (Stowe 4) and dedicated middle-aged man who was "united with much kindliness and benevolence" (26), along with Harry Harris, a young slave boy. A sub plot includes Harry and his mother, Eliza Harris, appalled by the sudden dealing, hastily flees with her child in hope of escaping to Canada, taking refuge in a Quaker settlement, which, after reuniting Eliza with her stouthearted husband George, assists her on the road to freedom by way of the Underground Railroad. Meanwhile, Tom is sent on a boat going south and meets an angelic little white girl named Eva, who quickly befriends him. Tom is bought by a "graceful, elegantly formed young man" (Stowe 171) who was "remarkable or an extreme and marked sensitiveness of character" (176), Augustine St. Clare, after Tom saves the life of Eva, St. Clare's angelic daughter. On the farm of the St. Clare family, Tom grows extremely close to Eva because they both share the same views of devout Christianity. Two years pass, and Eva falls ill and dies; her death greatly affects everybody that knew her because she had taught them how to love one another. Shortly after Eva's death, Mr. St. Clare dies as well in a fight. Left with the entire St. Clare estate, the harsh Mrs. Marie St. Clare, a woman who "never had possessed much capability of affection, or much sensibility" (179), sells Tom further down south to an incredibly cruel man, Simon Legree, who intends to "break [Tom] in" (412). Two girl slaves, Cassy and Emmeline, run away, yet Tom is charged for the deed and receives "the cussedest flogging [Legree] ever gave" (479), which ultimately kills him. Before he dies, George Shelby, the much admired son of Mr. Shelby, comes to buy Tom back, but he is too late as Tom passes away. He then helps Cassy and Emmeline escape to Canada, where they stay with Eliza and George. George Shelby returns to his average sized farm "in the town of P--, in Kentucky" (3) and emancipates all of his slaves in remembrance of Uncle Tom. Slavery, the pressing issue in almost every aspect of politics and society, clearly affected the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. The California Gold rush was one of the big effects to the nation's expansion to the west, but the applicable question was whether or not to allow slavery in the new territories (Kennedy 392). Henry Clay, serving as a mediator to please both the pro-slavery South and the Abolitionists...

Cited: Claybaugh, Amanda. "Introduction, End Notes." Uncle Tom 's Cabin. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2003.
Crozier, Alice C
Downs, Robert B. Books That Changed the World. Chicago: American Library Assoc., 1956. 228-235.
Furnas, J.C. Goodbye to Uncle Tom. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1956. 108-143.
Kennedy, David M. The American Pageant. Ed.12. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002. 300-458.
Kolchin, Peter. American Slavery: 1619-1877. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993. 169-199.
Reynolds, Moira Davison. Uncle Tom 's Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States. Jefferson: McFarland & Co., Inc, 1985. 43-71.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom 's Cabin. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1852.
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