Thursday, June 23, 2011
Uncle Tom, meanwhile, chooses a different path. He understands that if he is not sold the remaining slaves will suffer the consequences. Tom is a deeply religious man who is certain that God will watch over him. He goes with the slave trader.
For awhile, things go well for Tom. On the boat south, he meets a young girl named Eva. Eva is Christian charity personified. Eva asks her father to buy Tom. He takes up his new life with Eva’s family in New Orleans. Although he misses his own wife and children, life with Eva’s family is not a particular hardship. But there is constant uncertainty in the life of a slave. Eva’s father is a cynic and a reluctant slave owner. And Eva is a sickly child. When she dies, the future becomes even more precarious. However, her father understands Eva’s wishes and Tom is promised his freedom. But then, Eva’s father unexpectedly dies. The slaves are sold off.
Tom falls into the hands of Simon Legree. Legree is a cruel and bitter man. He hates Tom because Tom is good. Legree grows more and more determined to break his new slave, no matter the consequences, but Tom’s spirit will not be broken.
Throughout the story, Stowe demonstrates the cruelty and indignity of slavery. Even when masters are "kind," slavery is cruel. The writing is preachy and some of the events are melodramatic; however, the story is nevertheless captivating. I’ve summarized only the barest bones of the plot. Other characters swarm on and off the pages, demonstrating all the various ways in which humans are flawed, but also showing their strengths. I found myself drawn in to the story. I wanted to know how all the loose ends would be tied up, even for the minor characters.
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of vague praise of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I realized I’d formed an opinion of the book without ever reading it. Now I can better understand why the book had such a tremendous impact on the antebellum world. And I have to revise my own opinion. It’s an important book AND a good book.