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Free Study Guide-Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe-Free Notes
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THEMES ANALYSIS

Slavery is a Social Evil That Must Be Abolished

It is an indisputable fact that Uncle Tom's Cabin is meant to portray the horrors of slavery with the aim of encouraging its readership to abandon the practice. The abolitionist theme is clearly stated by both the narrator and the characters (especially Mrs. Shelby, her son George, Little Eva, and Miss Ophelia). Slavery is both inhumane and un-Christian. Its promoters are hypocrites and its victims are undeserving of the pain which they are given. All aspects of the novel promote this plot: characters, storylines, and narrator. In fact, the book is almost completely driven by the theme, which has also become plot and purpose.

This single-minded focus on the abolition of slavery has led the author to make choices some modern readers criticize as excessively sentimental or one-dimensional. Some of the characters are exaggerated, leading to stereotypes and generalizations. Uncle Tom, for example, has become a modern stereotype of the all-suffering black man who is good because he does not fight his victimization. It is certainly not the intention of the author, who saw Tom as an example of a good Christian, not as a paragon of the perfect slave. Some of the narrative is over- intensified, melodramatic and theatrical.

The highly sentimental descriptions that linger over sleeping children and innocent victims are techniques chosen by the author; they are, however, techniques that lose some of their effectiveness on the modern reader. In Stowe's time, such heightened melodrama was generally well received. Some of the plot twists stretch credibility, as in the realization that Cassy is Eliza's mother. However, these bizarre reunions do support the thematic contention that the abolition of slavery will heal wounds that have been long forgotten but not forgiven.


Stowe's Vision of Christianity in Uncle Tom's Cabin

Stowe was born into a family of preachers and was deeply influenced by her father's Calvinistic theology. Stowe saw New England as the source of the highest ideals of America because of the Calvinistic influence where people combined obedience to God with self-discipline and hard work. However, after her conversion in 1840, Stowe had reason to change her ideas. Calvinism was too cold and logical, and offered no comfort. She was convinced that God uses lowly tools for his purposes. The kingdom of god arrives not through human striving or vain schemes of perfection but through the suffering of the lowliest and most oppressed. Moreover, in Uncle Tom's Cabin, Stowe attacked the white man's vision of Christianity because of their belief in the concept of slavery as being right and natural.

Tom is depicted as the perfect Christian who commits himself to God with his whole being. His piety and religious faith makes him appear equal to the apostles. On nearly all issues he is submissive to his white masters but on the matter of his faith he is unyielding. In the New Orleans episodes of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Tom is being prepared for the role of martyr. His religious ideas are broadened and deepened. He acts as an example of patience and love to other slaves. He becomes Father Tom and before his death converts Sambo and Quimbo, who have been evil men. Through Christian love Tom attains salvation. The comparison to Christ is hard to overlook. Simon Legree, who represents evil, is eternally damned.

Clearly, Stowe wanted to show her readers that Christianity and slavery are antithetical. She believes it was impossible to be a true Christian and also a slave owner. Tom's vision of Christianity is that of Christ's love; his white masters' vision of Christianity is warped and self-serving. All slaves are victims of a so-called Christian social system. The evil of slavery can only be removed from society by rejecting that warped view of Christianity in favor of one more correctly based on a foundation of Christ's principles of love.

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