A Formidable Woman . . . A Powerful Tale



On this day in 1811, Harriet Beecher Stowe was born. Stowe was the author of more than twenty books, including Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was published in 1852. The anti-slavery novel was the most popular novel of the 19th century, outselling the bible when it was published. It’s often called “the first bestseller” because there had been nothing like it in popular literature prior to its publication.    

The story is told through the eyes of Uncle Tom who saves the life of little Eva while being transported by boat to auction in New Orleans. Eva’s grateful father purchases Tom, and Eva and Tom become great friends. Always frail, Eva’s health begins to rapidly decline, and on her deathbed, she asks her father to free all his enslaved people. He makes plans to do so, but before he can act, he is killed.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and her husband were ardent critics of slavery and supported the Underground Railroad, temporarily housing fugitive slaves in their home in Brunswick, Maine. With the rise of the abolition movement came the demand for hard-hitting eyewitness accounts of the harsh realities of slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin provided that as Beecher Stowe based her novel on real-life situations. The book influenced many people’s thoughts about African Americans and slavery. It also strengthened the conflict between the Northern and Southern U.S., playing a significant role in rallying ordinary groups of people to fight for civil rights. So much so, in fact, that when President Lincoln met Beecher Stowe, he was quoted as saying, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not without its critics. A significant number of people found the story itself racist and patronizing, saying it perpetuated stereotypes about black people. The character of ‘Uncle Tom’ – and the term Uncle Tom itself – has become synonymous with servility and self-hatred even today, though not everyone in the African-American community agrees. For an interesting take on the evolution of Uncle Tom and why the character has become something of a lightning rod in the black community, check out the transcript of this short NPR interview with Professor Patricia Turner.  https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93059468

Uncle Tom’s Cabin made its mark. More than 160 years after its publication, Uncle Tom’s Cabin has been translated into more than 70 languages and is known throughout the world.

6 thoughts on “             A Formidable Woman . . . A Powerful Tale

  1. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve read this book. I’ve read articles about it and feel familiar with it, but I can’t remember if I actually read it! Might have to put it on my list.

    1. It’s on my list now too, Debra. Like you, I’d heard of it and felt some familiarity, but I can’t be sure if I’ve actually read it!

  2. Interesting how history deals with heroes and heroines. In one age a person is lauded, in another time the same person is slandered. I thought that was a modern phenomenon, but Uncle Tom shows the attitude is nothing new.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Darlene. I’ve heard other readers say they were significantly impacted by the book too.

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