I wanted to read this book because of Lincoln’s purported greeting to author Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862 when they met: “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
It tell’s the story of Uncle Tom a slave who went from good master to bad. Tom a devout Christian, is killed by the bad master at the end because he “refuses to let anything separate him from the love of Christ.” Tom is ordered by Legree to flog 2 fellow slaves and he refuses as it is morally wrong. Tom is ordered to divulge to Legree where 2 escapee slaves are hiding but again refuses to for the same reason. In a fit of rage Legree strikes him down and Tom eventually dies of his wounds – a happy man I might add.
Morally uplifting this story was written in 1852 to expose the practices of slavery to American society and promote abolition of slavery. It set off a publishing revolution that sold millions of copies, propelled slavery to the dinner conversation across America and led to the creation of “Tom” plays and movies that still reverberate today.
Now seen as somewhat racist in its approach due to stereotyping and over the top by others, it was the story of it’s times that polarized Americans and no doubt stoked the fires that led to the American Civil War 1862-65. There is even an extraordinary endpiece by Stowe that explains why she wrote the story, the moral wrongness of slavery where she includes the North as being guilty too for abetting and enabling the continuation of the problem.
There is some good news. Tom by his stoic and prayerful witness leads several others to find the Lord and change their thinking and actions. One slave family makes it safely to Canada and we find them embarking for Liberia in search of their new life. Slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1865.
Some points learned. A slave’s life was not so bad if they had a good master who treated them with respect and care. However, should the master fall into financial difficulty or die, the owned slaves would be sold on the market. Families were separated, a bad master could be your new owner and you could be abused, raped and beaten at whim. A black person could not testify in any court at least in the South. Hence the master could act as a total despot when no other whites were around as there would be no other witness with legal standing. Finally the Fugitive Slave Act applied penalties to any one in a “free state” who was found helping a slave to escape the South.
I liked this book more than I thought I would. 4 out of 5 stars.